NEW ORLEANS – Drew Brees vs. Tom Brady, Part III. Another one for the history books.
The second-line New Orleans Saints will host the fifth-line Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a playoff matchup for the ages this coming weekend after the Saints beat the Chicago Bears 21-9 on Sunday.
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Brees, who turns 42 on Friday, is expected to retire after his 20th NFL season. But it won’t come until another epic showdown against 43-year-old Brady, who stepped up the intensity of this long-running rivalry by signing with rival Buccaneers this off-season.
“The minute he signed with the Bucs and got into the division it felt like this was going to be a team to deal with,” said Brees of the upcoming matchup. “So I think it was inevitable.”
Brees comes first in NFL history while Brady comes first with touchdowns and, of course, Super Bowl rings. By week 1, they were the first pair of quarterbacks over the age of 40. Now they’ll be the first to do it in the postseason.
The Saints (12-4 in the regular season) will be looking for a three-game game after beating the Buccaneers at home 34-23 in Week 1 and 38-3 in Week 9 in Tampa.
The Bucs (11-5) have played their best football lately. But the Saints are as healthy as they have been all year after recipients Michael Thomas and Deonte Harris returned from injured reserves and Alvin Kamara returned from the reserve / COVID-19 list in time for Sunday’s playoff opener.
Alvin Kamara was removed from the reserve / COVID-19 list to try to attract the Saints to the divisions playoffs. AP Photo / Brett Duke
Thomas (five catches for 73 yards and his first TD catch of the season), Kamara (23 catches for 99 yards and one touchdown), and Harris (seven catches for 83 yards) made their mark in Sunday’s win over Chicago.
But the Saints relied even more heavily on their strong defense, while only scoring seven points in the first 40 minutes of the game.
Key point: Brees had a solid performance, completing 28 of 39 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns. But his best part of the day was improvised. Brees had to evade heavy pressure after his first two readings weren’t open late in the third quarter – and he was barely cleared of an emergency ID to run Latavius Murray back. Murray was also excellent at improvising, turning around after a block to look for the ball. Then he did the rest of the work on his way to the end zone and put New Orleans 14-3 ahead.
After the game, Brees said Murray wasn’t even in development for that game.
“There are four other people – and he’s actually blocking,” said Brees. “He was there to edit Khalil Mack. So he was down and then he showed up and I gave it to Latavius over Mack’s head. They played a completely different coverage than what the piece was intended for. So nobody was open. “
Promising trend: The Saints’ defense has been largely excellent for the past two months – and continued on Sunday, even if bag handler Trey Hendrickson was out with a neck injury. They never allowed the bears to get into this game, despite the saint’s offense keeping the door open for so long. Chicago (which scored their final touchdown in the last game of the game) finished 1 of 10 on third downs.
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Safety CJ Gardner-Johnson led the Saints in seven tackles – including a fantastic stop on the fourth relegation when he was chasing quarterback Mitchell Trubisky from behind. And, amazingly, Gardner-Johnson managed to get another bear receiver to hit him and get ejected for the second time this season (Sunday it was Anthony Miller; earlier this year it was Javon Wims).
Worrying trends: Saints’ kicker, Wil Lutz, missed a field goal by 50 meters in the first half and missed four of his last seven field goal attempts in the last six weeks. Lutz, who also missed an extra point last week, went to the Pro Bowl last year and was one of the NFL’s most reliable kickers before his last skid.
“Wil is someone who will bounce back,” said Saints coach Sean Payton after the game. “I think he’ll answer the bell.”
Also, Backup Saints quarterback Taysom Hill lost his sixth fumble of the season when he was sacked while holding onto the ball for too long in the second quarter. Hill looked for a deep pass attempt (which appeared to be open). But he didn’t get rid of the ball soon enough. His ball control was also one of his biggest mistakes during his four-game stint as the Saints starting quarterback when Brees was injured earlier this season.