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October 16, 2011 @ 7:20 pm
Current rating: 4.00 Stars/1 Votes

Bucs Pick Off Saints, 26-20, To Stay On Top Of Division

Written by Eric
Eric Horchy


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The Buccaneers raced out to 20-10 halftime lead against the Saints and hung on for a 26-20 victory to stay in first place in the NFC South. Tampa Bay picked off QB Drew Brees three times, while Josh Freeman and two TD passes and no interceptions. The 4-2 Bucs also got 109 yards rushing from Earnest Graham in the win.

TAMPA -- No LeGarrette Blount, no Gerald McCoy, no problem for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during Sunday afternoon’s impressive 26-20 win over division nemesis New Orleans.

One week removed from enduring a 45-point trashing in San Francisco and being worrisomely shorthanded, Tampa Bay responded by picking an opportune time to play perhaps its most complete game of the season.

“Our guys did a nice job of staying in the fight, manipulating the lead and getting the win,” Bucs head coach Raheem Morris said. “I had a lot of confidence in these guys bouncing back.”

“We knew we were at 3-2 and we knew what they were and we knew we had the ability to take over the lead, being 2-0 in the division,” he continued. “Going out and winning our division, that’s what we said we wanted to do right from the beginning, that’s been our mentality.”

The win marks the second in a row against NFC South rival New Orleans after Tampa Bay won last year’s season finale, 23-13. It also gives the Bucs sole possession of first place in the division. Tampa Bay and New Orleans are now tied atop the standings with overall records of 4-2, but the Bucs’ perfect 2-0 divisional mark gives them a one-game edge after six weeks.

Sunday’s game was played under partly cloudy skies on an 84-degree afternoon and the official paid attendance was reported as 56,590.

Starting on defense for Tampa Bay was: LE Michael Bennett, DT Frank Okam, DT Brian Price, RE Adrian Clayborn, WLB Geno Hayes, MLB Mason Foster, SLB Dekoda Watson LCB Aqib Talib, RCB Ronde Barber, SS Sean Jones, FS Tanard Jackson.

The Bucs lined up offensively with: WR Mike Williams, LT Donald Penn, LG Jeremy Zuttah, C Jeff Faine, RG Davin Joseph, RT Jeremy Trueblood, TE Kellen Winslow, WR Arrelious Benn, RB Earnest Graham, FB Erik Lorig and QB Josh Freeman.

Seven Buccaneers were listed as inactive. They were RB LeGarrette Blount, DT Gerald McCoy, WR Sammie Stroughter, LB Zac Diles, TE Luke Stocker, OT Derek Hardman and OT James Lee.

One Buccaneers’ player – C Jeff Faine – did not return to the field in the second half. Faine suffered a biceps injury and said in the locker room afterward that it wasn’t serious.

In two odd sequences of events, two coaches were also hurt on Sunday – and much more seriously than Faine. First, New Orleans head coach Sean Payton had his legs taken out on the sideline, spent most of the first half coaching from the bench and then moved up to call plays from the box for the entire second half. It was revealed later that he broke a leg and tore a medial collateral ligament. The Bucs secondary coach Jimmy Lake suffered a torn patellar tendon while celebrating a play in the second quarter.

Tampa Bay headed into the fourth quarter with the lead Sunday, 23-13, for the first time this season other than Week 3’s home win over Atlanta and needed a number of big plays to hold onto victory.

After the Saints pulled to within three points on RB Mark Ingram’s 12-yard touchdown run with 12:59 remaining, Tampa Bay was only able to respond with a 38-yard Connor Barth field goal to increase its shaky lead to 26-20. Quarterback Josh Freeman nearly converted the Bucs’ third-and-10 before the kick, but Saints CB Jabari Greer’s defense of WR Mike Williams while breaking up a timing route to the right sideline was deemed a clean play.

During the Ingram touchdown drive earlier in the quarter, Tampa Bay CB Elbert Mack was called for pass interference against Saints WR Lance Moore that jumpstarted the seven-play, 82-yard drive.

Following Barth’s field goal, responsibility went to the Tampa Bay defense to hold onto a thin six-point cushion. Quarterback Drew Brees and the high-powered Saints offense still had 7:26 to play with, took over at their own 24 and marched 72 yards in nine plays all the way to the Bucs’ 4 before Tampa Bay’s next big play. Brees rolled right on fourth-and-2 and floated a pass right into the hands of Bucs LB Quincy Black standing in the end zone.

Brees entered Sunday afternoon’s game having thrown five interceptions and the Tampa Bay defense tacked three more onto that total. Free safety Tanard Jackson, playing and starting in his first game since Week 2 of last year, got things started when he snared Robert Meachem’s bobbled reception attempt out of the air late in the second quarter.

Jackson’s impact on Tampa Bay’s defense was felt immediately. On the Saints’ second play of its second drive, the fourth-year safety acted as the Bucs’ last line of defense against speedy running back Derren Sproles and forced him out of bounds after a 16-yard pick up.

“That’s why we put him out there,” Morris said of Jackson and the decision to play him right away. “You know Tanard is different, he’s been different since he’s been here, we’ve known that. He started from day one, he’s started every game he’s put a Buccaneer helmet on and, hopefully, he’ll continue to do that.”

“It feels great,” Jackson said of being back.” Words can’t even express how I’m feeling right now. It’s just an emotional day for me from the start. I’m just glad we got this win, that’s the greatest thing.”

Also nabbing a second-quarter Brees pass was CB E.J. Biggers just one New Orleans drive after Jackson’s play. Despite the problem with the picks, Brees ended up setting a new NFL record on Sunday by recording his fourth-consecutive, 350-plus yard passing day. He went 29 of 45 for 383 yards, but finished with a passer rating of only 70.9.

On top of the three interceptions, Tampa Bay added a fumble recovery on New Orleans’ first offensive series of the game. Linebacker Geno Hayes shot in behind RB Pierre Thomas and jarred loose a ball that was quickly jumped on by DE Da’Quan Bowers.

The 4-0 turnover differential immensely factored into Tampa Bay’s win. The Bucs turned around and scored 10 total points off New Orleans’ miscues. The Bucs didn’t score after Black’s fourth-quarter interception, but they didn’t have to. Two big offensive plays eventually iced the game and allowed Freeman to set up the victory formation.

The first came on third-and-9 when WR Dezmon Briscoe went low to secure a 17-yard reception, keeping the Bucs from having to punt away possession before the two-minute warning. New Orleans challenged the reception and lost, surrendering its second of three timeouts.

The second and final impact play came from the man filling in for RB LeGarrette Blount. Earnest Graham’s 12-yard run off the left guard was the first play after the two-minute warning and caused New Orleans to burn its final timeout. The rush also put Graham over 100 yards for the day, the sixth time he’s surpassed the century mark in his career. The eight-year veteran finished with 17 carries for 109 yards and a 6.4-yard average

“Insurance Graham,” Morris said of the nickname he’s given his dependable and versatile back. “I mean we can’t say enough about him. If we ask him to play fullback, he plays fullback. If we ask him to play tailback, he plays tailback. Put him at tight end, he plays tight end. Put him on special teams, he plays special teams. He just does anything you ask him to do. He was almost a linebacker the week before. He just does it, he loves football.”

New Orleans outgained Tampa Bay in total yardage 453-420 on Sunday, but the Bucs’ defense – absent McCoy on their interior line – effectively turned the Saints’ offense into a one-dimensional attack by shutting down the running game. Ingram finished as New Orleans’ leading rushing with only 22 yards on nine touches. Through three quarters, Brees was the team’s top rusher with two runs for 18 yards. The Saints ended with 70 yards on 20 attempts.

Defensive lineman Frank Okam [four tackles] and Bowers [fumble recovery] primarily filled in for McCoy. Leading the Bucs in overall tackling was CB Ronde Barber and Hayes, both with seven.

The only time Tampa Bay trailed Sunday was in the first quarter immediately after the Bucs went up 3-0 on Barth’s 48-yard field goal set up by Jackson’s interception. New Orleans got the ball back and found the end zone when WR Marques Colston badly beat Barber on a stop-and-go move down the sideline for a wide-open 38-yard touchdown.

The first quarter ended with New Orleans up 7-3, but the Bucs would jump back on top after its first possession of the second quarter. Tampa Bay covered 80 yards in three plays and Freeman capped the drive with a 65-yard touchdown pass to WR Arrelious Benn. The second-year wideout found an opening in a blown Saints coverage package, Freeman hit him toward the middle of the field and then Benn took care of the rest. The completion was the longest of Freeman’s three-year career and put Tampa Bay back on top 10-7.

The Bucs would never trail again and need no fourth-quarter heroics from Freeman.

“Our defense played great and gave us a chance to win,” Freeman said, crediting the other side of the ball. “When your defense does that, you’ve got to be happy. With three interceptions, especially at the end, that’s huge.”

Sunday was the second interception-free game of Freeman’s season as he piled up 303 yards on 23 of 41 passing, two touchdowns and a 95.9 passer rating.

After Barth hit a 42-yard field goal midway through the second quarter, Tampa Bay increased its lead to its largest margin when WR Preston Parker caught his second touchdown reception of the year. The Bucs went up 20-3 when they ran a double post with Parker on top and the second-year receiver beat and outran Saints CB Tracy Porter.

Bucs WR Mike Williams finished as the team’s leading receiver Sunday, pulling in six passes for 59 yards. Benn led in yardage with 83 on three catches.

New Orleans was able to climb back to within 20-10 with 6 seconds left in the first half with a 33-yard John Kasey field goal.

The only scoring in the third quarter was traded field goals late. Kasey hit his 24-yarder first to shrink Tampa Bay’s lead to 20-13 and Barth nailed another from 42 yards to put the Bucs back up by 10.

Barth hit four of his five field goal attempts Sunday. His miss came earlier in the third from 55 yards out and set up Kasey’s eventual 24-yarder by starting Brees and the Saints off at their own 45.

Sunday’s win allows the Bucs to prepare for next week’s London game against Chicago in good spirits. The team’s trans-Atlantic flight departs Monday. Following the trip to the United Kingdom, Tampa Bay will get its bye week and then will have to tangle with the Saints for the second time in four weeks – that time in New Orleans.

Last modified on Monday, 17 October 2011 12:07

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  • avatar

    Great game and great stadium atmosphere. Haven't heard the crowd get into it like that in many years. Way better than the Monday Night game. Kudos to the team and coaches for bouncing back, I like many, did not think we could pull this one out without Blount. We got early turnovers, put points on the board, and prevents the big play outside of the one TD pass where the DB fell down. Graham was great finding the holes and bursting thru, I was first to doubt him heading into this game but he proved me wrong. Olsen and Raheem called much better games and I loved the addition of Dotson as the "6th" o-lineman during most sets. Great job guys.
  • avatar

    Well I didn't watch the game, but I WAS TOTALLY WRONG in giving the Bucs only the smallest chance of victory. Kudos to the Bucs!
  • avatar

    way to go Bucs! have to admit I was afraid to watch this game & closed my eyes in the cruicial moments. But the Bucs pulled it out. Graham did a great job as "next man up" and was evident T-Jax was a bonus to get back on the field at the time we really needed him! Hoping for the same team effort against the Bears in London....its great when PR can't find any disappointing Bucs to list! go Bucs!
  • avatar

    I have have always felt that this team is different with T-jack on the field. T-Jack has been great since he's been here. STAY ON THE FREAKING FIELD T-JACK. WE NEED YOU!
  • avatar

    Well in one short week the Pewter Pouters go from "Fire Everyone" to "Fire the Cannons". Great game all around. All around me were Saints fans. It's a real shame that season ticket holders in my section continue to sell their tickets. EG surprised me. One thing that didn't surprise me, Faine hurt again.
  • avatar

    Wow. This team will go as far as Freeman will take them. Not sure he is ready yet, but just an above average year from Josh, and we will make the playoffs. This is going to be an exciting team to watch develop over the next couple of years, but the best part is they're winning DURING the development process too. They need to lock up Raheem for a few more years. It'll be cheaper now than next year if they continue to win and he becomes a hot commodity. But the MVP of this team is Mark Dominic. How can this team compete with the likes of the Saints and Falcons with this low payroll and the youngest team in the league. As much as I doubted the ownership, you've got the give them credit for turning the football decisions over to the right guy in Dominic. I'm hoping the Bucs will make a trade for another piece or two before the trading deadline, given the position they are in this year to make a run.
  • avatar

    I would love to see more 4-5 wide with Williams, Rejus, Parker, Briscoe, and Kellen jr.
  • avatar

    the last thing to come for young teams is consistency; when that comes look out NFL. man this defense is growing up fast. Brees is nifty or they would've had at least 4 sacks today but that's ok they ended up being ints. The Bucs really need to complain to the league office; this crap from the refs is getting ridiculous, it needs to stop!!!!
  • avatar

    "Who Dat? We Dat" was the cry heard coming out of the stadium by the fans. Haven't heard that much buzz from the fans in a long time. Graham gets my game ball. Freeman while still very inconsistent started to show flashes of last year and got the deep ball going again. We should have stepped on their necks and blown them out but Free still holds on to the ball too long. This was old fashioned Buc Ball where the offense does just enough and then the defense comes up big. Graham kept the chains moving and the defense intercepted in the end zone on fourth down, huge! Great bounce-back from a team that was embarrassed last week.
  • avatar

    Great effort by our guys. WR's finally stepped up, great effort by our secondary, our DL was close all day, and our LB's finally looked like NFL players. Topped off by a great game from Graham. I love beating the Saints.
  • avatar

    I'll admit I picked the bucs to win, but had my breath held the whole time, but it's sweet to go to espn and look how EVERYONE on he panel picked the saints to win, and that's just enough for a kool aid smile. ;)
  • avatar

    Man, i admit, i was doubting our team coming back from a beating like the 49s to win this game, but man arent i glad to be wrong. i even started watching the game like right after the regis TD. Like someone said here earlier, that was heart right there. nothing but showing heart. One thing that the game shows us is how bad we need a shifty RB. Blount will go through but EG was shifting and they just didnt plan for that much. We need a "lightning" RB. someone like Lemichael James maybe? Two "O" products that really complement each other. What do you guys think?
  • avatar

    Amazed by Graham. Really didn't expect that from him. Will no longer underestimate our insurance policy.
  • avatar

    This game highlighted just how crucial safety play is. T jack, I'm blown away by your performance! Unbelievable! And just in your face to all those former bucs/players who said it couldn't be done. Way to shut up the doubters Bucs! This is a fun team to watch regardless of wins or losses. One more step to no more blackouts!
  • avatar

    Nice game, great secondary play. TJax is back and only going to get better. Need to game plan for Forte next week, and take advantage of the Swiss cheese offensive one the bears have. Adding to Culters sack total will be key. Watching bears now, already excited.
  • avatar

    I'm tired of these sorry refs and the NFL trying to keep Tampa in the cellar! Good way to give 'em hell boys!!!
  • avatar

    What a terrific game!! Never happier to be wrong about who would win a game in my life. To do it without Blount and GMC was doubly impressive. What a tremendous victory. Great heart displayed by this young team today. If the fans don't embrace this team now I don't know what they are looking for. I can't wait till this group matures bcause they are a lot of fun to watch right now. They will be terrors in a few years.
  • avatar

    Just awesome! They played as a team; they played Buc Ball and I thought that it wouldn't be possible with the injuries we had. Go Bucs!
  • avatar

    Great game bye the bucs today. Everyone played well and the final score doesn't indicate how much we really whooped on them.Even the refs couldn't win it for them (Really pi? what the &^%^ ref? Every game we get a terrible call on us) Free, Benn, Earnest, clayborn, TJ, Hayes,Black, Talib all played great. Now do this next week and were gonna own this division all year. EG sorry for doubting you I said you were old and didnt have moves anymore. Still got it, last time i talk bad bout you man.
  • avatar

    What an outstanding game the Bucs played today. Freeman, Graham, Bennett, Clayborn and the O-line played very well. Way to protect our home turf fellas! We are now 4-2, 3-1 at home and best of all, we're at the top of our division! Oh and it's official, Raheem has Sean Payton's number. Every team has another team that just isn't afraid of them and just knows how to play them and for the Saints it's the Bucs. For the Patriots it used to be the Dolphins for a while, for the Colts it's the Chargers and now for the Saints it's the Bucs.
  • avatar

    Thank you Mr. Jackson for coming in and playing the position at a high level I could not be happier that your finally back, just wait till the off season to smoke your crap. Mr. Graham outstanding today major props for coming in and carrying the load I was really worried before the game. Mr. Freeman finally your taking shots down field throw away the conservative approach and just launch like the AZ Game last yr. The only way to be successful is to be aggresive, when Olson calls in a 5 yd out audible out of it and send Benn deep- lol
  • avatar

    Actually Brees was targeting John Gilmore when he threw his last interception... would've sucked to have been beaten by our former TE! GREAT game by the Buccaneers! OL showed their worth by pushing around the Saints in both opening up running lanes for Graham (and make no mistake, there were some HUGE holes) and keeping the pressure off Freeman all day.
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