Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Saints Outlast Bucs, Earn Season Split

The Buccaneers' comeback attempt came up short Sunday in a 24-17 loss to New Orleans at Raymond James Stadium that turned on too many third-down conversions by Drew Brees and company.

Photos from Buccaneers vs. Saints at Raymond James Stadium.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers playoff hopes aren't dead, but they took a hit Sunday because Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints kept too many drives alive.

The Saints defeated the Buccaneers, 24-17, Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, dropping the home team to 6-7 on the season. New Orleans (5-8) earned a season split after the Buccaneers' 26-19 win in the Superdome in Week Two, but more importantly pushed Tampa Bay to two games out in the NFC Wild Card race. The Seattle Seahawks improved to 8-5 with a win in Baltimore.

Brees and the Saints' offense racked up 388 yards of offense but had just two plays longer than 20 yards. The problem for Tampa Bay's defense was that it couldn't get off the field; New Orleans converted on 12 of 17 third-down attempts, helping them build a 15-minute edge in time of possession. That was critical because, in the end, the Buccaneers simply ran out of time in their comeback attempt, with converting three third downs to run the final four minutes off the clock.

"Too many third-down conversions, whether it be penalties or not making plays," said Buccaneers Head Coach Lovie Smith. "We can't have that. There were plays out there to be made, and we didn't make them."

Tampa Bay's defense struggled throughout the afternoon to get off the field on third down, but the most damaging sequence didn't officially go down as a third-down play. DE Kourtnei Brown appeared to record his first career NFL sack on a third-and-15 midway through the third quarter, but a penalty away from the play erased it and provided a new set of downs, eventually leading to the score that put the Saints up by 14 points. The Buccaneers offense rallied for an answering touchdown on rookie QB Jameis Winston's six-yard pass to rookie WR Adam Humphries, and the defense turned in two critical stops in the fourth quarter but the Bucs never made up that final deficit.

After Humphries touchdown, the Buccaneers drove to midfield on their next possession but faced a fourth-and-10 from their own 44 after rookie WR Donteea Dye couldn't hold on to a well-placed pass by Winston. Smith chose to punt rather than try a low-percentage fourth-and-10, believing his defense could get the ball back and give Winston another try. And, in fact, the Bucs appeared to get a stop with 2:30 left before a defensive holding call on CB Alterraun Verner erased a third-down incompletion.

"I thought we could back them up there and stop them," said Smith. "I'd make the same decision 10 out of 10 times."

Winston completed 18 of 32 passes for 182 yards, one touchdown and no interception, as neither team committed a turnover on Sunday. He was aided by another strong day by RB Doug Martin, who picked up 81 yards and a touchdown despite getting just 11 carries. Winston also threw frequently to the Bucs' other tailback, Charles Sims, who caught six passes for 64 drives, including two impressive plays that helped Tampa Bay overcome a second-and-29 on their last touchdown drive. Overall, the Bucs were held to 291 yards of offense and four third-down conversions in 11 attempts.

Winston also directed a sharp 46-yard field goal drive in the final minute before halftime, which helped Tampa Bay keep it a one-score game going into the second half. However, the rookie passer was not pleased with his production or that of the Bucs' offense in the first half against a Saints defense that ranked 32nd in the NFL prior to Sunday's game. He gave the Saints credit for starting quickly while the Bucs opened with three short drives and three punts.

"We didn't have any choice but to put up a drive [in the fourth quarter] because we started so poorly," said Winston. "We had to bounce back, and what we do best is fight. We never give up and we keep battling.

"They didn't play like a 4-8 team. They came out here ready to play. We started out slow. That's definitely on us. That first half was probably one of the worst halves of football that we've played together as a team, but we bounced back, never gave up and kept fighting."

Lavonte David led the Bucs' defense with 13 tackles, one tackle for loss and two passes defensed. With his running partner for the first 12 games of the season, Kwon Alexander, unavailable due to a suspension, Bruce Carter stepped in at middle linebacker and contributed eight tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss and a quarterback hit. Carter did leave the game on the last drive with an ankle injury, however. The team also lost WR Vincent Jackson to a knee injury in the first half.

Tampa Bay's defense did play better in the second half, allowing just 162 yards of offense, but still had trouble stopping third-down plays.

"Coach Lovie called us up and challenged us and we tried to answer the call," said LB Danny Lansanah. "We came up a stop short though today. We came up with two big stops and gave our offense a shot to win the game. But we beat ourselves. We had a chance to stop them [at the end] and we didn't. At the end of the day, that's what it comes down to, stopping them and making plays. They made one more play than we did."

Brees completed 31 of 41 passes for 312 yards and two touchdowns, hitting WR Willie Sneed seven times for 122 yards. He was sacked twice but more frequently had plenty of time to operate in the pocket. The Saints also were determined to maintain balance on offense even without leading rusher Mark Ingram, who was placed on injured reserve earlier in the week. RB Tim Hightower stepped in to gain 85 yards and a touchdown, though it took him 28 carries to do so. The Saints averaged just 2.5 yards a carry but ran it 35 times.

The Saints scored first, taking their first drive 60 yards for a touchdown, ending in Brees' three-yard strike to Colston over the middle. The visitors made it 14-0 early in the second quarter on a 65-yard drive that culminated in Brees' two-yard over-the-shoulder pass to Colston. The march was improbably kept alive on a 41-yard reception by Snead that converted a third-and-21.

The Bucs finally got on the board with their next drive, marching 80 yards to set up a 14-yard touchdown run by Martin on a toss-sweep. Winston converted a third-and-10 with a heady 19-yard scramble in Saints territory, and the drive was also helped immensely by three defensive penalties, including back-to-back personal fouls on CB Kyle Wilson. The two teams then traded field goals before halftime to make it 17-10 at the break.

The Saints briefly got their lead back to double digits with a 17-play, 75-yard drive that ended in Kai Forbath's 23-yard field goal. DT Henry Melton kept New Orleans out of the end zone this time with a third-down sack at the five-yard line, but that was one of just two times the Bucs stopped a third-down try in the first half. Winston led a successful hurry-up drive in the final 54 seconds of the half, the big play a 16-yard strike over the middle to Dye, setting up a 39-yard field goal by Connor Barth.

Brees' repeated ability to sustain drives on third down allowed the visiting team to head into the intermission with big advantages in yards (226-117), plays (40-26) and time of possession (18:20-11:40).

Tampa Bay had a chance to tie the game or cut into the Saints lead midway through the third quarter on a drive that began with a 22-yard run by Martin. However, it stalled at the Saints 29 and the Bucs elected to try a 47-yard field goal on fourth-and-two. Barth hooked his attempt wide to the left, giving the Saints good starting field position for a 63-yard drive. A hands-to-the-face penalty against Jones erased a third-down sack by Brown and the Saints capitalized on Hightower's three-yard scoring run with less than a minute left in the third quarter.

The Buccaneers got back to within a single touchdown after some necessary aggressiveness near midfield. Tampa Bay faced a fourth-and-four at its own 48 and went for it with 10 minutes remaining in regulation, converting on a sliding catch by Seferian-Jenkins. Winston finished the 80-yard touchdown drive with a perfect play-action rollout pass to Humphries to make it 24-17 with nine minutes to play.


Additional notes and in-game details:

  • The Saints converted a third-and-21 in the second quarter on a 41-yard pass from Drew Brees to Willie Snead. That marked the first time this season that the Buccaneers' defense has allowed a conversion of a third-down of more than 20 yards. Opponents had been 0-4 before that play.
  • Doug Martin's 81 rushing yards pushed his 2015 season total to 1,214, the fifth-highest single-season mark in franchise history. Martin surpassed the 1,207 compiled by Errict Rhett in 1995 and is only 49 yards behind the 1,263 put up by Ricky Bell in 1979. Martin is also only 37 yards behind Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, who leads the NFL with 1,251 yards, having already played on Thursday night.
  • Rookie WR Adam Humphries secured his first career touchdown catch on a three-yard pass from rookie QB Jameis Winston in the fourth quarter.
  • The Bucs got the ball first after a touchback and appeared to start the game in magnificent fashion. However, a 36-yard catch-and-run by Jackson was erased by an offensive holding call on T Donovan Smith, making it first-and-20 at the 10. The Bucs couldn't overcome that bad field position and punted away to the Saints' 40.

The Saints ran Hightower twice to create a third-and-four and then got across midfield on Brees' six-yard out to Cooks. A hard hit by LB Danny Lansanah on TE Benjamin Watson and a holding flag on the perimeter against WR Brandon Coleman made it second-and-17 back at the Saints' 45. Brees got 14 of that back on a sideline completion to Cooks, then got all the way down to the Bucs' 15 on a lob down the left side to Watson. Hightower got another handoff and a gigantic hole to run through down to the three for another first down. Two plays later, Brees hit Colston in the back of the end zone for the game's first points.

The two teams then traded three-and-outs, and Rainey fair caught a Thomas Morstead punt at the Bucs' 11 with four-and-a-half minutes left in the opening quarter. Two plays later, Winston hit Seferian-Jenkins for a 13-yard gain, though a seam pass attempt to the same target on the next play was incompletion. On third-and-six from the 30, the Bucs' play broke down immediately and Winston eventually absorbed a six-yard sack.

The Saint started up again at their own 35 but a Hightower run was stuffed at the line and a short pass left them in third-and-five. Brees had time to operate on third down and eventually threw a sideline swing pass to Spiller that moved the chains to the New Orleans' 48. A Carter sack helped put the Saints back into a third-and-21 but Brees had an eternity in the pocket and eventually found WR Willie Snead wide open down the left sideline for a gain of 41. Another strike to Watson over the middle got the ball down inside the Bucs' five and Brees finished it on second-and-goal with a two-yard hookup with Colston.

A pair of personal-foul penalties Wilson gifted the Bucs with 30 yards and a first down at the Saints' 42. However, a broken play that ended up in Winston diving back to the line and a deep incompletion in the direction of Donteea Dye put the Bucs into a third-and-10 hole. As he did last week against Atlanta, Winston made a big third-down play with his feet, scrambling out of trouble and eluding tacklers for 18 yards to the Saints' 24. A run and a catch by Sims put the Bucs into third-and-five, and Winston tried to hit Seferian-Jenkins at the goal line. CB Brandon Browner had to hold Seferian-Jenkins to keep him away from the ball, creating a first down at the Saints' 14. Martin took a sweep left on the next play, found a gap and then cut back to the middle for the touchdown to cut the Saints' lead in half.

After a touchback on the ensuing kickoff, Hightower converted a third-and-one with a run up the middle that barely made it. The Saints faced a third-and-six at the 34 after a delay-of-game penalty, an incompletion and a short screen pass, but Brees converted this one too with a perfect sideline pass to Watson right past the sticks. A crossing route to Snead picked up another 23 to the Bucs' 32, and Brees then found Snead three plays later to barely convert a third-and-13. Hightower's run over right tackle led to another first down at the 11, and two plays from there got it to the five with the Bucs' calling two of their three timeouts. On third-and-four at the Bucs' five, the Bucs forced Brees to scramble and Melton dragged him down at the line of scrimmage for a sack. The Saints pushed their lead to 10 points on Kai Forbath's 23-yard field goal.

Bobby Rainey took a line drive kickoff on the run and got it out to the 33 with just under a minute raining, and an underneath throw to Sims got the ball close to midfield. An illegal-contact penalty on the Saints moved the ball to the New Orleans' 42, and Winston hit Dye across the middle for 16 yards to the 26. One quick out to Brate set up Connor Barth for a 39-yard field goal try that he drilled between the pipes.

The Saints got the ball first to start the second half and got a pair of first downs on another Snead catch over the middle and a Brees sneak on third-and-one. However, a successful blitz by the Bucs on third-and-three from the Tampa Bay 40 forced an errant throw by Brees, leading to a punt.

After a punt that was fair-caught at the Bucs' 16, Martin broke off a 22-yard run to get the next drive moving. However, the Saints nearly intercepted a misdirection pass intended for Seferian-Jenkins and the Bucs found themselves in a third-and-five at the 43. A well-executed screen pass to Sims was good for 10 yards, moving the ball across midfield. A dazzling nine-yard sideline catch by Seferian-Jenkins and a Martin leap over the top on third-and-one gave the Bucs another first down at the Saints' 37. The drive stalled at the 29, however, and the Bucs opted for a 47-yard field goal try, which Barth missed to the left.

Carter shadowed Watson deep down the middle to break up a first-down pass and McDaniel dropped Hightower for a loss of five to make it third-and-15. Kourtnei Brown then buried Brees with a sack on the next play but the drive was extended on an illegal hands-to-the-face flag on DE Howard Jones. Two Hightower runs put the ball across midfield. A strike to Coleman deep over the middle and a horse-collar flag on S Chris Conte moved the ball all the way down to Tampa Bay's 14. Hightower finished the drive with a three-yard touchdown run on second and goal.

The Bucs' offense followed with a three-and-out as passes to Seferian-Jenkins and Brate were broken up at the last second. The Saints next drive got to midfield but the Bucs forced a punt from there and it went into the end zone. On third-and-one from the 29, Winston started to scramble then spotted Evans near the sideline and managed to fire off a dart to move the chains. However, Evans was flagged for a pass-interference penalty on Evans on the next snap and a personal foul on the young receiver on the one after that pushed them all the way back to their own 22. On second-and-29, Sims made two dazzling moves to turn a short pass into 14 yards, and on third-and-15, another screen to Sims picked up 11 to make it fourth-and-four near midfield. The Buccaneers elected to go for it with 10:10 left in the game and Seferian-Jenkins made a great sliding catch for nine yards. In addition, S Kenny Vaccaro drew a roughing-the-passer flag to move the ball to the 28, and Winston then fired a 22-yard strike to Evans over the middle. A play-action rollout worked to perfection as Winston easily tossed a six-yard TD pass to WR Adam Humphries.

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