Bucs' youth movement upstages Tom Brady-Drew Brees matchup
It was a paradox borne of precociousness. The prevailing Bucs-Saints story line - the first playoff game featuring two starting quarterbacks older than 40 - was upstaged by a collection of kids. In the final analysis, the seniors were darn near discounted. And the 20-somethings took over. "They played incredible," Tom Brady said.

At seemingly every critical juncture of the Bucs' 30-20 division playoff triumph stood a player roughly half the age of Brady, 43, and Drew Brees, 42. There was beleaguered second-year cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting, stepping in front of a short Brees throw intended for Michael Thomas (who had taunted Murphy-Bunting during pregame activities) for an interception leading to the first Bucs touchdown.

"It just gave (the offense) life," Murphy-Bunting said. "Nobody was dead, nobody was out of it, it just gave them an opportunity to put points on the board, get a spark going and get things going."

There was rookie free safety Antoine Winfield Jr., punching the ball from 254-pound tight end Jared Cook onto the Superdome turf for a recovery by fellow 22-year-old Devin White (team-high 11 tackles, one interception, one fumble recovery). "That's just effort," Murphy-Bunting said.

There was Winfield's former Minnesota teammate, 22-year-old Tyler Johnson, contorting his body to make an outstretched catch on third and 11 for a 15-yard gain on a field-goal drive. And there was 26-year-old Aaron Stinnie, embryonic in terms of NFL game experience, holding his own at right guard in the first pro start of his life. "Stinnie did a great job," Brady said.

"Aaron Stinnie played his tail off," coach Bruce Arians said. "Knew he would. He's been around now for a year and a half, two years, and he's a good little player." Such is the assemblage of spunk bound for next weekend's NFC title game in Green Bay: sombered by some periodic adversity, seasoned by a pair of playoff triumphs on the road and buoyed by confidence.

"I'm a very confident dude," said Murphy-Bunting, whose December struggles have been offset by an interception in each of his first two career playoff games. "I had a (slow) start. I had some rough patches here and there, but at the end of the day, I'm always going to be me. I'm never really going to change. I'm going to work hard every day, put my head down and I'm going to grind."

White was more succinct. "I know one thing," White said. "We might be young, but we can get after it when we've got our minds set to it."

Joey Knight, Tampa Bay Times, published 18 January 2021