NEW ORLEANS ― The Saints answered any questions anyone had about recovering from last week’s gut-checking loss to St. Louis.
New Orleans bounced back, avenging an earlier loss to Tampa Bay with a 27-16 win over the Buccaneers.
The win re-established the Saints as the team to beat in the NFC South and sets up an all-important divisional clash at Atlanta next week.
New Orleans won with defense more than anything. It held Tampa Bay on nearly every third down the Bucs tried.
And it started early.
The Saints used a momentum-changing fourth-down stop on defense to get momentum on offense early.
A play after Jonathan Casillas and Jo-Lonn Dunbar stoned Tampa Bay running back LaGarrette Blount on fourth-and-inches, Darren Sproles broke out a 35-yard run.
Four plays later, Drew Brees hit receiver Lance Moore for a 3-yard touchdown pass, the wideout twisting in the air to make the acrobatic touchdown grab. John Kasay’s point-after made it 7-0 Saints with 2:27 to go in the opening quarter.
New Orleans pushed its lead to two scores midway through the second quarter when Brees hit Sproles for a 21-yard touchdown pass, the running back’s sixth score of the year. It gave the Saints a 14-0 lead.
Tampa Bay cut into New Orleans lead 14-3 when Connor Barth hit a 40-yard field goal.
But Kasay matched it with a 21-yarder at the halftime buzzer for a 17-3 lead. It could have been more, however, but receiver Devery Henderson didn’t get out of bounds on a catch with 19 seconds to play and then receiver Marques Colston couldn’t quite get into the end zone with nine seconds to go.
Barth’s second field goal of the day, this one from 48 yards, brought Tampa Bay to within 17-6. It was setup by Brees’ 11th interception of the season, this one by Bucs safety Ronde Barber.
The answer by the Saints came in a long, methodical drive. Brees guided New Orleans on a 76-yard, 6 minute, 18 second drive capped by a Pierre Thomas 9-yard touchdown run. It gave the Saints a 24-6 lead late in the third quarter.
Tampa came back, converting two fourth downs on a 73-yard scoring drive, but the Saints forced the Bucs to eat time off the clock only to settle for a 25-yard Barth field goal. The points made it 24-9 New Orleans with 11:08 to go in the game.
The Bucs added another score when Freeman engineered a 77-yard drive that ended with a five-yard scoring toss to Kellen Winslow that cut the margin to eight.
John Kasay added a late field goal to ice it.