Once again, the New Orleans Saints bowed out of the postseason early, becoming just the third team in NFL history with four or more straight seasons of 11-plus wins and zero Super Bowl victories.
Credit goes to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense in Sunday night's 30-20 victory for putting the clamps on a restricted Saints offense, forcing four turnovers.
Much of the discussion following the Saints' loss will be about Drew Brees' struggles. However, some of New Orleans' best players didn't step up to aid the 42-year-old QB.
Most notably, the Bucs shut out Michael Thomas, holding the two-time first-team All-Pro to zero catches on just four targets.
Bucs corner Sean Murphy-Bunting said that it felt good to put the clamps on Thomas after the receiver apparently was taunting him and the rest of the Bucs D before the contest.
"Man, we just played ball," Murphy-Bunting said, via NFL Network's James Palmer. "I'm not the type to be doing the back and forth, he said, she said thing. But I took it to heart when during pregame I'm sitting on the bench, and he's walking down the sideline mean-mugging me three or four times. I don't say much, but when you do something like that, it's like you're trying me as a man. So with all that taunting stuff that he does, and muscles up and all that, he didn't do it one time this game. I'm not going to sit here and trash talk anybody. He's a really, really, really good receiver. Catch radius. He's really talented. But at the end of the day, you're not going to try me as a man. You're not going to try any of my guys. We're going to battle. That's it."
One of those four incompletions to Thomas ended in a Murphy-Bunting interception in the second quarter, which he took back to the Saints' 3-yard line. The Bucs scored their first TD on the next play, completely changing the tenor of a game that had gone the Saints' way until that moment. Murphy-Bunting joined Ronde Barber (2002 Divisional Round and NFC Championship Game) as the only players in franchise history with an INT in consecutive playoff games.
Tampa held Thomas to his first career game with fewer than two receptions, including playoffs. The 27-year-old entered averaging 94.3 career receiving yards per game in the postseason. The Bucs held him to a goose egg.
"We played like we had total belief," Murphy-Bunting said of the defensive effort. "At the end of the day, the entire year we believed we could win games, but I don't think that everybody was on the same page and communicating and doing those things. But tonight was just different. Guys were out there flying around from the first quarter to the fourth quarter and there wasn't any hesitation in between. Usually we start games slow and then we've got to pick it up and fight back, but going into halftime... it was tied. It was just different -- it was a different atmosphere, it was a different team [and] it was a different unit because everybody was together. Everybody went into this game knowing we could win the game. Not just going in to play ---we went in to win and came out with that outcome."