Bucs bounce mistake-riddled Saints from playoffs

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Bucs beat Saints playoffs
(Derick E. Hingle/New Orleans Saints Pool Photo)

The constant barrage of a consistent theme bombarded us all week long. It is hard, perhaps too hard, to beat a team three times in the same season.

The truth was clear in reverse.

In the Super Bowl era since the NFL merger in 1970, the team that won the first two meetings won the third meeting 14 out of 21 times (66.7%).

Since 1950, it has happened 17 times.

The Saints had beaten Tampa Bay five straight times and were a 3-point favorite.

So much for statistics.

The story was quite simple Sunday evening in the NFC Divisional Playoffs. The Saints gave the Buccaneers 21 points in a horrendous offensive performance which included four turnovers.

Meanwhile, the New Orleans defense forced no turnovers.

There was no way the Saints were going to survive and the Saints did not.

All season long, the Saints had given up 63 points off turnovers. They gave up one-third of that in this playoff game.

The offense failed miserably.

It was sad to watch Drew Brees, who is nowhere near what he was at his peak.

Of course, he had little support from his receivers. Other than Tre’Quan Smith, none could not make a play. There was little or no separation the entire game as Tampa Bay defensive backs and linebackers played extremely physical and played with their hands and they won the battle.

It was, once again, hard for Saints fans to watch.

The Saints led 20-13 in the third quarter and the Buccaneers scored the final 17 points of the game.

The game truly turned on a lost fumble by Jared Cook in the third quarter, with the Saints driving and up by seven points. New Orleans would never recover.

Here are my takes from Tampa Bay’s 30-20 win over New Orleans:

**New Orleans had to play without Taysom Hill (knee) and Latavius Murray (quad). Their losses were felt.

**Smith was active from injured reserve. The Saints promoted linebacker Chase Hansen and lineman Cameron Tom from the practice squad. Will Clapp was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list after a positive test.

**Inactives for the Saints were Ken Crawley, Taysom Hill, Juwan Johnson, Derrick Kelly, Latavius Murray, Malcolm Roach and Patrick Robinson.

**The Saints won the toss and deferred, giving Tampa Bay the ball first.

**The move paid off handsomely as the defense forced a 3-and-out.

**Bradley Pinion punted 43 yards to the New Orleans 25-yard line. Deonte Harris fielded it, was hit immediately by Jaydon Mickens, shook the tackle and immediately ran left where no Bucs were. Harris returned it 54 yards to the Tampa Bay 21-yard line.

**The Saints made one first down but failed to punch it in and Wil Lutz kicked a 23-yard field goal to make it 3-0 with 11:30 to play in the opening quarter. Brees hit Thomas on a fade route but Thomas’ knee landed out of bounds on third-and-goal.

**The Saints forced another 3-and-out and Harris electrified everyone again, returning Pinion’s punt 67 yards for a score but Carl Granderson was called for an illegal block in the back, costing the Saints a touchdown.

**New Orleans then drove 46 yards in 12 plays, taking 5:07 off the clock with Lutz hitting a 42-yard field goal to make it 6-0 with 4:39 to play in the first quarter.

**Tampa Bay then put together a 15-play drive, going 67 yards, taking 6:39 off the clock with Ryan Succop knocking through a 26-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 6-3 with 12:17 to play in the half. Malcolm Jenkins broke up a third-down pass from Brady to Rob Gronkowski near the goal line.

**Harris, who had the two huge punt returns, hurt his neck and left the game.

**Terron Armstead left the game in the second quarter injured, replaced by James Hurst. Fortunately, Armstead was able to return.

**Brees was then pressured and made an ill-advised pass to the flat for Thomas and it was intercepted by Sean Murphy-Bunting, who returned it to the 3-yard line.

**On the next play, Brady hit Mike Evans on a 3-yard touchdown pass to give the Buccaneers a 10-6 lead with 11:16 to play in the half.

**The Saints then resorted to a trick play and it worked perfectly. Alvin Kamara lined up at quarterback in the Wildcat formation, took the snap, pitched it to Jameis Winston, who had checked in for Brees, and Winston hit a wide open Smith for a 56-yard touchdown to make it 13-10 New Orleans with 8:08 to play in the half.

**It was the longest pass play of the season for the Saints.

**Originally, the officiating crew threw a flag but it was determined that James Hurst had reported as eligible and the flag was picked up.

**It was a sweet moment for Winston, against his former team.

**Tampa Bay got even by halftime, driving 63 yards in 13 plays, taking 2:25 off the clock with Succop hitting a 37-yard field goal as time expired to make it 13-13.

**At halftime, Brees was 10-of-17 for 63 yards and a costly interception while Brady was 10-of-21 for 93 yards.

**Michael Thomas did not have a catch in the half.

**Carlton Davis went out limping on the first series of the second half but he would return.

**Any smart coach smells blood in the water and goes after the backup.

**The Saints took the second half kickoff and drove 75 yards in 10 plays with Brees hitting Smith with a 16-yard touchdown pass on a perfectly thrown ball against tight coverage by Ross Cockrell, who was in for Davis, and the Saints took a 20-13 lead with 9:43 to play in the third quarter.

**The Saints then killed themselves again with another costly turnover.

**Brees hit a wide-open Cook for a completion but in the key play of the game, Cook fumbled it away when hit by Antoine Winfield Jr. and Devin White recovered and returned it to the New Orleans 40-yard line. Cook carried the ball loosely and lost it.

**The Bucs took full advantage, driving 40 yards in five plays, taking 2:04 off the clock with Brady hitting Leonard Fournette on a 6-yard touchdown to tie the game 20-20 with 2:04 to play in the third quarter.

**Tampa Bay then took the lead with an 11-play, 61-yard drive, taking 5:47 off the clock with Succop connecting on a 36-yard field goal to make it 23-20 with 9:52 to play in the game. The big play of the drive was a 29-yard completion to Scotty Miller from Brady over Janoris Jenkins, who bit on a double-move.

**Then, Brees and Kamara completely missed connections and Devin White picked off Brees and returned it to the New Orleans 20-yard line. Kamara was not looking for the ball and continued running and the ball went right to White, his second interception of the game.

**Tampa Bay once again took full advantage, driving four plays, 20 yards with Brady sneaking it in on a 1-yard touchdown to make it 30-20 with 4:57 to play in the game.

**Then, Mike Edwards picked off Brees on a ball that went through the arms of Cook to put the game away.

It was quite a performance for White.

The former North Webster and LSU star finished with 11 combined tackles, a fumble recovery and an interception.

The Saints have now lost playoff games at home to end seasons in three straight seasons.

It was rough season, filled with injury, for Thomas but who would have thought he would not have a catch? Without Hill and Harris, there was no way the Saints could win with Thomas being invisible.

Now, it is on to Green Bay to face the top-seeded Packers for the Bucs, who whipped the Packers earlier this season.

The early weather projection is 20-25 degrees with the possibility of snow.

It was, in all likelihood, the final game for Brees.

Cherish, relish and you can already start to replenish the memories in your mind. We will not likely see the likes of it again in black and gold.

It was a terrible ending to a tremendous career, if Brees retires, as expected. His last game will be remembered for his failures and that is a shame.

Brees was 19-of-34 for just 134 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions for a quarterback rating of 38.1.

There was no way New Orleans could win with that performance.

New Orleans had a chance to jump up by two scores early and failed to do so.

The Saints had a chance to jump up by two scores in the third quarter before the Cook fumble, failing to do so.

The postseason failures for a good, talented team continue.

Injuries are part of the game but not having Kwon Alexander really hurt as Tampa Bay targeted Alex Anzalone all afternoon with success.

Not having Hill, Murray or Harris truly hurt as well.

What hurts the most is that we have seen the last of the best era of New Orleans Saints football, which was led by Brees.

Now, Sean Payton returns to the drawing board to figure out what life will be with not having No. 9 taking snaps.

Will Winston get a shot to be the man?

Is Hill the man for Payton?

Is the next quarterback not on the current roster?

New Orleans must now move on from some current players to get back down toward the salary cap restriction that it will be well over, at this point.

Tough decisions will have to be made coming off of a tough loss, yet another disappointing ending to a promising season.

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Ken Trahan

CEO/Owner

Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…

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