It may have been bittersweet because the Bucs would miss the playoffs after the Packers won their 4 PM game, but this was arguably the best win the Bucs had all season. Coming into the game the Bucs found themselves at 9-6, clinging to slim playoff hopes and facing a team that had whipped them in Raymond James earlier in the season.
Fortunately the team that played the Saints in week 17 was a completely different squad than the one the Saints decimated 31-6 in week six. Josh Freeman built on the success of the career game he’d had just a week before, out-dueling Drew Brees, going 21-26 for 255 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. It was a stark contrast from the first meeting when the Saints made Freeman look like he actually was a second year quarterback (a rare feat last season). Freeman was poised and accurate, finding Dezmon Briscoe on a gorgeous touch pass in the corner of the endzone for arguably his prettiest toss of the season in the second quarter.
The Saints were never in the game, even after they conceded and pulled Brees in the 4th the announcers (Brian Billick in particular) made sure to specify that the Bucs had clearly been the victor of this game before the Saints opted to go into the playoffs healthy as opposed to making a run. Regardless, the criticism of the Bucs all season had been their inability to beat a team above the .500 mark. If anything, even if discredited by everyone else, the Bucs showed themselves with that win that they could beat the elites and ended their season on an extremely high note.
It’s easy to be cynical and point out that the Bucs missed the playoffs and the Saints tanked the 4th quarter, but that’s also ignoring the win got the Bucs to ten, established considerable confidence and momentum heading into next year and brought Josh Freeman’s record to 2-0 in the Superdome.
This Bucs team is going to be in a very strong position going forward, but more than anything, after two consecutive late season trips to New Orleans and two consecutive late season wins, they know they can win there. Next season there’s a very good likelihood the NFC South could come down to a single game between the Bucs and Saints in New Orleans, and given recent the history the Bucs should feel pretty confident about their chances.