By Andy Villamarzo
Hernando Sun sports staff writer
NEW ORLEANS- When the sports world found out about the addition of Tom Brady to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, many wondered what kind of team that would elevate the franchise to. A .500 club, one and done playoff team?
It’ll be neither of those, with Tampa Bay punching its ticket to the NFC Championship game behind a solid game from Brady and a huge performance by the defense, as the Buccaneers overcame their demons and defeated the New Orleans Saints 30-20 Sunday evening.
Linebacker Devin White returned after being unavailable last week due to COVID-19 protocols and made 10 tackles, recovered a fumble, and picked off a pass.
Tampa Bay (13-5) will now turn its attention to the Green Bay Packers, who they defeated earlier this season 38-10 back at Raymond James Stadium. This time, however, weather conditions won’t be those that favor Tampa Bay. The game will be at Lambeau Field, somewhere the Buccaneers haven’t seen too many successes. Green Bays’ Aaron Rodgers, who is the favorite to win the league’s Most Valuable Player award, has thrown 48 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
Sunday night’s game started off eerily similar to the first couple of matchups between the Saints and Buccaneers, as Tampa Bay went three and out on their first two offensive possessions. New Orleans (13-5) was able to notch a couple of field goals to take the early 6-0 lead and then Tampa Bay got a kick of its own from Ryan Succop to get it down to 6-3. An interception of Drew Brees by Sean Murphy-Bunting got Tampa Bay immediately into scoring position and Brady connected with Mike Evans on a short touchdown pass.
Up 10-6, it looked like Tampa Bay might be able to overcome any bad memories from the prior meetings but an old friend came back to haunt the Buccaneers. Jameis Winston entered the game on a trick play and the former Buccaneers’ starter threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to Tre’Quan Smith to put the Saints up 13-10. Tied up at 13-all at halftime, the Saints marched right down the field on their opening possession from intermission and scored to go up 20-13.
Devin White and crew, though, made sure New Orleans didn’t get any more points on the board. Turnovers started to really hurt the Saints in the second half, as Brees was intercepted two more times, with one going to White and the other by Mike Edwards. Both Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones played big, rushing for 63 and 62 yards, respectively. Brady finished with 199 yards passing and two touchdowns.
Now Tampa Bay will head up to Green Bay for a regular-season rematch that is sure to have a lot of viewers. The game is set for 3:05 pm Eastern Time on Fox and temperatures are slated to be in the high 20’s with the likelihood of snow in the forecast.
Andy Villamarzo can be reached at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @avillamarzo.