By Jeff Moeller, The New York Extra/thenyextra.com
Sunday night in New Orleans, Todd Bowles smiled.
He should have. Despite his failure in New York with 24-40 head coaching slate, Bowles should enjoy the moment.
Over the past two seasons, Bowles has been back in his element.
The current Tampa Bay defensive coordinator managed to confuse and corral Drew Brees and his high-powered Saints’ offense to the tune of three interceptions, 294 total yards and 20 points in the Bucs’ 30-20 divisional playoff victory
Alvin Kamara, who had a combined 254 yards and seven touchdowns the past two games, was held to 85 yards. Receiving machine Michael Thomas didn’t have a catch.
This was Bowles at his best. Devise a plan to rattle the quarterback and limit the other possibilities.
His reunion with Bucs’ head coach Bruce Arians has helped his team to the NFC Championship game for the first time since 2002, the same year they beat Philadelphia and then thumped Oakland to win a Super Bowl under Jon Gruden.
Having the ageless Tom Brady to run the offense hasn’t hurt either. It’s hard to beat Brady three times in a season.
Before Arians landed in Tampa, he was a candidate to replace Bowles. The wild rumor circulated that Arians would bring back Bowles to be his defensive coordinator due to his loyalty to him.
Last season, the Bucs struggled through a 7-9 season. Changes on the offense were needed.
Bowles had Ndamukong Suh, ex-Giant Jason Pierre Paul, Shaquil Barrett, Lavonte Davis, Devin White, and Carlton Davis as a returning core, and second-round pick Antoine Winfield, and ex-Jet Steve McLendon helped solidify it.
When he arrived, Bowles inherited a unit that was ranked 27th. They improved to 15th overall and sixth in rushing last season.
Bowles’ boys recorded more interceptions, sacks, and tackles for losses this year than in 2019. They have been extremely effective stopping the run, allowing the league best 77 yards since 2019.
They were eighth overall, first against the run and 21st against the pass.
Bowles now faces the task of trying to package Packers’ phenom Aaron Rogers and his rolling offense, one that shows all the signs to advance to Tampa for Super Bowl LV. Despite the odds, this is part of the ultimate chess game for Bowles.
Bowles didn’t win a playoff game in four seasons with the Jets. He declined an interview for the Lions’ head coaching job and has left that carousel for this round.
Yet, he is just a few moves away from having a shot at the ultimate prize in early February.