The NFC South became a little clearer today as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat division rival, the New Orleans Saints, 23 to 20. New Orleans had taken the first game of the series in week one with a 24 to 20 victory in the Superdome but this time the game took place on a wet and windy day in Tampa.
Tampa Bay has been undefeated at home this season, now with six wins for a record of 9 and 3. New Orleans was hoping to grab a playoff spot after a decisive victory on Monday Night Football against conference rivals and playoff contender, Green Bay, but is facing three teams in their division alone who have better records than their 6 and 6.
The game in week one was not decided until the last 44 seconds when the Saints defense intercepted a Jeff Garcia pass, killing their chances for a comeback. It was the same story today as the Buccaneers defense intercepted two last minute drives by the Saints, the first one setting up their winning field goal and the second to kill the Saints potent offense with under two minutes to play.
Saints QB Drew Brees (24,/47, 296 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs) has been on fire this season as he leads the league with 3,870 yards and is on the verge of breaking Dan Marino’s single season record for most yards passing. The Saints had the number one ranked passing offense coming into the game but they were going up against the number two ranked passing defense. The Buccaneers have been a hard team to beat this season and they proved it again by intercepting Brees three times.
Buccaneers QB Jeff Garcia (9/23, 119 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT) put up fewer yards and struggled completing his passes but was effective for his team on the ground as well with 42 rushing yards, more than any Saints player.
New Orleans was the first to score with a 47-yard field goal with less than six minutes left in the first quarter following a fumble caused by Saints LB Jonathan Vilma. Tampa Bay answered back with two in the second quarter: one from 38 yards and one from 23. With just a little over two and a half minutes to play, New Orleans drove down the field and grabbed the lead again as they scored a touchdown on a 13-yard pass to WR Lance Moore.
With a halftime score of New Orleans 10 and Tampa Bay 6, the Saints had only managed 4 rushing yards on 8 attempts but had 155 passing yards while the Buccaneers had 90 yards rushing and 33 passing.
The Buccaneers owned the third quarter with touchdowns on both of their first two possessions. Starting from New Orleans’ 46 yard line thanks to a facemask penalty on the Saints, Tampa Bay drove down a short field and scored their first touchdown with an 8-yard run into the end zone by RB Carnell Williams. After the defense sacked Brees causing a three and out, Garcia threw a 39-yard pass to WR Antonio Bryant on their second play to score their second touchdown.
New Orleans answered back by driving down the field, looking like they would score again but the Buccaneers’ Cato June intercepted a pass meant for Jeremy Shockey in the end zone to give Tampa Bay the ball. The Buccaneers were not able to capitalize on the turnover however and New Orleans had another chance as the game entered the fourth quarter.
The Buccaneers had their only penalty of the day when CB Ronde Barber was called for illegal contact on Jeremy Shockey that negated what would have been Brees’ second interception and allowed the Saints to continue their drive which ended when Brees threw a short pass to RB Pierre Thomas who ran 20 yards into the end zone, making the score 20 to 17. The Saints then tied the game with a 47-yard field goal and five and a half minutes left to play.
Brees was then intercepted for the second time by S Jermaine Phillips at the New Orleans 30 yard line. Even though the Saints sacked Garcia to force him back, the ensuing 37-yard field goal put Tampa Bay ahead for the final time.
With just under two minutes left to play, Brees threw an incomplete pass and followed it with his third interception, this time to CB Philip Buchanon, sealing the victory for Tampa Bay.
Buccaneers RB Warrick Dunn had 74 rushing yards in the game while Saints WR Marques Colston led all receivers with 106 receiving yards.
The Saints had RB Reggie Bush back for the first time in the last four games but he was not the weapon that the Saints hoped for with 0 rushing yards on 3 attempts, 32 receiving yards, and -8 yards on two punt returns.