The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a game away from Super Bowl 55, as they defeated the New Orleans Saints 30-20 Sunday at the Louisiana Superdome.
The Bucs move on to their first NFC Championship game since the 2003 season, where they advanced to Super Bowl 37 in 2003 with a win over the Philadelphia Eagles, and have a chance to become the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium.
They will face the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game at 3:05 next Sunday afternoon.
Leading 23-20 in the fourth quarter, Devin White picked off a Drew Brees pass, the Saints' third turnover of the game, and gave the Buccaneers excellent field position. Tom Brady punched it in from a yard out four plays later to give the Bucs a 30-20 lead with 4:57 left in the fourth quarter. White also had a fumble recovery after Antoine Winfield Jr. stripped the ball from Saints' tight end Jared Cook in the third quarter.
The Saints turned the ball over four times, three on interceptions of Brees, who may have played his last game.
It was a game of huge momentum swings; every time it looked as if one team had all the momentum, the other took it right back with either a big play or turnover. And the Saints had a lot of early momentum, as the Bucs reverted to the bad habit of getting off to a slow start.
After an opening three-and-out, the Bucs punted away to Saints returner Deonte Harris, who bounced off an initial hit and rambled 54 yards to give the Saints prime field position at the Bucs 21 yard line. But the defense stiffened and held the Saints to a Wil Lutz field goal that gave the Saints an early 3-0 lead.
After another three-and-out by Tampa Bay, Harris took the subsequent punt 67 yards to the house, but the play was called back by a block in the back. Nevertheless, the Saints drove down the field again, and again, the Bucs' defense stiffened, and the 12-play drive by the Saints ended on a 42-yard field goal by Lutz.
The Bucs got their first score of the game after a 14-play, 67-yard drive ended with a 26-yard Ryan Succop field goal. Then on the next Saints drive, Sean Murphy-Bunting got the Bucs first turnover on an interception, which he returned 36 yards down to the Saints' three-yard line. On the very next play, Brady hit Mike Evans for a three-yard touchdown pass, giving the Bucs a 10-6 lead.
However, the Saints snagged the momentum right back on a trick play with Jameis Winston lined up at WR on the right, and Kamara in shotgun. Kamara handed the ball to Harris, who flipped it to Winston, who threw to a wide-open Tre'Quan Smith for a 56-yard touchdown to put the Saints ahead 13-10.
The Bucs tied the game at 13 with a 37-yard Succop field goal to end the half.
Again, the Saints grabbed momentum to start the second half, as they drove the ball down the field with Alvin Kamara runs and short Brees passes, owing to his obvious lack of arm strength. The drive ended on a 16-yard touchdown pass to Smith, who beat Ross Cockrell to the front right corner of the end zone, making the score 20-13. And that would be the last time the Saints would score.
After a Bucs punt on the next possession, the Saints looked to stretch their lead, and after converting a third-and-eight on a Murphy-Bunting pass interference penalty, the Saints faced a third-and-two at their own 45. A short pass from Brees to tight end Jared Cook picked up 10 yards, but Winfield forced the Cook fumble, White recovered and ran it back to the Saints' 40.
The subsequent drive ended with a six-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Leonard Fournette, who bobbled the ball on the way into the end zone, tying the game at 20.
The Bucs never looked back after going ahead 23-20 on a 36-yard Succop field goal, and scored their last touchdown on a sneak by Brady after White's interception.
A late pick of Brees by Mike Edwards ended the Saints' night, as the Bucs were able to run out the clock and secure the victory.
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