Drew Brees' last pass of the first half Sunday at Raymond James Stadium was deflected by LB Quincy Black and intercepted by S Cody Grimm. Other than that, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense had trouble slowing down the New Orleans Saints' Pro Bowl quarterback.
Brees completed 13 of 21 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns as the visiting team took a 17-0 lead into the locker room. WR Lance Moore opened the scoring with a 41-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter and WR Robert Meachem doubled it with a 42-yard TD grab in the second period. Overall, the Buccaneers were outgained in the half, 298 yards to 122.
The Buccaneers will attempt to mount a comeback in the second half as they pursue first place in the highly-competitive NFC South. The Atlanta Falcons, who came into the weekend leading the division with a 4-1 record, fell behind 21-0 at Philadelphia while the 3-1 Bucs and 3-2 Saints were doing battle.
Obviously, no team wants to find itself in a 17-0 hole, but Sunday's game did bear an interesting similarity to the last meeting between these two teams, in the Superdome last December. In that contest, the heavily-favored Saints opened a 17-0 first-half lead before the Bucs tacked on a field goal prior to halftime. Tampa Bay memorably came back to win that game, 20-17 in overtime. The Bucs had a chance to match that first-half situation exactly after mounting its best drive in the last few minutes of the second quarter, but Connor Barth's 40-yard FG try was no good.
Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman was mostly sharp, too, despite heavy blitzing from the Saints, but two Tampa Bay drives stalled in Saints territory. Freeman completed 11 of 21 passes for 102 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. Tampa Bay's rushing attack struggled once again to find a groove, gaining just 20 yards on 10 carries.
The Bucs won the toss and elected to receive, with Micheal Spurlock taking the opening kickoff back to the 27. Freeman ran a play-action fake and looked deep to Mike Williams on first down but saw it was covered and elected to check down to Cadillac Williams for two yards. A draw play to Cadillac Williams unfolded slowly and the back had to work hard just to get two yards. On third-and-six, Mike Williams ran an in-and-out route and Freeman threw a precise pass over a tight defender for a gain of nine yards and a first down at the Bucs' 40. An ineffective run right and an incompletion led to a third-and-10 from that spot, however, and Freeman's next third-down pass was incomplete. Robert Malone's first NFL punt rolled to a stop at the Saints' six for a net of 54 yards.
The Saints got out of that hole immediately, as RB Chris Ivory reversed field and was able to get around the left edge for a run of 18 yards. Ivory moved the chains again two plays later with a seven-yard run, and Brees' first pass was a 12-yard strike on the left sideline to Meachem. Brees' rollout pass over the middle to Moore put the Saints into Buccaneers' territory, at the 37, and a six-yard pass to TE David Thomas moved it to the 31. The Saints then committed false-start and delay-of-game penalties back to back to move back to the 41, but Brees put the visitors in the end zone on the next play with a bomb down the sideline to Moore.
RB Kareem Huggins came in to start the next drive and got it moving with a nifty seven-yard run up the middle. Freeman tried a deep pass down the seam to Huggins on second-and-three but wasn't able to hook up with the back. However, a pass over the middle to Cadillac Williams converted the the third down with a seven-yard gain. A well-executed quick-hitter to TE Jerramy Stevens netted 13 more and put the ball into Saints territory at the 48. A deep incompletion and a run for a two-yard loss by Huggins put the Bucs into another long third-down, though an offsides call helped out by five yards. Freeman tried to hit Mike Williams against a Saints blitz but it was just out of the receiver's reach. Malone's second punt bounced into the end zone for a touchback.
The Saints got a quick 10 yards on an out by WR Marques Colston, then ran Ivory on the next two plays for a total of eight yards. On third-and-two, Betts powered up the middle for a gain of three and a new set of downs. Two more short completions escorted the Saints into Buc territory before a false start moved the football back to the midfield stripe as the first quarter came to an end. Three plays later, the Saints faced a third-and-12 briefly, before an encroachment penalty made it third-and-seven. Once again, Brees struck deep, finding a wide-open Meachem inside the five. Meachem avoided one tackler and completed the 42-yard touchdown.
The Bucs' moved the ball methodically to start their next drive, converting a pair of third-and-ones with runs by Cadillac Williams. That put the ball at the Bucs' 44 but the drive stalled there. Thanks to a free blitzer off the edge on third-and-eight, Freeman had to throw up a pass to TE Kellen Winslow before Winslow was out of his route, and it fell incomplete. Black trapped Moore at the Saints' 13 on the ensuing punt return.
New Orleans' next drive started with two incompletions, including a very deep attempt to Meachem that was well-covered by two Buc defenders. However, a tight end screen to Jimmy Graham worked to perfection, gaining 11 yards, and Ivory found a perfectly sealed-off right edge on the next play to burst for 33 yards to the Bucs' 43. A 16-yard run by new Saint Julius Jones three plays later moved the ball to the Bucs' 15, but the drive stalled there and the Saints brought in Garrett Hartley to kick a 28-yard field goal.
The Bucs' next drive got an eight-yard start with a tackle-breaking run up the middle by Williams, then a short pass to Winslow required a measurement from the chain gang. It was good enough for a first down, and Freeman then hit Mike Williams over the middle for a gain of 20 yards to the Saints' 48. On the next play, WR Sammie Stroughter turned a short pass into a 15-yard gain by spinning away from a tackler. A quick-hitter inside to Williams was the right call against a big blitz, and it worked for 11 more yards to the Saints' 22 as the two-minute warning arrived. Unfortunately, the drive ended there with three straight incompletions and a 40-yard field goal attempt by Barth that hit the right upright and was no good.
The Saints came out firing, intending to make use of the last minute and a half of the first half. Two completions to TE Jeremy Shockey succeeded in getting the ball into Buccaneer territory and the Saints used a timeout with a first down at the Bucs' 46. This time, Tampa Bay's defense kept the Saints off the scoreboard, as Black tipped a pass over the middle and Grimm snared the deflection deep in Bucs territory.