After Further Review: Five takes from Saints loss to Bucs

Tampa Bay Buccaneers inside linebacker Devin White (45), right, intercepts a pass in front of...
Tampa Bay Buccaneers inside linebacker Devin White (45), right, intercepts a pass in front of New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) during the second half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, in New Orleans.(Brett Duke | AP)
Updated: Jan. 18, 2021 at 2:51 AM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Take one: Drew Brees farewell?

They say Father Time is undefeated. Though nothing is official, by the looks of Drew Brees, both during and after the game, it sure seems like he’s accepted that finality in his career.

Brees was pedestrian Sunday. Not the Superman he’d been for the vast majority of his 15 seasons in New Orleans. He threw three bad interceptions that proved costly. His second interception on a throw to Alvin Kamara in the fourth quarter essentially put the exclamation point on another playoff loss.

But it was the emotion after the game that made this ending feel different. He was in near tears on the sideline. When he jogged off the field, he blew kisses to his family. But as he was about to hit the tunnel, he walked back to take the moment all in. After the game, he shared a long hug and embrace with his wife on the field. He went on to play touch football with his sons. He ended up staying nearly two hours before actually exiting the dome.

It had all the makings of a man who knows his time is up.

Take Two: Turnover trouble

Sometimes it takes a little while to figure out what exactly went wrong in a game. Other times, the answer is blatantly obvious.

We’ve seen several examples of the former, but Sunday in the Superdome the latter was the case.

It’s funny how we spent all week breaking down this matchup from every angle dissecting how the Saints could win, where they had the advantage and disadvantage. But in the end, the difference of the game came down to the simplest storyline of all: turnovers. Everything else took a back seat.

The Saints didn’t take care of the football; the Bucs did. It’s really as simple as that. That’s why the Saints season is now over.

Giving Tom Brady four extra possessions is not a recipe for success. And with those four gifts, Brady and the Bucs did what great teams do and made the Saints pay for their mistakes.

Tampa Bay scored all of their touchdowns off of Saints turnovers.

Take Three: Turning point

At the 4:41 mark of the third quarter, the Saints were up 20-13 and threatening to add to it and possibly take full control of the game. On third and two Brees fired a strike to Jared Cook, who caught it with room to run. But as he crossed midfield, Antoine Winfield Jr. stripped the ball. Devin White was there to recover it.

No turnover had a bigger impact on the game.

The Saints were never the same again. Their body language completely shifted. It was as if collectively as an entire team, they knew Brady got the break he needed to break the game open.

That’s exactly what he did. Five plays later, Brady hit Leonard Fournette for a score to make it, 20-20. It was part of 17 unanswered points for the Bucs to close out the game.

As for Cook, the play really defines his time in New Orleans. Loads of talent and athleticism but devastatingly inconsistent. Every big play during his tenure here seems to have been married to a big mistake.

Take Four: Playoff failures are real

There’s no way of escaping Sean Payton and the Saints’ playoff disappointment narrative now. Four straight years of regular season dominance. Four straight years of NFC South supremacy. Four straight years of Super Bowl caliber rosters. Yet, for the fourth straight year they’ve failed to deliver that second Super Bowl ring.

In 2017, it took a miracle. In 2018, it took a no-call. In 2019 and 2020 it was on them. They didn’t deserve to win. All but one of those abrupt playoff exits came in the Superdome.

It’s been ‘Super Bowl or bust’ for a while here in New Orleans. Unfortunately 2020 will go down as another bust for the Saints.

Take Five: Other Observations

- Michael Thomas didn’t have a catch on four targets. For the most part, the Bucs played him press man, and he couldn’t get a lot of separation. Todd Bowles did a good job of game-planning for him. It was a tough year for Thomas, hopefully his 2021 season will be healthier and more productive.

- In the Saints last six playoff games they’ve scored: 20, 21, 20, 23,20 and 24 points respectively. They’re 2-4 in those games. While scoring in the low-20′s isn’t terrible, it does go to show that they need a little more out of their offense in the postseason.

- Deonte Harris’ injury was huge. He looked poised to have a big day. His punt return put the Saints in great field position on their opening drive. He took his second punt return to the house before Carl Granderson was called for a block in the back.

- Tre’Quan Smith said after the game that the trick play that he scored on from Jameis Winston was originally drawn up for Harris.

- That play looked an awful lot like the one the Bears ran a week before that was dropped in the end zone.

- Going up 6-0 early instead of going up by 10 or 14 felt a lot like the NFC Championship game against the Rams. Thomas’ knee appeared to just touch the boundary on his back shoulder catch on the first drive. Thomas seems to have disputed that on social media after the game.

- Devin White is a beast, while Fournette had a much bigger impact than I thought he would on the game.

- The finality of the season brings some harsh realities to the Saints. They’ll be well over the cap, while the coaching staff, front office and roster will look significantly different next season.

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