Josh Freeman and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense was good, once again, in the two-minute drill on Sunday at New Orleans. Unfortunately, Drew Brees and the Saints' high-powered attack was even better and a late trade of field goals kept the home team up by two touchdowns, 17-3.
Josh Freeman's 46-yard pass to WR Dezmon Briscoe set up K Connor Barth's 40-yard field goal attempt shortly after the two-minute warning to get the Bucs on the board. Saints QB Drew Brees had given the home team a 14-0 lead with touchdown passes to WR Lance Moore and RB Darren Sproles. Brees used the final 100 seconds left after Barth's kick to drive the Saints 76 yards to Tampa Bay's four-yard line, setting up John Kasay's 21-yard field goal.
Both Freeman and Brees had good numbers in the first half, but two Buccaneer marches stalled inside New Orleans territory while the Saints were able to finish their drives. Freeman completed 10 of 14 passes for 133 yards and a passer rating of 101.2. Brees hit on 17 of his 23 throws for 185 yards, two TDs and a rating of 126.2. The Bucs had hoped to put pressure on Brees and increase their chances for turnovers, but Brees was not sacked and he frequently escaped pass rushers to make big plays downfield.
Though Bucs RB LeGarrette Blount looked strong in his return from a two-game injury absence, it was the Saints who had the more powerful rushing attack. Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas each had carries of over 30 yards the Saints racked up 103 yards on 11 carries. Blount ran eight times for 35 yards but the Bucs had just 41 yards on the ground before halftime.
Both teams lost a key player on defense to injury. Saints CB Tracy Porter sustained a neck injury on the second play of the game and was transported to a local hospital, though the team announced that he had checked out fine neurologically. Buccaneers DT Gerald McCoy, just back from an ankle injury, hurt his arm and was lost for the rest of the afternoon.
The Buccaneers won the toss and elected to receive. The game started with the typical back-of-the-end zone touchback, putting Tampa Bay at its own 20 for the opening drive. After a three-yard run by Blount, Freeman tried to hit Williams with a quick slant to the left but the pass was broken up by Porter. Both Williams and Porter were shaken up on the play, as Porter's helmet made contact with Williams' leg. Williams jogged off after a few minutes but the Saints brought out the cart to get Porter. When play resumed, Freeman tried to hit Briscoe on a pivot route to the left but the pass was incomplete.
After a 49-yard punt by Michael Koenen and a 15-yard return by Sproles, the Saints started at their own 43. RB Chris Ivory got the ball on first down and powered through the line for four yards on first down, followed by a five-yard run up the middle by Thomas. That left the Saints in third-and-inches, and Ivory got five more for a first down at the Bucs' 43. The Bucs' defense stopped Brees' first pass, to Thomas, for just two yards, and an illegal formation call made it second-and-13. WR Devery Henderson got wide open deep but Brees overthrew him, surprisingly. Before the Saints could run their third-down play, Bucs Head Coach Raheem Morris hurried down the sideline to call a timeout. Brees kept the drive alive on the next play with a 20-yard strike to WR Marques Colston. From the Bucs' 26, Brees dropped back and was somehow able to twist away from a potential sack by blitzing S Tanard Jackson, though the final result was an incomplete pass. Two plays later, on third-and-three, CB Elbert Mack knifed through the line to stop a sweeping Sproles for a loss of five. Ageless Saints K John Kasay came on to try a 42-yard field goal but banged it off the right upright to keep the game scoreless.
From the 32, Blount got the Bucs' next drive started off in great fashion, getting around right end and hurdling a tackler to get 15 yards. Blount bashed it over midfield on the next snap, picking up eight tough yards, then found a big hole on the right side for seven more to the Saints' 38. Freeman had to scramble up the middle on the next play, getting just one yard, and Blount's second-down run was bottled up after a gain of two. On third-and-seven, Freeman hit Williams in the left flat but CB Jabari Greer got him down a yard short. The Bucs went for it on fourth-and-one from the Saints' 29, but New Orleans' defense stood up against a Blount run to the right and the drive came to an end.
The momentum quickly swung back to New Orleans when Sproles burst through the middle on the next play and didn't stop until he had picked up 35 yards to the Bucs' 31. Sproles got around the corner on a short pass on the next play and got all the way to the Bucs' 13. A well-designed screen to Thomas worked for 10 more yards down to the Bucs' three, and a perfect fade pass to Moore finished the quick 66-yard drive.
The Bucs' next drive started off badly, as Blount lost a yard on first down and an illegal substitution play made it second-and-16. After a six-yard pass to Williams, Freeman avoided a sack and got a pass off to Parker cutting left to right. Parker got around the left edge for a 36-yard gain to the Saints' 44. The Bucs lost 10 yards on an offensive pass interference call on WR Arrelious Benn, and the first quarter came to an end before the next snap. After switching sides, the Bucs lost three yards on an under-pressure dumpoff to Blount but got 16 yards on a square-in by Benn. On third-and-seven from the Saints' 41, Freeman got the ball to TE Kellen Winslow for a first down but Williams drew another offensive pass interference penalty. The Bucs tried to convert the resulting third-and-17 with a screen pass to RB Kregg Lumpkin but it came up four yards short despite working quite well. Koenen's punt just bounced into the end zone for his first touchback on a punt of the entire season.
A 12-yard run by Ivory got the ball out to the Saints' 37, and Thomas got around left end for a 33-yard run on the next play, down to the Bucs' 30. After getting a first down at the Bucs' 16 on a Jimmy Graham catch, the Saints false-started to lost five yards, but a screen pass right to Sproles worked amazingly well, as he found a sealed-off right sideline to run untouched to the end zone.
Parker gave the Bucs good field position with a 45-yard kickoff return out to the Bucs' 41, but a play-action rollout on first down was technically a sack when Freeman was stopped for no gain by S Roman Harper. Blount bounced around the left side to get six yards on first down, but Freeman's third-down pass was deflected and incomplete. However, Saints CB Patrick Robinson was flagged for delay of game on the Bucs' attempt to punt, and that created a first down at the Saints' 48. The Bucs' false-started on their next attempted play to lose five yards and Freeman's scrambling throw on first-and-15 was incomplete. He got about half the needed yards on a second-down toss to Benn, but a crossing route to Parker came up a few yards short and the Bucs had to punt again. Koenen forced a Sproles fair catch at the Saints' 10.
WR Robert Meachem couldn't get his feet inbounds on a second-down throw down the left sideline, but on third-and-seven Brees threw as he was hit on the next play and still found Moore for a gain of 11. It was third-and-seven again moments later, and this time they fell short when CB Aqib Talib tackled Colston after a short catch. Morstead blasted a 56-yard bomb of a punt but Parker alertly caught it on a bounce after one cover man had ran by and managed to get 14 of those yards back.
The Bucs often do some of their best work in the two-minute drill before halftime, and this was no exception. On the first play, from the Bucs' 25, Freeman lofted a floater down the right sideline to a wide-open Briscoe for a gain of 46. The Bucs hurriedly got one more play off before the two-minute warning, a four-yard run by Lumpkin on a draw play, taking it to the Saints' 25. After the break, a short out pass to Winslow gained only two yards, and a Wildcat run with reserve QB Josh Johnson ran into a wall and got just one yard. The Bucs sent out the field goal team and K Connor Barth nailed it from 40 yards out for the Bucs' first points.
Brees scrambled up from a failing pocket on first down and found Graham wide open down the left numbers for a quick 23-yard gain. Two plays later, Graham went down the middle of the field and Brees hit him easily for 19 more to the Bucs' 29. Graham dropped the next pass thrown to him but Brees threw another screen pass to Sproles and that got another first down at the 19. A short pass to Henderson got six more yards and led to the Saints' final timeout with 19 seconds left in the half. A completion to Colston got the ball to the Bucs' four but CB Ronde Barber prevented the touchdown with a big tackle and Brees spiked the ball with one second left. Kasay came on to restore the Saints' 14-point lead with a 21-yard field goal.