Buc Up!…with Rob Kriete – JANUARY 16

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Flags

-Tampa Bay travels to division-rival New Orleans for their third matchup of the season, with the Saints winning the first two games. Historically, Tampa Bay has been a team with a strong defense, while New Orleans has spent many seasons trying to build one. In 2020, though, the Saints featured a stout defense that has frustrated Tom Brady in their two matchups this season. The Buccaneers, despite a historic offense, scored a season-low three points against the Saints in their previous meeting. Of course, this game also has two future Hall-of-Fame, over 40, quarterbacks as well.

-Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady has the most postseason games played (42), wins (31), passing yards (11,769), and passing touchdowns (75) of any player in NFL history.

Tom Brady

-New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees has the most passing yards-per-game (307.8) of any player in NFL postseason history and ranks third in career postseason completion percentage (67.2%).

– The Buccaneer offense ranked 3rd in points per game (30.8) and allowed 4th-fewest sacks (22) in 2020.

-The Saints offense ranked 5th in points per game (30.1).

-Last week, the Buccaneers secured the franchise’s first postseason victory since winning Super Bowl XXXVII on Jan. 26, 2003 in San Diego.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders

-Of course, ItsSportsMagazine.com, got to speak with Saints head coach Sean Payton this week:

Leo Haggerty: “People expect you to play, because you are professionals, to play in a hundred thousand seat stadium with 100 decibels of noise or in an empty parking lot with no noise. How hard is it to have no crowd energy to work off of and still play a football game?”
Sean Payton: “I think the biggest fans, the biggest fans, of the Covid stadiums are your offensive tackles because they’re the ones that really get stressed about crowd noise on the road. We all, and when I say we I’m talking about all the teams, have been able to, I would say, take advantage of and understand that you can use cadence in any road venue which is unusual. I think, when you study the course of the season, the road team won more percentage wise than ever before. I think that has a lot to do with it. Yeah, when you’re in the playoffs, you’d love to have that crowd noise. It makes it more challenging in your pass protection and your communication. All of those things. I think, collectively as a league, we’ve got used to the ambient sound that we’re all dealing with this year. When you get back to filled stadiums next year, or whenever that happens, I think that will be, all of a sudden, that we have to turn the page backwards. But, right now, I don’t think there’s anything anyone can do about it and it’s just part of the deal.”

Leo Haggerty: “Obviously, there’s momentum within a game. Is there such a thing as momentum from game to game?”
Sean Payton: “Well, clearly, we know that there’s in game momentum especially in the post season. It swings back and forth. It depends on how you deal with things and how you overcome it. It’s pretty normal, in the regular season as well, to see how you rebound from an opponent’s score or a turnover. Those types of things. I do think there’s momentum in the course of the season. You know, you suffer some adversity and you bounce back and you start playing well. Generally, if we’re speaking of you winning north of 11 games, you’re stringing wins together. It’s hard to do that without some type of momentum because it’s hard to win 11 or 12 without having a number of games in a row won. Yeah, I think all of that takes place and, the unique thing about the playoff format that’s a little bit like the NCAA tournament is that here it is. It’s three hours and it’s that type of single elimination. You know, when you really look at the length of our game and you count the drives that each side of the ball averages, it’s relatively short.”

Leo Haggerty: “The Bucs didn’t have their bye week until Week 13. That’s the bad news but the good news is that they are the most rested team coming into the playoffs. Is that a factor right now?”
Sean Payton: “Well, all these things matter. There’s some things that you look at right away like when your bye is. You can’t control any of that. You can’t control when your road games are or whether they’re partnered up in a row. Where you are going to be playing, possibly, in cold weather. You look at travel. Some years are easier than others as it applies to travel logistics. Especially if you’re playing in London, of course because that’s different. After a while of doing this, you really start to focus on the things that you can control. This has been such an unusual year with rosters with guys being up and guys being down. I mean, two weeks ago on the day before we played Carolina, the whole running back room was out. You talk about a Saturday walkthrough now. Just trying to put together your game plan like well, the fullback is out so that takes a certain amount of two back offense out. I mean, it’s just been one of those years where you take the news and you take a deep breath and you focus on what you can control on. I think it’s been that way for all 32 teams.”

– Tampa Bay’s defense allowed the fewest rush yards per game (80.6) and ranked tied-4th in sacks (48).

-Leo Haggerty also got to speak to Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles: “Do you have to game plan for both Saints QB Drew Brees and QB Taysom Hill?”
Todd Bowles: “Yeah, you do. They have a lot of guy you have to game plan for, so you’ve got to understand who is where and where is what. Sean does a great job of moving those guys around, personnel, and those type of things. He gets a lot of guys involved, so it takes all 11 guys to be very disciplined. We’ve just got to make some plays.”

-No game plan for Jameis, Todd?

-The Saints defense ranked 4th in total yards allowed per game (310.9) and 5th in points allowed per game (21.1).

-Both teams will try to establish the running game to give their prolific quarterbacks space in the passing game. With the Bucs playing their best football of the season over the last six weeks, I see Tampa Bay learning some lessons from their previous matchups and win on a late Tom Brady drive!

Prediction: Bucs 34 – Saints 31

Thank you to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the use of some of the pictures in this column.