If this is the end for Drew Brees, the script was familiar.
The New Orleans Saints could have won Sunday’s NFC divisional playoff game. The defense did a good job against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Had the Saints avoided big mistakes, they’d be going to the NFC championship game in Green Bay. Four Saints turnovers, including three interceptions by Brees, were the difference.
The Buccaneers weren’t great, but their effort was good enough to beat the Saints 30-20 and get Brady to his 14th conference championship game, this one his first in the NFC. He and the Bucs will square off with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers on Jan. 24 with a trip to Super Bowl LV on the line.
It was another playoff disappointment for Brees and the Saints, and this might be the last one. One of the stories of this postseason has been Brees’ future. Reports have said he plans to retire after this season. Brees hasn’t confirmed that and could come back, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he retires.
Brees has a lot of records, a Super Bowl ring and will go to the Hall of Fame. The latter years of his career, if Sunday was his last game, will be remembered for the Saints coming close time after time in the playoffs and never getting over the hump.
Tom Brady, Drew Brees have quiet days
The game was headlined by the two legendary quarterbacks, who occupy the top two spots in career passing yards and career passing touchdowns. But the first NFL playoff game with two 40-year-old starting quarterbacks looked like a game between two 40-year-old quarterbacks.
Neither QB was great in the first half. Brady was 10-of-21 for 93 yards. Brees was 10-of-17 for 63 yards with an interception that led directly to a Buccaneers touchdown. Jameis Winston threw the best ball of the half, for a 56-yard touchdown on a trick play.
The Saints and Buccaneers traded touchdowns in the third quarter. Brees hit Tre’Quan Smith on a nice back-shoulder throw. The Saints had a chance to extend their lead, but Jared Cook lost a fumble and the Bucs turned that into a touchdown from Brady to Leonard Fournette. The game was tied 20-20 going into the fourth quarter.
The Saints didn’t have enough on offense to take back control of the game. They couldn’t move the ball, and then the Buccaneers finally went on a long drive. Rookie Tyler Johnson made a pretty catch on third down to keep the drive alive. Ryan Succop hit a field goal to put the Bucs ahead 23-20.
In other years, a three-point deficit with about 10 minutes left wouldn’t faze the Saints. But they didn’t have prime Brees at quarterback anymore. An interception over the middle to Devin White with 7:08 left on an apparent miscommunication with Alvin Kamara put the Saints away. Tom Brady scored on a quarterback sneak with 4:57 left to put the Buccaneers ahead 30-20.
A deflected interception, which went through Cook’s hands, was the final blow. And maybe the final pass of Brees’ great career.
Saints take another playoff loss
New Orleans playoff heartbreak became an annual event the past few years. There was the Minneapolis Miracle. Then the infamous non-call on an obvious pass interference against the Rams. Last season the Saints went 13-3 but didn’t get a bye, and were upset in overtime by the Vikings. Sunday was the third straight home playoff loss for the Saints.
Without Brees’ two interceptions or Cooks’ fumble in the second half, the Saints could have won despite the offense not doing much. Those two turnovers resulted in 21 points. The Saints got a home game against a division rival it beat soundly twice in the regular season, and the defense did a good job against Brady. The mistakes were too much to overcome.
Brees is one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. He is arguably the greatest NFL free-agent signing of all time. The Saints had never won anything before Brees got there, and were close to moving to San Antonio at one point. There aren’t many players who are more singularly attached to a franchise as Brees is with the Saints. His one Super Bowl title will always hold a special place in Saints history.
If this was it for Brees, it will always feel like the Saints should have got to at least one more Super Bowl before he retired. They had plenty of chances.
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