Brady prevailed in the highly anticipated quarterbacking duel for the ages (or perhaps for the aged) at the Superdome and continues to chase a seventh career Super Bowl title in his first season with the Buccaneers after two decades and six Super Bowl victories with the New England Patriots. He and the fifth-seeded Buccaneers ended the second-seeded Saints’ season and potentially sent Brees into retirement.
“I’m going to give myself an opportunity to think about the season, think about a lot of things, just like I did last year, and make a decision,” Brees said in a postgame video news conference.
The Buccaneers will face the top-seeded Packers next Sunday at Green Bay. It will be Brady vs. another all-time quarterbacking great, Aaron Rodgers, in the first NFC title game that Rodgers will get to play in the friendly and frigid confines of Lambeau Field.
“We’ve worked really hard to get to this point, just like the other three teams remaining,” said Brady, whose team advanced to a conference championship game for the 14th time in his career. “It’s hard to get to this point. There’s nothing guaranteed from this point forward. But we’ve got to go out there and we’re going to have to play our very best to beat one of the best teams in the league.”
Neither Brady nor Brees was stellar Sunday. Brady threw two touchdown passes but completed only 18 of 33 passes for a relatively modest 199 yards. He scored a fourth-quarter rushing touchdown on a quarterback sneak.
That was far better than Brees, who threw three interceptions in a 19-for-34, 134-yard outing. He did throw a touchdown pass. The Saints also got a first-half touchdown pass by backup Jameis Winston on a gadget play. But their four turnovers led to 21 points for the Buccaneers, who turned things around after losing their two regular season meetings with the Saints by a combined margin of 72-26.
“It’s hard to beat a team that’s in the playoffs and that’s in this divisional round of the playoffs when you have that lopsided of a turnover ratio,” Saints Coach Sean Payton said.
It hasn’t been an entirely smooth ride for Brady and the Buccaneers since his relocation to Tampa last March in free agency. His adjustment to his new team and so many unfamiliar teammates was hindered when the NFL canceled offseason practices and the entire preseason amid the coronavirus pandemic.
There were moments during the season when the Buccaneers looked more pretender than contender. But they’re playing well now. The Buccaneers can become the first NFL team to play a Super Bowl on its home field, with the game scheduled for Feb. 7 at Raymond James Stadium.
“This is [how] we’re capable of playing,” Buccaneers Coach Bruce Arians said. “Defensively we’ve had some rough spots at times. But we’ve had some really, really good times. And this is one of the best times.”
Meanwhile, Brees’s retirement decision looms. He turned 42 on Friday. He was still the youngster of his matchup with the 43-year-old Brady. Many expect Brees to walk away from the sport and head to the broadcast booth, while Brady appears intent upon playing on. Fox reported before the game that Brees’s retirement once the Saints were done in this postseason was certain.
“I think that’s probably for another press conference,” Payton said, “and I can’t speak for Drew. . . . Obviously he’s been tremendous for this team, this city. I could go on and on. But let’s wait and answer that at the right time.”
It was a trying season for Brees; he missed four games with rib fractures and a collapsed lung. Brees, Payton and the Saints failed in their bid to return to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2009 season.
“I’d say this season I probably had to fight through more than I’ve ever had to in any other season in my career, from injury to all the covid stuff to just crazy circumstances,” Brees said. “And it was worth every moment, absolutely.”
Brees was seen glancing back at the Superdome scene as he exited the field after the game and headed up the tunnel to the locker room.
“I always soak in the moment,” Brees said. “I’m looking up at my family, and I’m blowing kisses to my wife and my daughter and fist-bumping my boys.”
Brees’s night ended with him returning to the field with his family. Brady stopped by to chat before leaving the building. The two quarterbacks hugged and Brady even threw a touchdown pass to one of Brees’s young sons.
The Saints had been back to something approximating full strength on offense during this postseason. They played Sunday without all-purpose standout Taysom Hill and reserve running back Latavius Murray, both injured and on the game-day inactive list. But for a second straight game, Brees had both wide receiver Michael Thomas and tailback Alvin Kamara at his disposal. It wasn’t enough. Kamara ran for 85 yards, but Thomas was held without a catch.
The game was tied at 13 after a first half in which Winston stole the show. He entered the game for a second-quarter trick play against his former team. He lined up at wide receiver and ended up with the ball after a shotgun snap to Kamara and a handoff to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Winston took the ball on a flip from Sanders, set his feet and delivered an on-target throw to wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith for a 56-yard touchdown.
The Saints otherwise were limited in the half to two field goals by kicker Wil Lutz. They had a touchdown on a punt return nullified by a penalty. Brees threw an interception to cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting that set up the Buccaneers’ lone first-half touchdown, scored on a three-yard pass from Brady to wide receiver Mike Evans.
Brees threw a third-quarter touchdown pass to Smith, but the Buccaneers cashed in on a fumble lost by Saints tight end Jared Cook to pull even on Brady’s touchdown throw to running back Leonard Fournette. The Buccaneers finished with 10 fourth-quarter points on Ryan Succop’s third field goal and Brady’s sneak after linebacker Devin White’s interception.
“I’m really proud of our team and everything we’ve put in to get to this point,” Brady said. “There’s only four teams left. We’re one of them.”
Tom Brady, Buccaneers beat Drew Brees, Saints to reach NFC title game
Tom Brady plays on, seeking immediate Super Bowl glory with his new team.
Drew Brees goes home for what is widely expected to be the final time in his storied NFL career, denied a Super Bowl stage for his pro football farewell.
Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers advanced to the NFC championship game by beating Brees and the New Orleans Saints, 30-20, in a divisional playoff game Sunday in New Orleans. (Final score: Buccaneers 30, Saints 20)
Drew Brees throws third interception
Drew Brees threw his third interception of the night on a tipped pass that ended up in the hands of Buccaneers safety Mike Edwards. It was the Saints’ fourth turnover. (Bucs 30, Saints 20, 4:17 left in the fourth quarter)
Tom Brady’s touchdown on QB sneak adds to Buccaneers’ lead
For the third time in the game, the Buccaneers converted a turnover by the Saints into a touchdown. Tom Brady scored a one-yard rushing touchdown on a quarterback sneak. The Bucs had to travel only 20 yards after linebacker Devin White’s interception of a Drew Brees pass. (Bucs 30, Saints 20, 4:57 left in the fourth quarter)
Drew Brees throws another interception
Drew Brees missed connections with tailback Alvin Kamara and threw his second interception of the game, this time to Buccaneers linebacker Devin White. It was the third turnover of the night for the Saints. The Bucs took possession at the New Orleans 20-yard line. (Bucs 23, Saints 20, 7:08 left in the fourth quarter)
Ryan Succop’s third field goal gives Bucs lead in fourth quarter
The Bucs have the lead in the fourth quarter on a 36-yard field goal by Ryan Succop. Tom Brady had a 29-yard completion to wide receiver Scotty Miller on the drive. Wideout Tyler Johnson made an acrobatic catch for a 15-yard gain before that. Brady made a poor throw just before the kick that nearly was intercepted. It was the third field goal of the game for Succop. (Bucs 23, Saints 20, 9:52 left in the fourth quarter)
Tom Brady-to-Leonard Fournette touchdown gets Bucs even
The Buccaneers cashed in on the turnover by the Saints with Tom Brady’s six-yard touchdown pass to running back Leonard Fournette. They had to move only 40 yards after recovering a fumble lost by Saints tight end Jared Cook. The Bucs have two touchdowns in the game, both on passes by Brady and both coming off turnovers by the Saints. (Bucs 20, Saints 20, 2:22 left in the third quarter)
Jared Cook loses fumble for Saints
The Saints committed their second turnover of the game as tight end Jared Cook lost a fumble after a catch. The Buccaneers took possession at the New Orleans 40-yard line after linebacker Devin White’s recovery and 18-yard return. (Saints 20, Bucs 13, 4:30 left in the third quarter)
Drew Brees’s touchdown pass to Tre’Quan Smith gives Saints second-half lead
Drew Brees was sharper and the New Orleans offense was better on the opening drive of the second half. Brees threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith to cap a 10-play, 75-yard drive. Smith has two touchdown catches in the game, the first of which came on a pass thrown by Jameis Winston on a first-half gadget play. (Saints 20, Bucs 13, 9:43 left in the third quarter)
Jameis Winston shines while Drew Brees and Tom Brady struggle in first half
Jameis Winston intruded on the duel between quarterbacking legends Tom Brady and Drew Brees at the Superdome in a divisional playoff game Sunday.
Winston threw a touchdown pass on a gadget play for the Saints, who are tied with the Buccaneers, 13-13, at halftime. The winner advances to next Sunday’s NFC championship game at Green Bay.
At halftime, Brady has a passer rating of 76.1 for the Buccaneers. Brees has a passer rating of 42.0 for the Saints.
Winston’s passer rating? A perfect 158.3.
Winston signed with the Saints after being discarded by the Bucs after five seasons as their starter. He perhaps had a more prominent trick-play role Sunday for the Saints because Taysom Hill, their all-purpose standout, is on the game-day inactive list because of a knee injury.
He replaced Brees for one second-quarter play and lined up at wide receiver. Winston ended up with the ball after a shotgun snap to tailback Alvin Kamara and a handoff to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Winston took the ball on a flip from Sanders, set his feet and delivered an on-target throw to wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith for a 56-yard touchdown.
The Saints otherwise were limited to two field goals by Wil Lutz. They had a touchdown on a punt return nullified by a penalty. Brees completed 10 of 17 passes for 63 yards. He threw an interception to Buccaneers cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting that set up Tampa’s lone first-half touchdown, scored on a three-yard pass from Brady to wide receiver Mike Evans.
Brady connected on only 10 of 21 passes for 93 yards. He had an interception overturned by an instant replay review. He nearly had a touchdown pass to wideout Chris Godwin in the closing moments of the half. But Godwin lost the football after tumbling to the turf for an incompletion, and kicker Ryan Succop’s second field goal tied the game. (Bucs 13, Saints 13 at halftime)
Bucs get tying field goal after near-touchdown by Chris Godwin
The Bucs tied the game at 13 on a 37-yard field goal by Ryan Succop as time expired in the first half. They nearly had the lead on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to wide receiver Chris Godwin. Brady took a deep shot down the middle of the field. Godwin grabbed the football and got two feet in bounds, then lost the ball as he tumbled to the ground behind the end zone. The on-field officials called the play an incompletion and that ruling was upheld, seemingly correctly, by an instant replay review. (Bucs 13, Saints 13 at halftime)
Interception thrown by Tom Brady overturned by replay review
Tom Brady had an interception thrown to Saints safety Marcus Williams nullified by an instant replay review. Williams grabbed the pass along the sideline for what was ruled an interception by the on-field officials. But that ruling was overturned via a replay review that showed Williams managed to get only one foot in bounds. The play became a third-down incompletion and the Bucs punted. (Saints 13, Bucs 10, 6:39 left in the second quarter)
Jameis Winston throws touchdown pass for Saints on gadget play
Enter Jameis Winton into the duel of quarterbacking legends Tom Brady and Drew Brees. The Saints dialed up a trick play and it worked to perfection, with Winston throwing a 56-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith. Winston, the former Buccaneers starter, replaced Brees on the field and lined up at wide receiver. Tailback Alvin Kamara was in the backfield and took a direct snap. Kamara handed the ball to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders on an end-around. He flipped the ball to Winston, who collected himself and made an on-target throw to Smith, who was wide open deep in the middle of the field. Smith made the catch and coasted to the end zone.
Winston may have been elevated in the Saints’ gadget-play hierarchy with all-purpose standout Taysom Hill on the game-day inactive list because of a knee injury. The officials threw a flag on the play but announced there was no penalty against the Saints for an illegal formation. (Saints 13, Bucs 10, 8:08 left in the second quarter)
Bucs get Tom Brady-to-Mike Evans touchdown after Drew Brees interception
The Buccaneers have the lead in New Orleans after a three-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to wide receiver Mike Evans, set up by cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting’s interception of a Drew Brees throw.
Murphy-Bunting cut in front of Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas on a short pattern, grabbed Brees’s pass and raced 36 yards down the sideline before being knocked out of bounds at the New Orleans 3-yard line. Brady zipped his touchdown pass to Evans on the next play. (Bucs 10, Saints 6, 11:16 left in the second quarter)
Bucs get field goal out of 15-play drive with fourth-down conversion
The Buccaneers are on the board, cutting the Saints’ lead in half with a 26-yard field goal by Ryan Succop. Coach Bruce Arians opted against a fourth-and-one try from the New Orleans 8-yard line. Earlier on the 15-play drive, Arians gambled and the Buccaneers converted on fourth and inches from their own 34-yard line on a quarterback sneak by Tom Brady. Brady had an 11-yard completion to wide receiver Chris Godwin for a first down on a third-and-five throw. He also teamed with tight end Cameron Brate for a 16-yard gain. (Saints 6, Bucs 3, 12:57 left in the second quarter)