NFL Football

Bucs excited to have third crack at division rival Saints

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

By FRED GOODALL

AP Sports Writer

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) No one does "win and advance" better than Tom Brady.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers weren't at their best in their first playoff victory in 18 years, but they won. That's all that really matters in the NFL playoffs.

"You could win 100-0 and it's going to be the same result in the end," Brady said of striking a balance between critical self-analysis of the team's play and the reality that a win is a win at this time of the year.

"You'd love to play great every game," the six-time Super Bowl champion added. "I think it's good to win and advance. If we don't play well next week, we're not going to be happy."

Next up for Brady and the Bucs, who beat Washington 31-23 in the NFC wild-card round, is a third matchup this season with NFC South rival New Orleans The Saints (13-4) won both regular season meetings convincingly, including 38-3 in Tampa on Nov. 8.

Overall, the Bucs (12-5) have lost five straight times to their division rivals, with four of the games decided by double digits.

Coach Bruce Arians said turnovers have been the difference since his arrival in Tampa Bay in 2019.

Brady has thrown 12 interceptions in his first season with Tampa Bay, five of them in the pair of losses to New Orleans. The Saints have also sacked the 43-year-old quarterback six times.

"The turnover margin has been lopsided in their favor. We've got to protect the football much better and stay balanced (on offense)," Arians said Monday, adding the Bucs aren't fazed by having to go on the road in the playoffs for the second straight week.

"I think they're really, really looking forward to it," the coach added. "Our guys are ready to play anybody, anywhere ... that's for sure."

WHAT'S WORKING

The Bucs set a franchise playoff record with 507 yards total offense against Washington, with Brady throwing for 381 - another club best - and two touchdowns. Mike Evans became only the second player in team history to have a 100-yard game receiving in the postseason, finishing with 119 yards on six receptions. Antonio Brown had his fifth TD reception in the past four games, and receiver Chris Godwin, tight end Cameron Brate and running back Leonard Fournette contributed, too.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Tampa Bay led the NFL in red-zone scoring percentage this season at 95.1 percentage, producing points on 58 of 61 possessions. That included 42 touchdowns, tied with Buffalo and Minnesota for fourth in the league behind New Orleans (49), Green Bay (48) and Tennessee (48). The Bucs had five red-zone possessions against Washington, but only got the ball in the end zone once. Nothing against kicker Ryan Succop, who's been outstanding, but settling for four field goals didn't sit well with Arians or Brady.

"Moved the ball OK, I think we had decent yardage, but at the end of the day it comes down to points," Brady said. "We've got to do a better job scoring more points."

STOCK UP

Filling in for injured running back Ronald Jones, Fournette had his best game since joining the Bucs late in training camp after being released by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He rushed for 93 yards on 19 attempts and had four receptions for 39 yards to account for 132 yards from scrimmage.

STOCK DOWN

The Bucs led the league is rushing defense for the second straight year, but have been vulnerable against the pass. Filling in for the injured Alex Smith, inexperienced Taylor Heinicke threw for 306 yards and one touchdown, while also taking advantage of his elusiveness and some shoddy tackling to pose problems for Tampa Bay in the wild-card round.

INJURED

Linebacker Devin White and backup defensive tackle Steve McLendon, who sat out the playoff opener, were activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday. Right guard Alex Cappa broke his right ankle against Washington and will be replaced in the lineup this week by third-year pro Aaron Stinnie.

KEY NUMBER

3 - This is the third time the Bucs will face an opponent three times in the same season. The others both occurred in 1997, when Tampa Bay was part of the NFC Central and met division rivals Detroit and Green Bay twice during the regular season and again in the playoffs. The Bucs split the season series before beating the Lions in a wild-card game. The Packers won all three meetings between the teams.

NEXT STEPS

Looking for a first victory in the divisional round of the playoffs since January 2003, when Tampa Bay went on to win its only Super Bowl championship.

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Updated January 11, 2021

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