TAMPA, FL. – The Bucs took out head coach Sean Payton on the Saints first series and then took out the rest of the turnover-plagued team in posting a 26-20 win Sunday.
Drew Brees threw for more than 350 yards for the fourth straight game, an NFL record, but he was picked off three times – along with a Pierre Thomas fumble - the Saints turned it over four times and weren’t able to take it away even once.
"We turned it over four times and didn't get one," said Brees. "That'll get you beat...but we battled."
Trailing by six with about seven minutes to go, Brees engineered a drive that looked very much like last week’s game-winner against Carolina until it ended with a fourth down interception in the end zone by Quincy Black.
The drive started on the Saints own 16 and was moving smoothly, but like many drives this year, it bogged down in the red zone.
A bizarre series of plays turned the first half of the first quarter upside down. Saints coach Sean Payton injured his left leg when tight end Jimmy Graham was tackled into him, forcing a several-minute delay in the game while medical professionals tended to his knee.
Payton coached from the bench for the remainder of the first half, but reports said he was in the locker room in the second half and could be slated for surgery Monday after breaking a bone in his leg and tearing his MCL.
Two plays later, Saints running back Pierre Thomas fumbled the ball and the Bucs recovered at New Orleans’ 33. Four plays later, Connor Barth hit a 48-yard field goal and Tampa Bay owned an early 3-0 lead.
But the Saints answered right away, going 79 yards in six plays, capped by a 38-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees to Marques Colston. Brees showed a quick pump fake, getting Tampa safety Ronde Barber to bite. The move gave Colston time to get past Barber and Brees hit the receiver for the easy score and a 7-3 lead with 5:38 to play in the first quarter.
Tampa Bay answered early in the second quarter with a quick-strike drive, chewing up only 1:31 off the clock and taking a 10-7 lead when Bucs quarterback hit Josh Freeman hit a wide open Arrelious Benn for a 65-yard touchdown.
The Bucs extended their lead with a 42-yard Barth field goal in the second quarter. The Saints allowed Tampa Bay to get to the New Orleans 11, but no closer to the end zone on the drive.
New Orleans’ second turnover of the game turned into more Tampa Bay points. Robert Meachem bobbled a pass from Brees, sending the ball into Bucs safety Tanard Jackson’s hands. Three plays later, Freeman hit Preston Parker for a 19-yard touchdown, one in which Saints cornerback Tracy Porter was blown by and safety Malcolm Jenkins took a poor angle.
The Saints trailed 20-7 with 3:40 to play in the opening half, but went into the locker room down only 10 after John Kasay’s 33-yard field goal was good with two seconds to go in the second quarter.
New Orleans cut further into the lead late in the third quarter when Kasay hit a 24-yard field goal, making it 20-13. But the Saints could have done more, failing to punch the ball into the end zone after getting to the 7-yard line.
Tampa Bay pushed the lead back to 10 on Barth’s 42-yard field goal. The drive was helped by a questionable unnecessary roughness penalty on Jenkins, who hit Bucs receiver Mike Williams hard but didn’t lead with his helmet or launch to make the hit.
Once again, the Saints closed the Tampa Bay lead, this time to 23-20 on a Mark Ingram 12-yard touchdown run with 12:59 to play in the game.
The deficit moved to 26-20 with 7:24 to play on Barth’s 38-yard field goal.