NEW ORLEANS -- That's a wrap for the 2020 Saints season, as they fell to the Bucs at home to close out the NFL's Divisional Playoff Round. There's really no sense of accomplishment to be had, as the team fell short of their ultimate goals in what was believed to be the last game for Drew Brees. Miscues killed New Orleans, as the Bucs were all too eager to capitalize on the mistakes to advance to the NFC Championship against the Packers.
The Saints won the opening coin toss and elected to defer to the second half, putting the Bucs on offense to start the game. They went three-and-out on their first drive, as Tom Brady just missed hooking up with Rob Gronkowski for a big play. Deonte Harris got a big punt return after the defender originally missed him with good coverage, and he took it 54 yards to set the Saints up with excellent field position on their starting drive at the Bucs 21-yard line.
The Saints put together a 6-play, 16-yard drive that took 1:48 to get the game's first points of the day, a 23-yard field goal from Wil Lutz. On the play before, Michael Thomas made a heck of a one-handed catch, but didn't appear to stay inbounds the whole way. New Orleans benefitted from a Bucs penalty after Drew Brees hooked up with Emmanuel Sanders on a 7-yard pass play that saw Jordan Whitehead get called for a personal foul, lowering the helmet penalty.
New Orleans would stand tall defensively on their next series, forcing another Bucs three-and-out after Demario Davis sacked Tom Brady on 3rd-and-6. It looked like the Saints were going to get a touchdown after Deonte Harris ran back the punt, but a holding penalty on Carl Granderson (originally called on Justin Hardee Sr.) wiped it out. Tre'Quan Smith converted a Brees pass on 3rd-and-11 to keep their series going after it started rough. They'd piece together a 12-play, 46-yard drive, but only manage to get field goal out of it, as Lutz converted from 42 yards out to put the Saints up 6-0 with 4:39 left in the opening quarter.
Tampa Bay would finally settle in on offense, piecing together a drive to close out the first quarter. Marshon Lattimore made an excellent play on Mike Evans after Brady converted an early 4th-and-1 to start the drive. The Bucs would march the ball down the field on a 15-play, 67-yard drive, but have to settle on a 26-yard Ryan Succop field goal after getting stopped by the defense, making it 6-3 Saints with 12:57 left until the half.
Ty Montgomery entered as the kick returner after Deonte Harris was ruled questionable to return with a neck injury. New Orleans saw its drive end prematurely, as Brees would get picked off by Sean Murphy-Bunting on a pass Brees wanted back intended for Michael Thomas. It'd take Tampa one play to get into the end zone, as Brady found Mike Evans for a 3-yard score.
New Orleans would answer fairly quickly, putting together a 6-play, 75-yard drive that saw the Saints score on some trickery. Jameis Winston originally lined up at wide receiver, and Alvin Kamara lined up in the wildcat to hand off to Emmanuel Sanders, who flipped it to Winston to find Tre'Quan Smith for a 56-yard catch and run for the score to put the Saints up 13-10 with 8:08 to play in the second quarter. It was nearly identical to the play the Bears tried to run against them the week before that resulted in a Javon Wims drop in the end zone.
Tampa would go three-and-out on their ensuing possession, and it appeared that the Saints would get the ball back after Marcus Williams made a great play to cover some ground to get an interception. However, upon further review he didn't secure both feet, but the Bucs would still punt the ball back to New Orleans. They'd stall out after a few plays and line up on a 4th-and-2 call to try to draw the Bucs offsides, but did not get the call.
The Bucs went to work right before the two-minute warning, and managed to squeeze out a Ryan Succop field goal before halftime to tie the game at 13-13. Leonard Fournette got some good plays on the drive, and Tampa almost got a touchdown out of the drive, but Chris Godwin could not hold on and complete the process of a catch to get it in.
The Saints opened the second half with the football, and did not disappoint on their first drive. New Orleans would go 75 yards in 10 plays that ended with a 16-yard touchdown from Brees to Tre'Quan Smith, his second score of the day. They'd run the ball pretty well, getting contributions from Ty Montgomery and Alvin Kamara. Montgomery also had a 13-yard hookup from Brees two plays before the Smith touchdown.
New Orleans would hold strong on their first defensive series of the half, and look to make work on their next drive. They had some things going until they didn't, as they had a 3rd-and-2 conversion to Jared Cook, but he was stripped by Antoine Winfield and the ball was recovered by Devin White, who returned it 18 yards to the Saints' 40-yard line. It wouldn't take Tampa long to get into the end zone, as they only needed five plays to do it. Brady found Fournette for an easy 6-yard touchdown.
New Orleans would fall flat on their next offensive series, getting a first down by way of penalty, but would not do much else and punt the ball back to Tampa. The Bucs continued to do just enough to get things moving on offense, getting a big 3rd-and-11 conversion from Tyler Johnson and then a 29-yard hookup to Scotty Miller to set them up at the Saints' 40-yard line. Dennis Allen's defense would tighten up and force the Bucs into a field goal situation, which was converted by Ryan Succop from 36 yards out to put the Bucs ahead 23-20 with 9:52 left in the game.
Any sense of a comeback drive was killed very quickly, as the Saints committed their third turnover the game after Brees was picked off by Devin White. He returned the ball 28 yards to the Saints' 20-yard line to set Tampa up with a short field. It'd take them four plays to get into the end zone, as Brady kept the ball and took it in from a yard out to take a 30-20 lead with 4:57 left.
Brees tried to channel some inner Superdome magic, but it turned out folly as he would get picked off for the third time in the game on a pass intended for Jared Cook. It hit Cook in his shoulder pads and hung up in the air long enough for Tampa's defense to get it. The Bucs would get some plays offensively and just run the clock out.
The Saints have major questions entering the offseason, which starts now.