Bucs Use Second Half Run to Top Saints, Advance to NFC Championship Game

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In his 21st NFL season and first away from New England, Tom Brady is back in championship weekend.

The Bucs went to New Orleans and knocked off the Saints, 30-20, in the NFC divisional round on Sunday, ending the game on a 17-0 run.

In a matchup of two 40-something legendary quarterbacks, it was the Tampa Bay defense that stole the show. The Bucs forced four Saints turnovers—including three interceptions by Drew Brees—and held New Orleans to just 394 yards of total offense. Tampa Bay scored 21 points off of Saints turnovers, and the Bucs offense did not have any fumbles or interceptions.

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Brady was 18-for-33 for 199 yards and two touchdowns, and also ran for a one-yard score late in the fourth quarter. Brees—in what was reportedly the final game of his accomplished NFL career—was 19-for-34 for 134 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.

After a tied first half, the Saints took the lead when Brees hit Tre'Quan Smith on a 16-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter. The Bucs answered with a five-play, 40-yard touchdown drive that came after a Jared Cook fumble at midfield. The scoring drive was capped by a six-yard pass from Brady to Leonard Fournette.

Fournette had another strong game, with 63 rushing yards on 17 carries. He also had five catches for 44 yards.

Tampa Bay took the lead on a 36-yard field goal by Ryan Succop with just under 10 minutes to play, then forced Brees into his second interception of the game on the ensuing drive. Four plays and 20 yards later, Brady snuck into the end zone from the 1-yard line to give the Bucs a 10-point lead and essentially put the game away.

Bucs linebacker Devin White filled up the box score, leading the team with 11 tackles. He also had a fumble recovery and an interception.

In 21 seasons, Brady has now advanced to the championship round 14 times. Sunday marked his 25th career playoff game with two or more touchdown passes.

The Saints led, 6-0, after the first quarter after two field goals by Wil Lutz. Tampa Bay took a 10-6 lead early in the second quarter when Brady found Mike Evans for a three-yard score.

The play of the first half occurred on the Saints' next drive. Backup quarterback Jameis Winston connected with Smith on a trick play that resulted in a 56-yard touchdown strike, giving New Orleans a 13-10 lead.

The Buccaneers tied the game, 13-13, on a 37-yard field goal by Succop just before halftime.

With the win, the Bucs advance to the NFC championship game, where they will face the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. 

The Bucs beat the Packers, 38-10, in Tampa in Week 6, ending the game on a 38-0 run. The Tampa Bay defense force Rodgers into his worst game of the season, as he went 16-for-35 for 160 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. The Packers and Bucs have faced off once before in the postseason, when Green Bay beat Tampa Bay in the 1997 NFC divisional round.