The Tampa Bay Buccaneers vowed that their 2015 season would not be defined by a poor showing in the season opener. As it turned out, that stigma didn't even last a single week.
The Buccaneers defeated the New Orleans Saints, 26-19, on Sunday in the Mercedes Benz Superdome, building a 16-point lead in the third quarter and then holding off a furious comeback by Drew Brees and the Saints. Brees had two cracks at the end zone from the Buccaneers' 27 with eight seconds to play, but the first was broken up and the second sailed out of the back after the quarterback was hurried by a pass rush that had him on the run all day.
Tampa Bay's defense stymied the always-dangerous Drew Brees in the first half, giving the Bucs' offense time to find its rhythm and open up a 20-7 lead in the third quarter. Rookie QB Jameis Winston directed a successful two-minute drill to give the Bus a 10-7 lead at halftime, then capped an 80-yard drive to start the second half with his own one-yard touchdown run.
Photos from the Buccaneers' game against the Saints in New Orleans.
Winston, the first overall pick in the 2015 draft, looked much more dynamic in his second NFL start, completing 14 of 21 passes for 207 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and a 114.6 passer rating. His first regular-season win as a pro evened the Bucs' record at 1-1, gave Tampa Bay the first intra-division win in the NFC South of any team in 2015 and snapped a seven-game winning streak in the head-to-head series by the Saints.
"This team came out here and played their tails off. We got a good division road win. It was a tough environment for us so we just went to the books, worked hard and got us a win. We've got to give it to the defense. They kept us in this game the whole time and when we needed points we got it."
The Bucs' defense swarmed early, sacking Brees three times and forcing him to fumble twice in the first half (both recovered by the offense). In the second half, Tampa Bay added the turnover element, ending the Saints' next two possessions with a Chris Conte interception and a D.J. Swearinger recovery of a Willie Snead fumble caused by Sterling Moore. Both of those takeaways led to drives that reached the Saints' red zone, but the Bucs settled for field goals both times, keeping the game in reach.
The Buccaneers fumbled twice on their own in the fourth quarter, helping Brees and company stay in the game. Winston's fumble on a third-down scramble resulted in a 42-yard field goal try that Zach Hooker hooked left, but Doug Martin's fumble on the next play from scrimmage led to Brees's 16-yard touchdown pass to WR Willie Snead. The Buccaneers blocked the extra point, which allowed rookie K Kyle Brindza's fourth field goal to restor the Bucs' seven-point lead.
Brinza, who started the scoring with a 55-yarder in the first quarter, hit his last one after another Buccaneer takeaway, as DT Henry Melton recovered a fumble by RB Mark Ingram. Melton barely stayed inbounds on the recovery, a call that was upheld by a replay review. The Bucs then had to hold back Brees one last time in the last minute, and DE Jacquies Smith's third sack of the day helped them do so.
"This was big," said Smith. "It will help our confidence out a lot. We just wanted to come in and put together a better product on the field and all across the board I feel like we did that. That's why we train in OTAs and training camp, to make you mentally tough. When things aren't going your way, continue to fight through. Just like the heat we battle every day in practice. It's just being mentally tough and I feel like as a team we did that."
Smith's sacks, and a fourth one by DT Gerald McCoy helped the Bucs hold New Orleans to 323 total yards. The Bucs and Jameis Winston got 333, with the rushing attack adding 139 tough yards on 35 carries. Doug Martin led the way with 78 yards on 21 totes, often running into a full defense in the fourth quarter as the Bucs tried to control the clock.
WR Vincent Jackson caught three passes for 54 yards and a touchdown, including a big third-down play during the first-half two-minute drill.
"Me and Vince have a tremendous connection," said Winston. "Him being a veteran, he always tells me, 'Hey, man, when you see the middle of the field open, take it to a post.' I did it, and we completed it."
The Bucs' offense moved the ball effectively in spurts in the first quarter but hurt itself with four penalties. The visitors were able to flip field position and spend much of that time in the Saints' end of the field, but the best scoring opportunity they could draw from it was a 55-yard field goal try by rookie K Kyle Brindza. On his first NFL regular-season try, Brindza nailed it for the game's first points.
Tampa Bay's defense held Brees and company in check for almost the entire first half, but a Brindza miss on a second long field goal try gave the Saints their best field position of the game to that point and they capitalized with a 58-yard touchdown drive. Ingram's 10-yard run nearly doubled the team's rushing yardage output and also resulted in the game's first touchdown with 1:15 left in the half.
Winston then directed an impressive two-minute drive – helped by Rainey's long kickoff return out to the 38-yard line – putting the ball in scoring position with a 23-yard pass to WR Louis Murphy. Jackson's touchdown catch at the very back of the end zone gave the lead back to the Bucs before halftime.
Even with their late drive, the Saints gained only 118 yards in the first half and were held to three third-down conversions in seven tries. A trio of sacks helped in that cause, though the Bucs were unable to recover a pair of fumbles resulting from those takedowns of Brees.
The Bucs struck first in the second half, taking the opening drive 80 yards for a touchdown. A pass-interference call against Brandon Browner helped, putting the ball at the one-yard line after Winston tried to hit Murphy on a deep pass. Winston scored on a play-action keeper on the next play.
Additional notes and in-game details:
- DE Jacquies Smith twice hit Brees as he tried to throw in the first half, forcing fumbles that went forward. That made Smith the first Buccaneer to record two sacks and two forced fumbles in the same game since DE Stylez G. White at Houston on Dec. 9, 2007. DT Gerald McCoy got his second sack in as many games with a third-down takedown of Brees in the second quarter. McCoy has posted 8.5 and 9.5-sack seasons but is in pursuit of the Bucs' first double-digits sack season since Simeon Rice in 2005.
- The Saints got eight yards on a quick slant to Cooks on the game's first play but an end-around to Cooks lost four yards and it became third-and-11 after a false start. However, Brees had time to throw on third down and eventually found Coleman over the middle for a game of 22. A well-executed wheel route to Spiller got 19 more to the Bucs' 40 on Spiller's first touch as a Saint. The Saints next faced a third down at the Bucs' 35, needing five, and a downfield pass to WR Willie Snead was well-covered and incomplete. The Saints elected to punt and were able to down it at the Bucs' four-yard line.
- The Bucs got out of that hole when Seferian-Jenkins made a leaping catch for 21 yards on third down and Martin took the next handoff around the left edge for another 20. However, on third-and-seven from the Saints' 47, CB Brandon Browner knocked away a pass meant for Jackson, forcing a punt. Marcus Murphy muffed the kick but was able to recover the ball at the Saints' seven.
- The Saints got one first down on the drive but ended up back at their own two-yard line. On third-and-four from the 23, DE Jacquies Smith hit Brees's arm as he tried to throw, leading to a fumble that went forward and then bounced off a Saint and rolled back toward the goal line. Brees alertly chased it down as many players stood still, and Conte hustled from deep in the secondary to tackle him at the two. Thomas Morstead shanked the ensuing punt, giving the Bucs possession at New Orleans' 40.
- The Bucs drive started with a holding penalty but Martin fought through several tackles to get those 10 yards back on first down. A beautiful screen pass to Sims on third-and-eight appeared to move the sticks but another holding call downfield, on Seferian-Jenkins, kept it at third-and-five at the 35. Winston got chased out of the pocket and eventually sacked at the 36, prompting the Bucs to bring Brindza out for a 55-yard field goal try. He made it to give the Bucs a 3-0 lead with 45 seconds left in the quarter.
- The Saints got a first down on a short crossing pass to Snead on the first play of the second quarter but the Bucs soon pushed them into a third-and-18 thanks to another sack and forced fumble by Jacquies Smith. Pressure on third down forced Brees into a short incompletion and the Saints had to punt again. An 18-yard return by RB Bobby Rainey put the line of scrimmage at the Saints' 35. Two Martin runs set up a short third-down but Louis Murphy couldn't hold on to a short slant on third down. Murphy was also shaken up on the play by a hard hit from the Saints' safety. A high kick by Jacob Schum and a holding call on the Saints pushed the ball back to the New Orleans 10.
Another third-down sack, this one by McCoy, forced another Saints punt, and Rainey got it back to the Bucs' 46 on his return. Two Charles Sims run and a Winston jaunt around left end moved the sticks and put the ball into Saints territory. The Bucs missed a great opportunity when seferian-Jenkins couldn't haul in a deep pass on a misdirection play, but a defensive holding call created a new first down at the Saints' 39. The Bucs were then flagged for holding and took two plays to get back to a third down at the Saints' 34. Winston was pressured into an overthrow and the Bucs gave Kyle Brindza another long-distance shot. This time the rookie missed from 52 yards, which meant the Saints got the ball back near midfield.
Lavonte David nearly intercepted Brees's first-down pass down the middle, but the Saints QB had too much time to throw on third-and-long and hit WR Marques Colston down the middle for 21 yards. Colston got open in the left flat two plays later and took a short pass down to the Bucs' 11 as the two-minute warning arrived. Two plays later, Ingram broke free on an inside carry and scored on a 10-yard run to give the Saints their first lead.
The Bucs had about 90 seconds to try to answer and got a boost when Rainey took the kickoff all the way back to the Bucs' 37. Winston and Evans just missed on a deep hookup down the sideline on first down, but the rookie QB was able to convert third-and-16 with a 17-yarder over the middle to Jackson. After a roughing-the-passer call gave the Bucs another 15 yards, Winston hit Murphy down the middle for another 23 yards to the 15. On the next play, Jackson ran past the defense into the back middle of the end zone and Winston lobbed it perfectly over the top for the score.
The Bucs got the ball right back to start the second half and got off to a good start when Martin dashed up the middle for 14. Two plays later, Winston found Jackson again down the middle nad hit him for 22 yards to the Saints' 41. A deep shot down the middle to Murphy got the Bucs down to the goal line when Browner was flagged for pass interference. Winston faked a handoff on first down, rolled left on a run-pass option and simply cut it up into the end zone for another score.
Conte clipped the Saints' next drive quickly, picking off a deep pass meant for Cooks. Conte couldn't break free of the offensive-players-turned-tacklers, so he handed the ball back to Verner and Verner weaved through traffic for 28 yards, just across midfield. Winston converted a third-and-seven with a quick curl to Seferian-Jenkins, and Sims then ripped off runs of six and 12 to get just inside the red zone. A holding call pushed the Bucs back and they couldn't overcome it, instead settling for Brindza's 35-yard field goal.
The Bucs' defense took the ball away again on the next possession, with Moore punching the ball out of Snead's hands and S D.J. Swearinger recovering. Two plays later, Winston scrambled right, Murphy broke deep towards the end zone and the two hooked up on a 54-yard improv. The Bucs couldn't punch it in from the five, however, settling for Brindza's third field goal, a 22-yard chip shot to make it 23-7.
Brees converted a short third down at the start of the next drive with a 14-yard pass over the middle to Colston, moving the ball to the Bucs' 41. The Saints got down to the Bucs 37 as the third quarter came to an end. A Spiller run around the right end for seven yards made it first-and-goal at the Bucs' 10. Two plays later, S Keith Tandy stopped Ingram just short of the goal line, making it third-and-goal from inches away. The Saints called a timeout with 10:19 left in regulation. After the break, an underneath handoff to FB Austin Johnson put the ball in the end zone and the Saints went for two. CB Johnthan Banks' hard tackle of Snead kept the receiver out of the end zone and kept the Bucs' lead at 10 points.
Unfortunately, Winston fumbled while scrambling on third down moments later and the Saints recovered at Tampa Bay's 25. The Bucs' defense allowed just one yard but Hocker came in to try a 42-yard field goal. Hocker missed it, keeping it a two-score game with eight minutes to play.
The Bucs took over at their own 32 and sent Martin left but he fumbled and the Saints recovered again at the Bucs' 30. Khiry Robinson burst up the middle for 14 on the next snap and Brees then hit Snead for a touchdown to make it a three-point game.