Photos from Buccaneers vs. Saints at Raymond James Stadium.
Game Ball:** The Buccaneers allowed far too many third-down conversions but they did create quite a few favorable third-down situations that usually lead to truncated drives. LB Lavonte David helped put the Saints into long third downs with sure tackling and a pair of pass deflections. David led all players with 13 stops and added a tackle for loss after shaking off an early-game injury scare.
WATCH: BUCS VS. SAINTS HIGHLIGHTS
Play of the Game: The Buccaneers' most important play of the game was likely TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins' sliding catch on fourth down in the fourth quarter, which kept alive a critical touchdown drive to pull the Buccaneers to within one score with nine minutes to play. However, the Saints held on for the win and made more plays on offense than the Buccaneers did, particularly on third down. The most impressive of the Saints' 12 third-down conversions was a 41-yard catch by WR Willie Snead on third-and-21 on the second play of the second quarter. That improbable conversion – the longest of the year against Tampa Bay's defense – led to Drew Brees's second touchdown pass to Marques Colston and a 14-0 lead. The Buccaneers continued to fight for the next two-and-a-half quarters but never quite closed that two-TD gap.
Turning Point:** A Connor Barth field goal just before halftime whittled the Saints' lead to 17-10 despite a first half that seemed much more lopsided. Tampa Bay's defense got an important stop to start the second half, but a Buccaneer scoring opportunity slipped away on a missed 47-yarder by Barth. Tampa Bay's defense appeared to get the ball right back for the offense with a three-and-out capped by Kourtnei Brown's first career sack on a third-and-15 play, but DE Howard Jones was flagged for illegal hands to the face a few feet away from the play. Instead of possession and a chance to tie the game, the Bucs saw themselves down by two scores again when that drive remained alive and eventually led to a Tim Hightower touchdown.
It Was Over When: CB Alterraun Verner drew a defensive holding penalty on third-and-two from the Saints' 33 with two-and-a-half minutes left in regulation. The flag followed an incompletion that almost surely would have led to a Saints punt on fourth-and-two. Since the Buccaneers had burned all of their timeouts trying to preserve those last few minutes of play for the offense, the new set of downs following Verner's flag essentially let the Saints drain the rest of the clock. They even got one more first down to avoid having to punt with 40 seconds left.