TAMPA, Florida - The New Orleans Saints lost at Tampa Bay, 31-24, Sunday afternoon on a 39-yard touchdown pass from Jameis Winston to Chris Godwin with nine seconds left.
But the Saints (11-5) still won the NFC South as Carolina (11-5) fell to Atlanta, 22-10, and lost the tiebreaker to New Orleans because of two losses to the Saints. Carolina will get a third try to beat the Saints as it will be in the Superdome next Sunday for a Wild Card playoff. The Saints are the No. 4 seed.
A New Orleans win Sunday would have made it the No. 3 seed and hosting Atlanta (9-7), which is the sixth seed and will play at the Los Angeles Rams,
"We won the NFC South, but we still have work to do," said head coach Sean Payton after the game.
The Saints led 24-23 with 1:58 to play in the game when the Bucs (5-11) took over at their 5-yard line after a punt.
Tampa Bay took a 20-17 lead over New Orleans early in the fourth quarter on a fumbled punt return by the Saints' Tommylee Lewis at his 7-yard line, which ended up being the killer for New Orleans.
Josh Robinson stripped the ball out of Lewis' arm just as he was about to hit the ground. Isaiah Johnson recovered it and returned it for a 7-yard touchdown. Saints' safety Vonn Bell had just forced the Tampa Bay punt when he sacked quarterback Jameis Winston for an 11-yard loss.
New Orleans, which won its first NFC South title since 2011, did not blink, though. It drove 92 yards in 13 plays and took up nearly seven minutes for a touchdown and 24-20 lead with 7:07 to go in the fourth quarter at Raymond James Stadium.
Quarterback Drew Brees hit fullback Zach Line on a 3-yard touchdown pass for the score. Tampa Bay then followed with a 51-yard drive in 10 plays and a 42-yard field goal by Patrick Murray to get within 24-23 with 4:31 to play in the game.
Tampa made the final 31-24 when it made a two-point conversion after the Godwin touchdown.
The Saints scored on the longest kickoff return in club history in the first quarter and took a 14-7 lead late in the period, but found itself in a bit of a struggle with Tampa Bay in the third quarter while nursing a 17-13 lead.
The Saints took the 17-13 lead on a 48-yard field goal by Wil Lutz with 2:44 to go in the third quarter after a 50-yard drive in nine plays.
New Orleans, bidding for a 12-4 regular season finish, faked its first field goal of the season late in the first half on a fourth-and-five play from the Tampa Bay 30-yard line. Lutz lined up as if to attempt a 47-yard field goal for what could have been a 17-13 Saints' lead, but he took a pitch from holder Chase Daniel instead and appeared to have an open lane for the first down. Former LSU linebacker Kwon Alexander nailed him one yard short, though, and the Saints turned the ball over on downs.
The half ended with the Saints up 14-13 and leading in total yards 233 to 125 as quarterback Brees was 7 of 13 for 86 yards.
Kamara's kickoff return broke the team record of 102 set by Eric Guliford in a 38-24 loss at St. Louis in the 1997 season opener and tied the score 7-7 with 9:29 to go in the first quarter. Tampa Bay had taken the opening kickoff and driven 75 yards in 14 plays for a touchdown and 7-0 lead.
The Saints went up, 14-7, on a 7-yard touchdown run by Kamara to close a 65-yard drive in six plays. Saints safety Marcus Williams intercepted Winston at the Saints' 35 to set up the drive.
The Buccaneers drove 75 yards in 12 plays to cut it to 14-13 at the 5:50 mark of the second quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run by Winston on third-and-goal. He was stopped initially, but second and third efforts got him across. Murray missed the extra point wide right.