TAMPA, Fla. -- Drew Brees had another big day passing, yet the New Orleans Saints got back on track because of Chris Ivory.
The Super Bowl champions rolled to a 31-6 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with Brees throwing for 263 yards and three touchdowns and Ivory, a little-known rookie running back filling in because of injuries, providing some much-needed balance on offense with 158 yards rushing.
"It feels good. I worked for it," Ivory said Sunday after stepping up in the absence of Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas, whose injuries have contributed to the problems the Saints have had running the ball. "You always want to take advantage of the opportunities you get, and that's what I try to do."
Brees threw touchdown passes of 41 yards to Lance Moore, 42 yards to Robert Meachem and 4 yards to Heath Evans for New Orleans (4-2) which rebounded from a mistake-filled loss to Arizona to climb back into a tie for first place in the NFC South with Atlanta, which lost at Philadelphia.
Surprising Tampa Bay (3-2) lost for the second time in three games. Although the Bucs already have matched their win total from last season with victories over Cleveland, Carolina and Cincinnati, they've been outscored 69-19 in setbacks to the strongest teams they faced: Pittsburgh and New Orleans.
"You play heavyweights, you go out there and compete and you find out where you are," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. "It humbles you. It gets you in the right state of mind, gets your guys back into the laboratory ... and gets them to focus a little more."
New Orleans gained a season-high 475 yards total offense and was only forced to punt once -- with 12 minutes remaining in the game.
Ivory, an undrafted free agent out of Division II Tiffin, was a big part of that. He averaged 10.5 yards per carry on 15 attempts, including a long of 33 yards, joining Ladell Betts and Julius Jones in filling in for Bush and Thomas. The Saints finished with a season-best 212 yards on the ground.
"This is special," said Ivory, who because of injury appeared in just five games at Tiffin after transferring to the Ohio school from Washington State. "There were times where I felt like I didn't want to do it no more, but deep down inside I knew I wanted to do it, so I kept working hard, kept my faith and stayed dedicated to it."
The strong performance came less than a week after a prosecutor in the state of Washington said Ivory has been charged with second-degree assault stemming from an alleged July 2009 altercation in which the player is accused of hitting another man in the head with a bottle.
Ivory denies he committed the alleged crime, which could carry jail time of three to nine months if convicted.
Saints coach Sean Payton called Ivory a work in progress.
"He does some good things, and there's some things he's got to work on to get better," Payton said. "But I thought he ran hard."
New Orleans committed four turnovers, including three interceptions, in a 30-20 loss to the Arizona Cardinals last week.
Brees was much sharper this time, completing eight of his first nine attempts for 141 yards and two TDs. He threw his touchdown pass to Evans in the third quarter and had another TD pass nullified by an offensive pass interference penalty against Jimmy Graham.
"Any time you have a game like Arizona where you feel like it's definitely a game you should win and nobody plays well, you squander opportunities, it's frustrating and disappointing. You just can't get back on the field fast enough," said Brees, who was 21 of 32 with one interception and no sacks.
"Our mindset all week was focus on the process, on preparation, have a great week of practice and go on the road and win a big divisional game, and that's what we were able to do."
Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman completed 25 of 43 passes for 219 yards and one TD, a 2-yard throw to Micheal Spurlock on fourth-and-goal with just over five minutes to go.
The play finished an 88-yard drive aided by a pair of unnecessary roughness penalties on safety Malcolm Jenkins, who hit the Bucs quarterback out of bounds and then compounded the situation by drawing another penalty when Freeman confronted him.
A 2-point conversion attempt failed, New Orleans recovered an onside kick and scored on Ladell Betts' 1-yard touchdown that left Saints fans in the announced crowd of 51,759 chanting "Who Dat!"
"Offensively, we shot ourselves in the foot for most of the game. ... You know New Orleans is going to come in and put up some points," Freeman said. "But as an offense, you realize you have to match them."
Notes: Saints LB Stanley Arnoux was ejected with 1:47 left in the game, drawing an unnecessary roughness penalty at the end of a kickoff return following New Orleans' final touchdown. ... The Bucs were limited to 42 yards rushing on 18 carries. Cadillac Williams was held to 18 yards on 10 attempts.
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