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Tom Brady led the Bucs back from a 13-point, fourth-quarter deficit as they rallied to beat the Saints 17-16 Monday in a nationally televised game at Raymond James Stadium.
New Orleans led 16-3 after Will Lutz’s 29-yard field goal with 8:02 remaining.
But Brady got Tampa Bay within six points by leading a 10-play, 91-yard scoring drive, capped by a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Cade Otton, with three minutes still to play.
Then, after the Bucs’ defense forced a quick three-and-out, Tampa Bay went 63 yards in 11 plays for the winning touchdown, Brady connecting with running back Rachaad White from 6 yards for the go-ahead score with three seconds remaining.
They seemed to win it three plays earlier on a 5-yard pass from Brady to Chris Godwin, but left tackle Donovan Smith was penalized for holding, pushing the Bucs back to the 15.
Ryan Succop put Tampa Bay ahead 3-0 with a 21-yard field goal on the Bucs’ opening possession before New Orleans scored the next 16 points.
Tampa Bay (6-6) extended its lead in the NFC South, where it leads Atlanta (5-8) by 1-1/2 games, Carolina (4-8) by 2 and New Orleans (4-9) by 2-1/2 with five games remaining in the regular season.
Brady completed 36 of 54 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Chris Godwin caught eight passes for 63 yards. Mike Evans had four receptions for 59 yards.
Leonard Fournette ran for a team-leading 49 yards on 10 carries. White ran for 28 yards and caught six passes for another 41.
Inside linebacker Lavonte David led the Bucs’ defense with 12 total tackles, 10 unassisted, one sack and two tackles for loss. Outside linebacker Carl Nassib also had a sack.
Here’s how it happened.
Difference of opinion
There was a telling moment with just under seven minutes remaining as the Bucs, trailing by 13, faced fourth and 10 from their 25-yard line.
Tampa Bay prepared to send the punt team on to the field before Tom Brady appeared to wave it off.
But Todd Bowles seemed to overrule his quarterback moments later, sending the punt team on to the field.
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It seemed to work out for both.
The Bucs’ defense rewarded its head coach’s faith by forcing a three-and-out, and Tampa Bay got the ball back about a minute and a half later at its 9-yard line.
Brady, aided by a 44-yard pass interference penalty against Paulson Adebo, then led a 91-yard touchdown drive capped by a 1-yard scoring pass to tight end Cade Otton, bringing the Bucs back to within 16-10 with three minutes remaining.
The Bucs’ secondary was victimized early and often during an early fourth-quarter drive.
Rookie cornerback Zyon McCollum was beaten by Chris Olave for a 26-yard gain down the right sideline, moving the Saints to the Bucs 47.
Then, with New Orleans facing third and 5, cornerback Carlton Davis was penalized for pass interference against Olave, giving New Orleans a first down at the 33.
Olave struck again three plays later on third and 4, making an 8-yard reception to the 19. McCollum appeared to slip on the play.
When two plays gained 8 yards, the Saints faced third and 2 from the 11. Outside linebacker Carl Nassib succeeded where the Bucs’ secondary failed, getting a hand on Dalton’s pass for Alvin Kamara, bringing up fourth down.
Will Lutz’s third field goal of the game, this time from 29 yards, extended New Orleans’ lead to 16-3 with 8:02 remaining.
Running to nowhere
Running back Leonard Fournette injected some life into the Bucs’ offense with back-to-back gains of 8 yards at the start of a late-third-quarter drive.
A Tom Brady pass to Chris Godwin gained 6 more yards to the Tampa Bay 47. After Cam Jordan batted away a pass, Brady connected with tight end Cade Otton for 10 yards and a first down at the New Orleans 43.
But drops by tight ends Ko Kieft and Otton quickly brought up third and 10. A Brady completion to Otton gained only 3 yards as the third quarter came to a close.
After seemingly considering going for the first down, the Bucs decided to punt. Jake Camarda’s kick went into the end zone, resulting in a net of only 20 yards.
A Saints drive that started inauspiciously midway through the third quarter turned fortuitous for New Orleans when Taysom Hill completed a 21-yard pass to Chris Olave to the Bucs 23.
Until that point, no play on the drive had gained more than 7 yards.
After a 4-yard Alvin Kamara run, Andy Dalton completions of 8 yards to tight end Adam Trautman and 8 to Kamara moved the ball to the 3.
Then, the Saints started moving backward. A Mark Ingram run up the middle resulted in no gain, and New Orleans was penalized 5 yards for having 12 men in the huddle, making it third and 7.
A Dalton pass to Hill was 2 yards short of the sticks, and the Saints had to settle for Will Lutz’s 21-yard field goal.
The kick extended New Orleans’ lead to 13-3 with 2:46 remaining in the third quarter.
Something gained, something lost
The Bucs moved into Saints territory early in the third quarter on a 22-yard contested catch by Mike Evans but turned the ball over just four plays later.
After Tom Brady overthrew Julio Jones deep down the left sideline, a holding penalty against Josh Wells made it second and 20 from the Tampa Bay 41.
A short pass from Brady to Rachaad White gained just 3 yards, making it third and 17 from the 44.
Brady again dumped the ball off to White, but Cam Jordan punched the ball out from behind, and fellow defensive end Carl Granderson recovered at the Saints 32.
Mike Evans’ first reception of the game briefly helped to extend a Bucs drive shortly before halftime.
Facing third and 3 from the Tampa Bay 35, Tom Brady threw to Evans near the right sideline for 14 yards and a first down at the 49. The play was ruled incomplete on the field but was overturned following a replay review.
But any momentum the Bucs might have gained was lost one play later, when Brady was intercepted by Saints linebacker Demario Davis, who returned the ball to the Bucs 49.
Two plays later, an Andy Dalton pass to Rashid Shaheed gained 12 yards to the Tampa Bay 27. A 5-yard run and 3-yard reception by Alvin Kamara moved the ball to the 19, bringing up third and 2.
But Jarvis Landry was unable to pull in a Dalton pass that would have resulted in a touchdown. New Orleans settled for a 38-yard Will Lutz field goal, extending their lead to 10-3 with 20 seconds to play in the half.
Back at it
No sooner had the Saints gone ahead than they were right back in Bucs territory.
After allowing just one first down on Tampa Bay’s next drive, New Orleans forced a punt. Rashid Shaheed returned Jake Camarda’s kick 42 yards before he was forced out of bounds by Camarda at the Bucs 40.
Andy Dalton hit Chris Olave in the hands inside the 20-yard line with a third-down pass, but Olave couldn’t hold on to the ball, and the Saints punted the ball back to the Bucs. The drop was Olave’s first of the season.
The Saints converted two big third downs during a mid-second-quarter touchdown drive that put them ahead for the first time in the game.
Andy Dalton found Rashid Shaheed for 19 yards to the New Orleans 45 on third and 4.
Three plays later, a short pass to tight end Adam Trautman picked up 20 yards to the Tampa Bay 31.
The Saints didn’t stop there.
Dalton found a wide-open Taysom Hill, who got behind safety Keanu Neal, two plays later for a 30-yard touchdown to put New Orleans ahead 7-3 with 7:33 to play in the half.
Off the mark
The Bucs got a break early in the second quarter, when a defensive holding penalty against Paulson Adebo helped keep a drive alive after Tom Brady overthrew Russell Gage on third down.
Brady found tight end Ko Kieft for 12 yards to the Tampa Bay 32 on the next play.
But the drive stalled after Brady twice threw incomplete deep downfield.
Brady’s pass deep down the left sideline for Scotty Miller was broken up by cornerback Alontae Taylor. Brady then had Julio Jones open deep down the right side, but he overthrew the receiver, forcing a punt.
The Saints made the first big play of the game on their second possession, as Andy Dalton connected with wide receiver Rashid Shaheed for 40 yards to the Bucs 47-yard line. Shaheed beat cornerback Jamel Dean down the left sideline.
But the play went for naught, as James Hurst was penalized for holding two plays later, creating second and 16 from the New Orleans 47.
The Saints got 8 back on an 8-yard Dalton completion to Jarvis Landry, setting up third and 8 from the Tampa Bay 45 as the first quarter came to a close. Dalton’s third-down pass for tight end Adam Trautman was too high, forcing a New Orleans punt.
The Bucs got into a nice rhythm on their opening possession, driving 72 yards in 16 plays to take a 3-0 lead.
Tom Brady completed 7 of his 8 passes on the drive for 45 yards. Running backs Rachaad White (14 yards) and Leonard Fournette (13) combined for 27 on the ground.
After White lost a yard on the opening play from scrimmage, Brady found Chris Godwin for 14 yards and a first down at the Tampa Bay 39. White then carried twice more for 8 yards, bringing up third and 2 from the 47.
Brady again connected with Godwin on an out pattern for a first down, this time for 6 yards to the New Orleans 47.
An 11-yard completion to Russell Gage advanced the ball to the 36. White then ran for 6, moving the Bucs to the 30. After a screen pass for White fell incomplete, Tampa Bay faced third and 4.
That’s when Fournette got involved, catching a short pass over the middle for 5 yards and a first down to the 22, then carrying for 5 yards to the 17. A dump pass to Fournette picked up 4 more yards, making it third and 1 from the 13.
Fournette burst through a huge hole up the middle, gaining 7 yards to the 6. But a Fournette run and Godwin reception netted just 2 yards, setting up third and goal from the 4. Brady threw a swing pass to Fournette in the right flat, but the running back was brought down by Marcus Maye 3 yards short of the end zone.
The Bucs settled for a 21-yard Ryan Succop field goal and 3-0 lead with 6:25 remaining in the first quarter.
Division wins more important than ever
This year, the division is everything.
At least, that’s the case in the NFC South.
For, if not for the — OK, we’ll call it parity — in the division this season, the Bucs wouldn’t be anywhere near the playoff board.
At 5-6, Tampa Bay has the eighth-best winning percentage in the NFC. Even under the expanded playoff format, that wouldn’t get the Bucs into the postseason.
But because every team in the division is under .500 more than two-thirds of the way into the season, Tampa Bay still has a shot.
A very good one, in fact.
With a wild-card spot seemingly a long shot, the Bucs need only stay atop the NFL’s worst division to earn a playoff berth and the home game in the wild-card round that comes with it.
With six games remaining in the regular season, Tampa Bay leads Atlanta (5-8) by a game, and New Orleans (4-8) and Carolina (4-8) by 1-1/2 in the NFC South.
Win tonight, and the Bucs will give themselves a 1-1/2-game cushion, plus the tiebreaker advantage they hold over the Falcons thanks to their head-to-head win in October. At the same time, they would drop the Saints two games back.
Tell me that wouldn’t appeal to the Bucs, who earlier this season snapped a seven-game, regular-season losing streak to the Saints with a 20-10 win at New Orleans and who have lost won four straight to the Saints at Raymond James Stadium.
Not to mention the animosity between the teams that again reared its head with a benches-clearing brawl in that September game precipitated by yet another dustup between Bucs receiver Mike Evans and Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore.
Of course, all of that is simply prologue to the bigger story line of the Bucs — winners of two of their past three after dropping three straight — attempting to regain their winning form in time to make a run at a second Super Bowl championship in three seasons in what very well could be Tom Brady’s final season in Tampa Bay.
They did it two seasons ago, winning their final four games of the regular season after a 7-5 start to pull away from their division rivals before adding four postseason victories en route to the Super Bowl 55 title.
Different season, vastly different scenario.
But they’ve still got Brady.
And the division gives them a clear path forward.
Bucs activate Ryan off injured reserve
As expected, the Bucs have activated safety Logan Ryan off injured reserve, giving the injury-depleted secondary a veteran option tonight against the Saints.
In a corresponding move, the team waived undrafted rookie safety Nolan Turner, whose four NFL games were limited to special-teams duty.
Read Joey Knight’s full story here.
Who’s in/who’s out
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A little light reading
Here’s some of our content leading up to today’s game:
White’s journey to the NFL included the Big Brother he never knew he needed
How did Tom Brady and the Bucs get here?
Bucs safeties Antoine Winfield, Mike Edwards miss practice again
Tom Brady asked for more individual passing drills to build confidence with receivers
Donovan Smith is Bucs’ last starting offensive lineman standing
Byron Leftwich, Tom Brady offer no clarity on clock management in Browns loss
Bucs linebacker Devin White named NFLPA Community MVP for Week 13
Mike Evans vs. Marshon Lattimore is a fight that needs its own referee
Depleted Bucs secondary could get veteran Logan Ryan back for Monday night
Bucs defense met for dinner Monday to air grievances, improve camaraderie
If Bucs coaches have no faith in their offense, why should you?
Tom Brady assumes blame for loss to Browns, warns against sleeping on 5-6 Bucs
Todd Bowles admits he was playing for overtime when he pocketed timeouts
Why aren’t Tom Brady, Mike Evans clicking? ‘It’s a good question,’ Todd Bowles says
Tristan Wirfs’ injury not as serious as feared
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