NEW ORLEANS — The Saints made four key turnovers that gave Tampa extremely short fields and the Bucs turned three of them into touchdowns in a 30-20 divisional round victory Sunday.
The loss ended the Saints season on their home field in the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
"It's hard to beat a team in the playoffs when it's that lopsided on the turnover ratio," said head coach Sean Payton. "When you get into these games, there aren't that many surprises. It's more about attention to details... That's the frustrating thing about the turnovers."
"Take all the emotion out of it, you turn the ball over four times and they don't turn it over, it's not a winning formula," said running back Alvin Kamara. "You can't turn the ball over and expect to win, especially not against a good team."
The game is widely believed to be the final one for Saints quarterback Drew Brees. A report prior to the game from FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer said Brees’ would retire after the Saints season ended, whenever that was.
Brees was non-committal after the game about his future plans, saying he would take the same path he has the previous few seasons, taking some time to evaluate the season and his future before making a decision.
He did however, put much of the blame for the game on his interceptions.
"A couple of them I probably shouldn't have thrown, maybe forced it in there," he said. "At the end of the day, that's what this game down to, the turnovers. All of those gave them the ball deep in our territory."
Payton said any thoughts on what Brees has meant to the team is "for another press conference" when asked about whether this is the end of that era.
For the third time this season the Saints made life tough for Tom Brady, but this time the offense kept providing Brady with gifts in the form of exceptionally short fields and the six-time Super Bowl winner gladly took advantage.
Brees threw an interception in the second quarter that was returned to the 3-yard line. One play later Brady hit Mike Evans for a touchdown and the Bucs led the Saints 10-6.
In the second half, the Saints were up 20-13 and driving for a possible two-score lead when Brees’ hit Jared Cook for a key first down, but Cook coughed up the ball and Tampa returned it into Saints territory at the 40.
A few plays later Brady hit Leonard Fournette for a 6-yard touchdown pass and the game was tied 20-20.
Brady led a go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter that led to a field goal and then Brees and Alvin Kamara missed signals and Devin White intercepted bringing the ball back to the Saints' 20.
Brady snuck in for a touchdown to make it 30-20 and all but seal the game.
Brees threw a third INT in the next drive and Tampa ran out the clock.
For Brees, it was his worst outing in the playoffs as a Saints player. He hit 19-of-34 passes for 134 yards and the three interceptions. He finished with a dismal quarterback rating of 38.1.
Brady was not exceptionally sharp, but he didn't make crucial mistakes, hitting on 18-of-33 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked only once and was rarely pressured.
Michael Thomas did not have a catch. Alvin Kamara ran 18 times for 85 yards.
The Saints lost on their home field in the playoffs for the third consecutive season with this loss, a loss to Minnesota last year in the wild card round and, of course, the loss in 2018 to the Rams in the NFC Championship on the no call that deprived the Saints and Brees of a second Super Bowl berth.
"It hurts a lot," said Tre'Quan Smith, who caught both of the Saints touchdown passes, a 54-yarder on a trick play that had Jameis Winston and a 16-yarder from Brees.