As mentioned here, the 2020 season brought changes to the playoff format. The Saints, at 12-4, were the No. 2 seed in the NFC. They did not get a bye week, but they did get a matchup with Mitchell Trubisky, essentially a bye week. How would Drew Brees’ swansong end?
New Orleans-Tampa Bay, Part III
The Saints defeated the Bears and advanced to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In the regular season, New Orleans destroyed the Bucs. In the first matchup, New Orleans led by 17 with three minutes to go before Tampa Bay scored a meaningless touchdown to make the score closer.
On Sunday Night Football in Tampa, it only took six minutes for the Saints to score enough points to win the game. New Orleans eventually led 38-0 before a pity field goal made the score 38-3.
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The third matchup began in a similar manner as the Saints jumped out to an early lead. It was only 6-0, but the Saints were dominating defensively and with their special teams. Tampa Bay struck back with 10 quick points thanks to a Brees interception, but New Orleans kept pushing. Backup quarterback Jameis Winston came in for a trick play and launched a 56-yard touchdown to put the Saints back on top. Tampa Bay tied the game heading into the half.
New Orleans was unfazed. Brees and the offense marched 75 yards on 10 plays, capping it off with a Brees-to-Tre’Quan Smith touchdown.
Tampa Bay punted, but Antoine Winfield forced a fumble on the next drive, so the Bucs got prime field position.
With 17 minutes left to play, it was tied.
New Orleans punted.
Tampa Bay drove 60 yards, but they failed to score a touchdown.
Brees and the Saints have 10 minutes to engineer a comeback.
New Orleans starts to move the ball. Brees hits Emmanuel Sanders for a first down, and it seems as if New Orleans is establishing a rhythm.
Brees hits a flashing Devin White, and it looks great.
For the Bucs.
After the White interception, Tampa Bay took four plays to punch in a touchdown. New Orleans trails by 10.
Never fear, Drew Brees is here.
New Orleans picked up a quick first down. Brees then threw what could be his final pass in the NFL. Mike Edwards jumped the route and intercepted the pass.
Tampa Bay bled the final four minutes of clock out.
A Failed Swansong
After years of being the lone bright spot in a city that desperately needed a bright spot, Brees sat and pondered his future. He talked to Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady after the game. Brees and Brady had competed in college football, 22 years prior. They had dueled as conference rivals in 2002 and 2005. As established NFL greats, they dueled in 2009, 2013, and 2017. By the time 2020 had rolled around, Brees and Brady were the two most statistically dominant quarterbacks of all-time. They were first and second in yards and touchdowns. Both men are champions.
For all of the comparisons that Brady and Brees have, maybe the most telling is the fact that Brady will likely retire with as many wins over NFC teams in the playoffs as Brees. Brady will have an opportunity to pass Brees with an upcoming game against the Packers, but even if Brady and the Bucs fall short, Brady is likely to be back in 2021; his swansong will wait. Brees, on the other hand, is stuck in swirling retirement rumors. His nine playoff wins, eight over NFC teams, represent 90 percent of New Orleans’ playoff victories. Brady accounts for 30 of New England’s 37 playoff wins and two of Tampa Bay’s eight.
One can think back through the half-dozen missed opportunities that Brees and the Saints had. Sure, the Saints were generally one of the better teams in the NFL for 15 years, and they only won one Super Bowl. They failed to end Brees’ swansong with a ring.
Is it a disappointment?
However, viewing Brees and his Saints career as a disappointment is an overstatement. Sure, this article series outlining the failure of the Saints to win a second title will end up spanning 3,000 words and over 13 pages in Google Docs, but the happiness that Drew Brees and the Saints have brought to the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana could fill a Superdome of books. More than any player in NFL history, Brees is New Orleans and New Orleans is Brees. The kid from Austin, Texas grew up to be an NFL legend. The swansong may have failed, but the experience was a success.
He may not have an MVP. He may only have one ring. Brady may take the passing yards record away next season. However, if this is the end for Brees, he left the NFL in a better place
I began watching football in 2006, so Brees as a Charger is a historical relic to me. I was also a little too young to understand the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and what Brees and the Saints meant to the city. Brees was not just a quarterback or star player. He was a hero. He is a hero. Brees is someone that youth across the country can look up to and say “he played the game the right way,” and you can never question how much he loves New Orleans.
Brees played in the first ever game I bet on (the 2006 NFC Title Game). I may not be a Saints fan, but Brees is one of the reasons why I love football to this day. When I got Sports Illustrated Kids posters in the mail, Brees was one of the players I thought was cool enough to tape onto my closet door. Thank you for 15 years of memories.