The Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell to the New Orleans Saints Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, 31-14. The loss is Tampa Bay’s second straight and sixth of the season, giving the Bucs a 2-6 record at the midway point in the 2006 regular season.

The Bucs now trail the first place Saints by four games in the NFC South division race. Tampa Bay’s next three games include a road contest at Carolina on Monday Night Football, a home game vs. the Washington Redskins, who eliminated the Bucs from the playoffs last season, and a Thanksgiving Day game at Dallas.

Tampa Bay’s offense had failed to score an offensive touchdown in four of its first seven regular season games this season entering Sunday’s contest vs. New Orleans. That dreadful streak included Tampa Bay’s last two games vs. Philadelphia and New York, respectively.

On Sunday, the offense continued to struggle. The Bucs went three-and-out on their first six possessions and were held without a touchdown for the 10th straight quarter.

However, things changed for the offense late in the second quarter when rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski led a 77-yard, five-play drive that was capped off by his 44-yard throw to wide receiver Joey Galloway for a touchdown.

On the next drive, Gradkowski connected with Galloway again, this time hitting him in the back of the end zone for a 17-yard score. That play capped off a 69-yard, 11-play drive that ended in the end zone with just five seconds remaining in the first half.

However, Tampa Bay’s offense failed to score again in the game and produced just 226 yards of offense on the day.

Tampa Bay entered Sunday’s game fairly healthy. The same couldn’t be said for New Orleans, which was without three starters key offensive starters – left tackle Jammal Brown, tight end Ernie Conwell and wide receiver Joe Horn. But that didn’t stop the Saints from exploding on the Bucs defense.

Tampa Bay’s defense allowed New Orleans to score two touchdowns and kick a field goal on the Saints’ first three drives of the game, which put them up 17-0 over the Bucs early in the first half.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees completed his first 11 passes of the game. The Saints outgained the Bucs in the first quarter, 168-6. Brees went on to complete 24-of-32 passes for 314 yards and three touchdowns.

The Bucs defense held Saints running backs Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush to 25 yards on 26 carries on Sunday. But Tampa Bay’s defense failed to sack Brees in the game, which allowed the Saints to convert 9-of-17 (53 percent) of their third down attempts.

Tampa Bay running back Cadillac Williams and the ground attack struggled to take off again Sunday. Williams rushed for 39 yards on 12 carries (3.3 avg.) vs. the Saints.

Williams, who was last year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, has rushed for 453 yards on 114 carries and one touchdown through eight regular season games.

Nine-time Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks played in his 184th career game as a Buccaneer Sunday, setting the franchise record previously held by former Bucs tackle Paul Gruber.

Although Tampa Bay’s defense allowed New Orleans to produce 363 yards and 31 points, Brooks finished the game with a team-high 13 tackles on Sunday.

Tampa Bay cornerback Phillips Buchanon, who was signed Oct. 18, made his debut on defense in the first quarter of Sunday’s game when Juran Bolden left the game with a thigh bruise and the Bucs were in nickel defense. Bolden returned to the game in the second quarter. Buchanon recorded two tackles on Sunday.

Bucs middle linebacker Shelton Quarles left Sunday’s game in the second half with an unidentified ailment. Second-year LB Barrett Ruud replaced Quarles in the starting lineup and recorded six tackles. Quarles also recorded six tackles.

The following players were inactive for Tampa Bay’s game vs. New Orleans: Bucs quarterback Luke McCown (third quarterback), cornerback Alan Zemaitis, fullback Jerald Sowell, tackle Donald Penn, guard Jeb Terry, wide receiver Maurice Stovall, wide receiver/punt returner Mark Jones and defensive lineman Julian Jenkins.

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