The Tampa Bay Buccaneers needed one big play in the fourth quarter to end not only one afternoon of struggles in the Superdome but nearly four years of frustration in the head-to-head series with the New Orleans Saints. Jamel Dean delivered two of them.
Dean's two interceptions in the game's last 12 minutes set up 10 quick points that turned a 3-3 dogfight into a 13-3 lead with five minutes to play. Safety Mike Edwards added the explanation point with a 68-yard pick-six as the Bucs pulled away for a 20-10 victory.
That very satisfying fourth quarter, which also featured Tom Brady's stunning 28-yard touchdown pass to Breshad Perriman on the drive after Dean's first pick, snapped a series of frustrating afternoons and evenings that included seven straight wins by the Saints in the regular season. That frustration, and the emotions of the series for both teams, was clearly evident early in the fourth quarter when an enormous scrum broke out in the middle of the field while the Bucs were getting into punt formation. A shove of Leonard Fournette by Marshon Lattimore led to a retaliatory shove by Mike Evans that resulted in both Lattimore and Evans being ejected from the game.
"It was a lot of pushing and shoving and flags flying, and the next thing you know everyone was storming the field," said Buccaneers Head Coach Todd Bowles. "We lost a good player, they lost a good player. It was a physical ballgame."
That was a tough blow for an already stagnant Tampa Bay offense, which was playing without wide receivers Chris Godwin and Julio Jones. However, Dean's leaping interception in the end zone two plays later when former Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston tried to go for the kill shot two plays after that fight completely turned the tide. Two defensive penalties helped keep the ensuing drive alive and Brady finished it off with the third-down scoring pass to Perriman in the back corner of the end zone. Dean picked off another deep pass attempt two plays later, leading to Ryan Succop's second field goal of the day.
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"I don't know if it was a turning point – we were into the ballgame, it was 3-3 at that point and it could have went either way," said Bowles. "We had to make some plays. Dean came up big twice, Mike came up big and we got a fumble at the end. So I guess that was the turning point but we were into the game and the time was getting down to the fourth quarter anyway so we were trying to make a play."
The Buccaneers improved to 2-0 in 2022 and took over first place in the NFC South over the 1-1 Saints. The win was Tampa Bay's first in the Superdome in the regular season since a 48-40 shootout on the opening weekend of 2018, though the Buccaneers also won in the same venue during the 2020 postseason on their way to a Super Bowl LV championship.
The Buccaneers won their opener in Dallas handily by a 16-point margin, but their one glitch on offense was a failure to finish on a string of promising scoring drives. Sunday's game in New Orleans started in a similar way, with their first possession ending on a botched snap at the Saints' 25 and the second on a failed fourth-and-one run at the eight. After that, the offense struggled to convert third downs and sustain drives until the fourth quarter. Overall, the Buccaneers finished with 260 net yards of offense to 308 for the Saints.
Tampa Bay's defense didn't allow its first touchdown of the season until late in the first quarter when it was a three-score game and the Bucs were interested in running out the clock. Jameis Winston hit Michael Thomas on a seven-yard touchdown pass shortly after Carlton Davis was called for a 42-yard pass interference penalty. The Saints got another quick stop on defense to get the ball back but WR Chris Olave fumbled after making a deep catch and Davis recovered.
"We shouldn't have given up that [touchdown]," said Bowles. "It was three and three-quarters worth of good work and we lapsed at the end. We have to learn how to finish out ballgames."
That was Tampa Bay's fifth takeaway of the game, all in the fourth quarter, while the offense never turned it over again after that first-drive fumble. In the previous four Bucs-Saints regular-season games since the arrival of Tom Brady, the Bucs had lost the turnover battle by a combined 11-2 margin. Brady finished the game with 190 passing yards on 18 of 34 passing, with one touchdown and no interceptions. The Bucs were determined to run the ball, particularly on first downs to slow down the Saints' pass rush and ended up with 73 yards on 29 carries. Brady did indeed find time to throw within this approach, taking just one two-yard sack and three overall hits. His touchdown pass to Perriman was noteworthy in that the team was down three of its top receivers at that point.
"That's why he kept him at the end of cut day," said Bowles. "He can do everything and he turns up big at the right time. He can block for us, he plays special teams and he knows all the receiver spots and he's got experience. He proved his worth today."
Tampa Bay's defense turned up the heat after Dean's momentum-changing play and ended up with six sacks to go with those five takeaways. Winston finished with 236 yards on 25 of 40 passing as he repeatedly missed on attempt to hit Olave deep. Only five of Winston's 13 targets to Olave were complete.
New Orleans got the ball first and opened the game with an impressive scoring drive. Mark Ingram, taking over for the injured Alvin Kamara, got the game's first down on the second play, pushing through a traffic jam of Buc defenders for eight, then broke free up the middle for 12 more on the next snap. Winston found Thomas on a deep curl for 13 and another first down at the Bucs' 33 and a designed run for Taysom Hill worked for 13 more and a new set of downs at the 17. The Bucs had good coverage on a third-and-five and Winston's pass attempt to the rookie Olave was incomplete. Wil Lutz came on to bang home a 31-yard field goal for the game's first points.
The Bucs got nothing on their first two plays, a run by Fournette and an incompletion in his direction, but Brady converted the third-and-10 with a 23-yard strike down the right sideline to a toe-tapping Scotty Miller. The Bucs faced another third down moments later but Brady once again kept the drive alive, this time with a pass over the middle to Evans down to the Saints' 35. A quick out to Gage made it third-and-one at the 26, and that's where the drive ended. A mishandling of the snap put the ball on the turf and the Saints recovered at the 25.
The Saints' next drive appeared to end on a third-down sack by David, but a flag followed as Keanu Neal was penalized for unnecessary roughness. That led to a new first down at the 37 and the Saints were soon facing another third down at the 44, and another keeper by Hill on an RPO was immediately snuffed out. Blake Gillikin punted away and Jaelon Darden executed a fair catch at the Bucs' 23.
The Bucs finally sprung Fournette for a good gain on a first-down carry, as he powered for six over right tackle. A second-down incompletion brought the first quarter to an end, and the Bucs opened the second period with two explosive plays to get to the red zone. The first was a 41-yard strike to Evans down right sideline, followed by a 13-yard burst over left guard down to the 17. The Bucs faced a fourth-and-one moments later and saw another scoring chance end when Fournette was swallowed up on a run up the gut.
The Saints thus took over at their own nine but quickly had to punt it back after Winston's third-down deep shot to Olave was overthrown. Darden's 17-yard return on the right sideline allowed the Bucs to start their next drive on the midfield stripe. Unfortunately, that drive didn't go anywhere and the Jake Camarda punted it back and it was fair caught at the seven.
Carlton Davis broke up a second-down pass to Thomas to make it third-and-10 but Winston went back to the same receiver on a deep curl on third down and was able to fire it into his stomach before Davis could get there. That battle continued two plays later but Thomas drew an offensive pass interference call to make it second-and-14 from the 16. A neutral-zone infraction call on a mistimed blitz by White made it third-and-five moments later and Winston kept the drive alive with a quick strike to Olave.
Winston tried to hit Olave again on a very deep post but missed and the Saints were soon in a third down again, needing four. This time the drive came to an end when Winston scrambled up and to his left and was caught from behind by Barrett, leading to a fumble. The Saints were able to gather up the loose ball but well short of the sticks. Gillikin did manage to bounce the ball out of bounds at the Bucs' 18.
The next drive started with a false start penalty and the Bucs couldn't climb out of that whole, punting it back just after the two-minute warning. The defense appeared to force a fourth-and-inches at the 40 but David was flagged for unnecessary roughness, giving the Saints 15 yards and new life at the Bucs' 45. However, a pass break-up over the middle by Logan Ryan and a sack for no yards by Winfield on a scramble led to a punt that Darden fair caught at the 14. The Bucs kneeled to run out the clock and headed into the locker room on the halftime.
With Brandon Walton stepping in for Wells at left tackle, the Bucs started the second half with the ball and got a quick first down on a crossing route to Evans. The Bucs initially had another first down on a nifty end-around by Miller but Darden was called for holding and that made it second-and-16. The Saints returned the favor two snaps later, however, committing a defensive holding penalty that made it first down at the Bucs' 43. The drive stalled near midfield, however, as a Miller couldn't quite haul in a deep post.
The Saints' next drive gained no yards on three plays and a penalty on the home team on the punt gave the Bucs a drive start of their own 43. Brady got the Bucs across midfield with a sharp third-down out to Breshad Perriman for a gain of 10. A similar play two snaps later to Gage made it first-and-10 at the Saints' 35, but that was the last time the sticks moved. The Bucs brought on Succop to try a game-tying 47-yard field goal and he poked it through at the 6:44 mark of the third quarter.
The Saints got a quick first down then encroached into Buccaneer territory when the Bucs loaded up the middle on third-and-one and Ingram found a crease for 12 yards. Three consecutive runs by Dwayne Washington got the Saints a first down at the 20. Ingram came back in and gashed up the middle for another 10 yards but Hall was able to strip the ball and Nassib recovered at the 10.
Two tough Fournette runs made it third-and-one as the third quarter came to an end. Fournette was stuffed on his third-down try but the Bucs' offense got new life when the Saints were flagged for having 12 men on the field on the ensuing punt. Tampa Bay still had to punt it away moments later, but while the teams were getting into formation for the kick a giant scrum broke out near midfield, marking the end of the afternoon for Evans and Lattimore. Camarda's ensuing punt only went 26 yards and gave the ball back to the Saints at their 45.
Winston immediately tried to go over the top heaving it all the way to the end zone in Olave's direction. Dean maintained excellent coverage and was able to leap in front of the receiver and haul in the interception. Dean held onto the ball as he landed in the end zone, leading to a touchback.
Brady found Miller over the middle two plays into the drive for a first down at the 36. Three plays later, Brate fought to get to the sticks on a short pass over the middle, and while he came up just short an unnecessary roughness call on Bradley Roby tacked on 15 yards to the Saints' 40. Another penalty on the Saints' defense, a holding call on Shy Tuttle made it first and goal at the 33 and Fournette bashed his way through multiple defenders for five yards and, two plays later on third-and-five, Brady slid to his left to buy time and launched a deep pass to Perriman, who outmaneuvered P.J. Williams to haul in the 28-yard touchdown in the back right corner of the end zone.
Two plays later, Dean came up big again, intercepting a deep pass that was intended for tight end Juwann Johnson and returning it 24 yards to the Saints' 29. After Succop's 47-yard field goal made it a two-score game with six minutes to play, Edwards cut in front of a short pass to Jarvis Landry and was able to streak 68 yards down the sideline for the third pick-six of his career.
Now up by 17 with a little over four minutes to play, the Buccaneers defense guarded against the big play and gave up a 75-yard touchdown drive that brough the clock down to three minutes. New Orleans' final two drives ended in Olave's fumble and on downs.