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Critical late-game hit caps one of most fulfilling weeks of Keanu Neal’s life

Less than a week before the Saints game, Neal became a dad for the second time.
Published Dec. 8, 2022|Updated Dec. 10, 2022

TAMPA — Though universally lauded for the possible game-saving hit he delivered Monday night on Saints tight end Taysom Hill, Keanu Neal won’t remember it as the biggest moment of his season.

Or even his week.

Six days before giving his team new life (with the third-down hit on Hill), Neal’s wife, Krizia, did the same for their fledgling family. Krizia gave birth to a baby boy, Kai, in south Florida on Nov. 29. Among those welcoming him was 19 month-older brother Keanu Jr.

“This has been awesome,” the veteran safety said after Thursday’s practice. “It’s definitely a blessing, having children. And being able to be there with my wife through the delivery and everything is definitely a blessing.”

Neal reported mom and child are doing fine. The same can’t be said for the Saints’ faint postseason hopes after Neal’s intervention Monday.

His team leading by six with 2:40 to play, Hill caught a deep Andy Dalton pass over the middle on third and 17 before Neal popped the ball loose as the veteran tried to secure it. Had Hill held on, the Saints could have significantly milked the clock on the Bucs, who had only one timeout remaining.

Instead, Tom Brady got the ball back with 2:29 to play and engineered an 11-play drive, culminating with his 6-yard scoring pass to rookie Rachaad White with three seconds to play.

Neal said he collided with Hill, the ball and even teammate Jamel Dean in what he deemed “friendly fire.”

“I was playing middle of the field, and Andy threw a good ball and I broke on it,” Neal recalled. “My goal was to dislodge the ball from (Hill), and that’s kind of where I was aiming, trying to get my shoulder on the ball, because I noticed he had already caught it. It worked out.”

Injury update

If Thursday’s practice is any sign, the Bucs likely will be short-handed in the secondary for the second straight week.

Starting safeties Mike Edwards (hamstring) and Antoine Winfield (ankle) were seen working with a trainer on the eastern edge of the AdventHealth Training Center practice area Thursday, but didn’t participate in practice.

Neither played against the Saints, forcing veteran Logan Ryan — making his first appearance since an Oct. 2 foot fracture — to play all 59 defensive snaps. The absence of Edwards and Sean Murphy-Bunting (quad) meant extended work for rookie Zyon McCollum at nickel cornerback, where he struggled in his 41-snap effort.

Fortunately for the Bucs, Murphy-Bunting has participated on a limited basis the last two days and could be in play for Sunday’s game against the 49ers.

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“I’m sure Todd (Bowles) will speak more about it (Friday), but we’ll take anybody we can get back,” run-game coordinator Kacy Rodgers said.

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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