Saints outlast Bucs in aerial display
Tampa, FL – Drew Brees threw four touchdown passes in the first half and the New Orleans Saints hung on for a 35-28 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Brees went 27-for-37 with 377 yards and an interception as he extended his NFL-record streak of at least one touchdown pass in a game to 49.
Marques Colston, Darren Sproles, Joseph Morgan and David Thomas each caught a score while Lance Moore had nine catches for 121 yards for the Saints (2-4), who were coming off their bye week and have now won their past two games.
"That's pretty impressive, but when you think who it is, it doesn't surprise me," said Moore about Brees. "He's an unique talent we have back there and hopefully him and the rest of the team can continue to roll and bounce back from the rough start that we had."
Vincent Jackson had a huge game for Tampa Bay, as he totaled seven catches for a franchise-record 216 yards and a touchdown. Josh Freeman had three touchdown passes and went 24-for-42 with 420 yards for the Buccaneers (2-4), who were coming off a win against Kansas City last week.
"Our quarterback had a tremendous game but we had some missed opportunities," said Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano. "Again, we keep saying the same song and dance and that's the way it is until we change it, close but no cigar."
The Buccaneers began the second half with the ball and trailing by seven. They got into scoring range, but Connor Barth's 42-yard field goal attempt went wide left.
After a three-and-out from the Saints, the Buccaneers were pinned at their own 4-yard line, but the second play saw Jackson catch a tipped ball and race down the sideline. He was all alone, but Will Herring chased him down and tackled him at the 1-yard line.
That hustle play proved fortunate as the Saints protected their goal line. Three straight runs by LeGarrette Blount were stuffed and the team opted to go for it on fourth down. Freeman scrambled out to the right and tried to turn the corner, but he was chased down for a 4-yard loss and the Saints got the ball back.
A 35-yard catch by Moore got the ball near midfield and a Mark Ingram 10-yard run moved it to the Tampa 46. Later in the drive facing a 1st-and-goal at the 5-yard line, Pierre Thomas took it in off right guard for a 35-21 lead with 13:23 to play.
After an exchange of punts, Tampa was able to make it a one-score game with a long march. The 14-play, 81-yard drive was capped on a 3-yard touchdown grab in the back of the end zone by Dallas Clark to make it a 35-28 game with 4:10 to play. The drive was extended on an illegal contact call on New Orleans when Tampa faced a 3rd-and-25.
The Saints got one first down, but failed to get another and had to punt at the two-minute warning.
Starting at the Tampa 21, Freeman went to a familiar target as he hit Jackson for 38 yards to cross midfield. Clark then caught a 15-yard pass and catches of nine and eight yards by Clark and Jackson, respectively, got the ball to the 9-yard line.
After a spike to stop the clock on first down, Freeman's first pass to Tiquan Underwood went incomplete. A catch by Jackson in the back of the end zone was ruled out as both his feet barely touched out of bounds to set up a fourth down with five seconds left.
Following a New Orleans timeout, Freeman rolled to his left and found Mike Williams in the left side of the end zone for what appeared to be a touchdown, but Williams had stepped out of bounds prior to the catch and the illegal touch penalty ended the game.
Tampa's first score was set up by the defense as a Brees throw was tipped at the line and Ronde Barber came up with the pick. He took it 30 yards down to the Saints' 13.
On the next play, Freeman found Underwood near the 5-yard line and he took it in for a 7-0 lead just over 2 1/2 minutes in.
New Orleans went three-and-out on its next touch and the Bucs got the ball back at their own 24. The Saints lost a replay challenge went they attempted to get an incompletion turned into an interception. With the ball at the Saints' 36, Doug Martin took a handoff up the middle, kicked it out to the left and ran into the end zone for a 14-0 lead with 5:55 to play in the first.
New Orleans got on track on its next touch and was able to get on the board. The team converted two third downs on the 8-play drive that was finished when Brees found Colston at the 13 and he just got in at the right corner on a 17-yard score to make it a 14-7 game with 1:46 left in the first.
Tampa had an answer to that as the team moved 80 yards in just six plays with Jackson taking a catch and stretching it over the goal line for a 17-yard score and a 21-7 lead with 13:18 to play in the half, but it was all New Orleans from there.
New Orleans made it a one-score game on its next possession as Brees needed just nine plays to get into the end zone. Facing a second down at the Tampa 9, Brees hit Sproles with a short pass and the running back jinked his way into the end zone to make it a 21-14 game with 9:24 left in the second.
Following a quick possession from the Bucs, New Orleans got the ball back and the fifth play saw Brees go deep. Morgan came up with the catch, avoided one tackler, and while bent over had another tackler go over his back before running into the end zone on a 48-yard score to tie the game with 4:35 to play.
The Saints again held the Bucs and got the ball back at their own 28 and Brees went to work with 1:53 to play in the half. He completed three straight passes to get the ball past midfield and an 18-yard catch by Moore got the ball to the 20. The next play, Brees hit Thomas over the middle and he went into the end zone as the team took a 28-21 lead into locker room.
Brees hasn't had a game without a TD pass since Oct. 4, 2009 against the Jets. He went 20-for-25 with 313 yards and four touchdowns in the first half ... It was a career-high in yards for Freeman ... Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma played his first game of the season. He began the season on the physically unable to perform list after three surgeries in an eight-month span on his knee. He is the central figure in the NFL's bounty scandal and is allowed to play while he is appealing his season-long suspension. He is eligible to play until his hearing ... Martin led all runners with 85 yards on 16 carries ... The Saints play at Denver next Sunday night ... Tampa plays in Minnesota on Thursday.