The first Tampa Bay Buccaneers-New Orleans Saints game of the 2012 season was a fireworks show, with the two offenses combining for nearly 1,000 yards in a one-score Saints win in Tampa. Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, the rematch was much more one-side, as the home team built a 24-point halftime lead and cruised to a 41-0 victory. That marked the Saints first shutout of an opponent in 17 years.
Drew Brees threw four touchdown passes as the Saints completed the season sweep of their NFC South opponent. Both teams found themselves with 6-8 records after the decision, though that might be a slightly tougher pill to swallow for Tampa Bay, which was 6-4 and thinking of a playoff run a month ago.
Tampa Bay's offense was unable to match blows with Brees' crew in the rematch, which came as a surprise considering the Saints' defense ranked 32nd in the league coming into Week 15. New Orleans did an outstanding job against the run early and essentially eliminated that part of the Bucs' attack by jumping out to a quick lead. RB Doug Martin, a Rookie of the Year candidate who is gunning for a 2,000-yards-from-scrimmage-season, was successfully taken out of the equation and held to just 35 total yards, including a season-low 16 yards on the ground.
Josh Freeman, who came in with a stellar 25-8 TD-INT ratio, had his toughest day of the season, throwing four interceptions to double his previous high in 2012. Two of those came on deep shots to the end zone after the Buccaneers were well behind, but the first two occurred in the red zone in the first half and kept the Bucs from matching shots early with Brees. Freeman completed 26 of 47 passes for 279 yards and also lost a fumble in the fourth quarter. Freeman targeted TE Dallas Clark repeatedly (season-high eight catches for 42 yards) but didn't find leading receiver Vincent Jackson until late in the third quarter. Jackson still finished with 81 yards on six receptions.
New Orleans also fared surprisingly well against the Buccaneers' top-ranked rush defense, gaining 149 yards on 25 carries, an average of 6.0 per tote. The Saints were just the fourth team to crack 100 yards against Tampa Bay's rush defense this season, and the first to have more than 125 since Adrian Peterson and the Vikings put up 140 in Week Eight. The Saints 6.0 yards per carry was also the second-worst figure Tampa Bay has allowed this season after the Vikings' 6.7.
Rookie S Mark Barron led the Bucs' defense with 10 tackles and a pass defensed. DE Da'Quan Bowers had the Bucs' lone sack of Brees.
The game was delayed almost immediately when FB Jed Collins was hurt on the opening kickoff and took several minutes to be helped off the field. When the Saints began the drive, at their own 26 after a fine 30-yard return by RB Travaris Cadet, Brees immediately directed a 74-yard touchdown drive that included five straight plays that picked up double-digit yardage. Brees first threw to Graham in the right flat for a gain of 13. A holding penalty backed the Saints up 10 yards, but a well-blocked toss-sweep to Sproles two plays later picked up 15 yards and made it first down inside Buccaneer territory. A 20-yard screen to Pierre Thomas got the ball down to the Bucs' 11, and two plays later Brees finished it with an easy nine-yard toss over the middle to David Thomas.
The Bucs' first drive was not nearly as successful, lasting just three plays. A good second-down run by Martin made it third-and-four and Freeman had a man open on the right side but the ball was batted down at the line of scrimmage by LB Curtis Lofton.
A 55-yard punt by Michael Koenen and a holding penalty did push the Saints back to their own 10 for the next possession and they gave it back after three plays, though the Bucs were fortunate that Sproles dropped what could have been a big-gainer on third down. Thomas Morstead flipped the field position right back with a booming 60-yard punt that went out of bounds at the Bucs' 23.
Freeman converted his next third-down opportunity with a 23-yard pass to RB D.J. Ware on a wheel route that got the back wide open down the left side and almost to midfield. The Bucs faced another third down moments later from the Saints' 44 and converted again on a 24-yard catch by Williams down the left sideline. However, two plays later Freeman tried to hit Clark on a short pass on the right side and it was intercepted at the 19 by Greer.
Brees absorbed big hits on two straight downs to start the next drive but still got off a 15-yard pass to Graham to convert a third-and-four. A 13-yard end-around by WR Devery Henderson picked up a first down at the Bucs' 44, and Colston shook off a tackle at midfield on the next play to pick up 26 yards to the Bucs' 18. A 12-yard catch by Lance Moore made it first-and-goal but the Bucs' defense forced a third-and-goal from the two, followed by a false start by the Saints. Brees looked for Graham on third down but S Ahmad Black arrived in time to break up the pass at the two. Garrett Hartley came on to kick a 25-yard field goal to make it 10-0 with 13:23 left in the half.
The Bucs and Saints then traded punts, with a sack by McCoy on third-and-10 stopping the Saints' next possession. On the ensuing punt, Parrish eluded one tackler and dashed up the right sideline for 39 yards to the Saints' 43. A 10-yard holding penalty on New Orleans was tacked on, and Martin got 11 more on a pitch to the right to start the drive. However, a near-miss on an end zone throw to Williams set up third-and-14, and apparent miscommunication between Freeman and Jackson led to a pass thrown directly to S Rafael Bush for an interception. Bush spent a long team weaving through traffic to eventually return his pick to midfield.
The Saints got out of a quick hole when CB Anthony Gaitor was flagged for defensive holding, then converted a third-and-11 when Brees got off a 21-yard pass to Colston despite being swarmed over as he threw. The drive concluded with Brees' two-yard TD pass to Sproles to make it 17-0 with five minutes left in the half.
The Bucs had to start at their own 15 on the next drive but got 15 more on a first-down rollout pass to TE Luke Stocker. That was as far as the drive got, however, and the Bucs had to punt again, though a quick three-and-out by the Tampa Bay defense gave Freeman and company one more chance in the final two minutes of the half.
Unfortunately, two incompletions and a sack by DE Will Smith made short work of that possession and it was the Saints who got another scoring opportunity after Sproles' 37-yard punt return to the Bucs' 38. Brees made the most of that opportunity, hitting Graham on a 24-yard pass down to the seven and then finding Moore in the end zone for the score.
The Bucs got the ball first to start the half but quickly faced a third-and-10. Freeman scrambled for nine yards but the punting unit came out on fourth down. However, it was a fake, as the ball was snapped directly to upback Keith Tandy, who ran 18 yards for a first down. On the next play, unfortunately, Freeman threw very deep downfield in the direction of Clark, who was covered by Abdul-Quddus. The Saint defender got to the ball first for New Orleans' third interception of the day.
The Saints were backed up at their own eight after the turnover but escaped right away on a 31-yard run by Ingram. New Orleans ran six times on the eight-play drive, but that just set up Brees to go deep to Josh Morgan from the 34-yard line for another touchdown, making it 31-0.
Catches of 10 and 21 yards by Williams got the Bucs moving on their next drive but Freeman soon faced a third-and-six at the Saints' 40. He kept the drive moving with a quick timing pass to Clark off the line of scrimmage for a gain of 10 down to the 30. Another Freeman-Clark hookup converted the next third down but the play was erased by a holding call on Martin. After an incompletion, the Bucs went for it on fourth-and-14 out of necessity but Freeman found no one open and eventually threw it deep and incomplete.
The Bucs got the ball back fairly quickly and got back into Saints territory on consecutive 19-yard catches by Jackson. Jackson caught four passes for 57 yards on the drive, but it ended at the New Orleans 11 when Freeman's arm was hit on a fourth-down pass attempt, forcing an incompletion on the last play of the third quarter.
On Tampa Bay's next possession, Freeman took another shot deep, this time in the direction of Tiquan Underwood, but it was intercepted in the end zone by Greer.
After a second Hartley field goal increased the Saints' lead to 34-0, Freeman hit Underwood and Jackson over the middle to get the ball to midfield, but he was sacked from the blind side by Cameron Jordan, forcing a fumble that was also recovered by Jordan at the Bucs' 43. The Saints brought in backup QB Chase Daniel, but a third-and-18 pass-interference call on Mark Barron set up Ingram for an 11-yard touchdown run.
With Orlovsky at quarterback, the Bucs drove down into the Saints' red zone one more time but ran out of time to avoid the shutout, with Orlovsky's final pass sailing out of the end zone as time expired.
- The Buccaneers declared the following seven players inactive before Sunday's game: CB LeQuan Lewis, RB Michael Smith, LB Najee Goode, G Roger Allen, WR David Douglas, DT Corvey Irvin and DT Matthew Masifilo. Lewis was out due to injury.
- The Saints declared these seven players inactive: CB Corey White, RB Chris Ivory, LB Scott Shanle, T Zach Strief, DT Tyrunn Walker, TE Michael Higgins and DE Turk McBride. Strief, White and Ivory were out due to injury.
- Third-year CB Danny Gorrer got his second NFL start and his first as a Buccaneer on Sunday, taking over for Leonard Johnson at right cornerback. Gorrer, who had four tackles on the day, had one other start as a rookie with St. Louis in 2010.
- After both teams were introduced but prior to the singing of the National Anthem, players, coaches and fans joined in a moment of silent reflection for the victims in Friday's tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.
- WR Roscoe Parrish's 39-yard punt return in the second quarter was the Bucs' longest of the season.
- Though he had his lowest rushing output of the season, rookie RB Doug Martin did move up a spot in the rankings of the top yards-from-scrimmage seasons in franchise history. With his 35 yards he improved his season total to 1,647, surpassing the 1,641 James Wilder had in 1985 for the second-highest mark in team annals.