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Sunday, January 2, 2011
Rapid Reaction: Buccaneers 23, Saints 13

By Pat Yasinskas

NEW ORLEANS -- I’m heading downstairs for interviews and will be back with more later. But, first, a Rapid Reaction to Tampa Bay's 23-13 victory against the Saints.

What it means: At very least, the Buccaneers showed they can play with the big boys. The knock on them all season was that they couldn’t beat a good team. Well, scratch that off the list because the Saints are the defending Super Bowl champions and are headed back to the playoffs. The Bucs will have to wait to see what happens later this afternoon. They need the Giants and Packers both to lose to get into the playoffs. Even if they don’t get in, a 10-win season is far better than anyone expected from the Bucs, and a victory like this should send them into the offseason with lots of momentum.

What I liked: The decision by Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris and/or offensive coordinator Greg Olson to go for it, rather than attempt a field goal, in the third quarter. The call was for Josh Freeman to fake a quarterback sneak and, then, throw for the end zone. He did, and rookie Mike Williams went up and made the catch over Jabari Greer for a touchdown.

What I didn’t like: Even though Atlanta was blowing out Carolina and locking up the NFC South and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, the Saints kept their starters in the game. That came after safety Malcolm Jenkins, tight end Jimmy Graham, running back Chris Ivory and defensive end Alex Brown all were hurt in the first half. Brown was the only one of those three to return in the second half. The Saints had receiver Marques Colston, running back Pierre Thomas, tight end Jeremy Shockey and defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove inactive for this game due to injuries. The Saints finally pulled some of their starters in the fourth quarter, but they might have been exposed to injury longer than necessary. There might be some other bumps and bruises emerging after the fact and that could leave the Saints shorthanded for the playoffs.

What’s next: The Saints will enter the playoffs as the No. 5 seed. They’ll play on the road against the NFC West champions. The Bucs will begin the trip back to Tampa shortly, but you can bet they’ll be getting constant updates on how the Giants and Packers are faring.