Four times the Tampa Bay Buccaneers forced the New Orleans Saints to turn the ball over and three times the Bucs' offense scored a touchdown on the following drive.
As the defense did its job throughout the night coming up with four big turnovers, including three interceptions from Saints' quarterback Drew Brees, Bucs' quarterback Tom Brady was just as good. The veteran quarterback finished with 199 passing yards and two touchdowns.
But, it was the ability to take advantage of the takeaways by the Bucs' defense that made the difference Sunday night as the Bucs advanced to the NFC Championship for the first time since 2002 defeating the Saints 30-20 on the road. For Brady, it's his 14th time to the Championship Round in the NFL playoffs, but the first in the NFC.
First, cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting recorded his second interception in as many weeks picking off Brees with 11:31 left in the second quarter. On the next play, Brady hit wide receiver Mike Evans for the three-yard touchdown pass and the Bucs led 10-6 early in the second quarter.
Then, Brees found the tight end, Jared Cook for what would have resulted in a first down, but Bucs' safety Antoine Winfield had other plans. The rookie punched the ball out and linebacker Devin White recovered the ball for Tampa Bay at the 40 yardline.
On the first play of the drive, Brady found tight end Cameron Brate for 21 yards, and a few plays later, Brady tossed his second touchdown of the game with 2:22 left in the game connecting with running back Leonard Fournette. The touchdown tied the game at 20 entering the fourth quarter.
Brady and the Bucs marched down the field to regain the lead early in the fourth quarter following a New Orleans punt. Rookie receiver Tyler Johnson made an incredible catch on 3rd and long turning his body in the other direction to give the drive life. Tampa Bay settled for a field goal as kicker Ryan Succop nailed his third field goal of the game giving the Bucs a 23-20 lead with 9:57 left in the game.
Playing in his first playoff game, White picked off Brees, who was passing the ball to running back Alvin Kamara. Tampa Bay took over at the Saints' 20 yardline with just over seven minutes left and extended its lead to double-digits.
Brady found Rob Gronkowski on the left side for 14 yards which set up a quarterback sneak by Brady a couple of plays later. Brady's one-yard touchdown run with less than five minutes to play gave Tampa Bay a 30-20 lead.
The fourth turnover was Brees' third interception of the game as Mike Edwards picked off a pass intended for Cooks. All Tampa Bay had to do at that point was run the clock out and the rest was history.
Tampa Bay's four takeaways vs. New Orleans are the third-most in a game in team postseason season history.
In addition to recording an interception and recovering a fumble, White was simply all over the field for the Bucs. The linebacker who missed the Wild Card matchup vs. the Washington Football Team last week led the team with 11 total tackles adding a tackle for loss while batting down a pass.
On offense, the combination of running backs Ronald Jones II and Leonard Fournette was deadly for the Bucs. Fournette slightly outgained Jones finishing with 63 yards on 17 carries, compared to Jones's 62 yards on 13 carries.
Fournette added five catches for 44 and one touchdown receptions for Tampa Bay.
The teams were knotted up at halftime after Succop made his second field goal of the first half. It felt as though the Saints were gaining momentum after scoring a touchdown coming out of halftime.
Following a Bucs' punt, New Orleans looked to control. Instead, a fumble by Winfield was forced and White recovered the ball changing the momentum of the game.
In the first half, the teams exchanged field goals as both quarterbacks struggled. Twice the Tampa Bay defense found themselves corned as the Bucs began the game with two straight three-and-outs giving their defense no help.
The Bucs' defense came up big forcing two field goals as Will Lutz made two field goals for New Orleans. Tampa Bay kicker Ryan Succop kept pace with Lutz making two field goals of his own first from 26 yards and then 37 yards as time expired in the first half.
For Tampa Bay, it's a monumental victory. The Saints and the Bucs met twice in the regular season and New Orleans won both games, but in the end, Tampa Bay got the last laugh.
The Bucs will travel next week to face the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship sitting one game away from a trip to Super Bowl LV in their own backyard