-Much has been made about the fact that the Bucs are going to have to get past the Saints, a team they lost to twice in the regular season, if they want to move on in the playoffs. That's all well and good on the outside but on the inside, Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles says none of that matters now.
"We're in the right frame of mind – we don't have any doubts," he said on Thursday. "That's one thing we don't have – doubts. We're going to go in with guns blazing, we're going to play hard and they're going to play hard, so it should be a heck of a football game. We should be able to handle the ebbs and tides of the football game. Not everything is going to go our way – we've seen that throughout the season and the guys have responded, so that's all we can go off of and that's how we're going to play it."
Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich knows his offense didn't play their best games against New Orleans in Week One or Week Nine. But that's also in the past.
"We're going to accept responsibility for the times we've been here and haven't found a way to win," Leftwich said. "This is a whole new ballgame Sunday night, so all we can do is prepare, get ourselves ready to roll and that's what we're doing. We're getting ready to play a tough football team – a team that's been together a while now. These guys have been in a lot of these situations together – coaches and players – so we know what we're up against. It's exciting for us to have this opportunity to compete against a team like that, so we're going to do what we need to do to get ready this week and get ready to roll Sunday evening."
It's been nearly two months since the last matchup between these two teams and the Bucs haven't remained stagnant. Just ask the captain at the helm of it all.
"I think we've certainly come a long way," said quarterback Tom Brady. "I think we're just going to keep improving. The more we're together, the more we're talking about football, the more we're trying to be on the same page, the better it is. It's a complex game – there's a lot of moving parts [and] there's a lot of coordination involved between a lot of different positions. I think the quarterback-receiver relationship is really important. The more that I've been around Mike [Evans], Chris [Godwin], Antonio [Brown], 'Scooter' (Scotty Miller), Tyler [Johnson], 'Mick' (Jaydon Mickens) – the better it gets. The tight end position, I've been around Gronk (Rob Gronkowski) for a long time – I know exactly what he's thinking [and] how he looks. Cam [Brate] is a pretty easy guy to get up to speed with, too. We're just going to keep trying to make improvements. We've got a big test this weekend [against] one of the great teams in the NFL [who has] consistently been one of the great teams for a long time. We're going to have to go play a great football game."
A lot of it will hinge on the guys protecting Brady, which they're well aware of. But the offensive line hasn't been immune to the improvements the Bucs' offense has seen and they are going into Sunday's divisional matchup with momentum in their favor.
"It's kind of the ebb-and-flow of the season as a whole unit, but as a unit, I feel like since the Bye Week we've really been putting games together," said center Ryan Jensen. "That's really what it is – gaining that momentum, continually playing and being next to each other has been huge."
The line will face some shakeups though due to an injury to right guard Alex Cappa, who fractured his ankle in Washington. Guard Aaron Stinnie has been named the starter in his place and it's an opportunity the James Madison-product has been looking forward to for a while.
"To do this, when you're in that backup role, you're pretty much preparing the whole year for a moment like this," said Stinnie. "You always want to prepare yourself as though you are going to be the starter that week so that there is no surprise or shock to yourself when that moment [comes] that you have to go in. So, I've definitely been preparing for a while. As far as this week, I'm definitely trying to dive [deeper] into things, but it's kind of just sticking with the same routine and program that I've been doing. I feel like what I've been doing all year long has been preparing me mentally and physically for the game, so I'm just trying to keep with those roots on it."
-Here's what the Saints are saying ahead of Sunday.
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