Week 17 for the Buccaneers found them with one thing to play for. The future.
With news coming out this week head coach Dirk Koetter would return for the Buccaneers’ 2018 campaign, the entire franchise had their eyes focused solely on the what is to come instead of what has happened.
This was made apparent early on as wide receiver Bobo Wilson received the first carry of the game. This was followed by three straight carries by second year running back Peyton Barber. Then, Jameis Winston’s first pass was targeted for rookie Chris Godwin.
For the Saints, the only thing they had on the line was a division title. No big deal, right?
Spoiler is not the role any NFL player wants to take on, but it’s the one the Bucs are left with.
They started their final stand with an impressive fourteen play drive capped off by Barber’s third rushing touchdown of the season.
It’s just the second time in 2017 Tampa Bay started a game with a possession ending in the end zone.
However, whatever sense of accomplishment the Bucs had was short lived. For the second time in as many games the special teams allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown, and the Saints tied it back up at seven a piece.
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On the ensuing drive, Winston led his offense on six plays taking them across the 50-yard line. On the seventh, he threw an interception to rookie Marcus Williams at the New Orleans 35-yard line.
Overall, the remainder of the first half was fairly competitive despite star receiver Mike Evans coming up lame on a couple of plays.
He did return to the field, but renewing his rivalry with the Saints’ Marshon Lattimore didn’t prove profitable for Evans who finished the first half with just one catch for twelve yards.
The most painful part of the first half though, came with two minutes remaining. On a first down play near midfield, and driving with a chance to take the lead, Winston scrambled before trying to lob a pass to Barber.
It was underthrown, and subsequently intercepted by Saints linebacker Craig Robertson.
The play would have been a huge gain, if not a score for the Bucs, and essentially killed the team’s chance to take a first half lead into the locker room. As it stood, the Saints entered halftime with a 14-13 lead despite being outgained by Tampa, by more than 100-yards. (233-125)
The second half proved quite eventful. Things opened up a little slow, but really caught a head of steam nearing the middle of the third and into the fourth quarters.
It wasn’t what Buccaneers fans wanted to see, but Winston had a momentary relapse in his development and threw a very ill-advised pass into multiple defenders and one Evans.
The result, predictably, was an interception. Drew Brees took the turnover back down the field and eventually walked away with a Will Lutz field goal. The only scoring play of the third quarter.
Just inside the beginning of the fourth quarter, Bucs punter Bryan Anger drilled a 54-yard punt to the Saints’ fourteen. The punt was received by Tommylee Lewis, who then had the ball punched out by Tampa’s special teams captain, Josh Robinson.
Safety Isaiah Johnson recovered the fumble and ran it the remaining seven yards for a go ahead score, making it 20-17, Bucs.
Brees would get the lead back for his side on the following drive with a three-yard touchdown pass to Zach Line.
It would be the last drive of the game. The last drive of the year for the Buccaneers, that decided this game.
And just the way all fans would want it, it came off the arm of Winston not the leg of Murray.
With nine seconds remaining in the game, Winston found rookie Chris Godwin in the end zone for his first career NFL touchdown and the game winner.
The Bucs would tack on a two-point conversion to make it a full touchdown lead, but the Saints wouldn’t sniff the end zone on the ensuing kickoff and one play to end the game.
In the end, the Saints go on to the playoffs as NFC South division champions. The Bucs go home. But what a way to close it out.
Oh, and a special congratulation to Mike Evans for becoming just the third receiver in NFL history to notch four-straight 1,000-yard seasons. The Buccaneers young star joins A.J. Green and Randy Moss on this short list.
What did you think of the game?
"More thoughts and reactions from the Buccaneers’ Week 17 win over the New Orleans Saints!"