Matt Stamey-US PRESSWIRE
Tampa Bay charged out to a 21-7 lead in the first half, blew a lead, then had a chance to send it to overtime, but the Saints managed to escape Tampa with a 35-28 win
Two blown leads. Almost 1,000 yards of offense. 63 points. And one white line made all the difference.
After the Buccaneers jumped out to an early lead against the Saints, blew a two-touchdown lead, then charged back again to nearly send the game to overtime, Tampa Bay's final effort was thwarted by the back line of the end zone and the Saints scraped out the 35-28 comeback victory.
The Buccaneers, clad in their classic orange uniforms, got off to a swashbuckling start, picking off Drew Brees on the Saints' first drive and opening up a 14-0 lead early in the first quarter, but had to make one final desperate charge to try and send the game to overtime after blowing the lead.
Trailing 35-28 on fourth down with five seconds left on the clock, Josh Freeman rolled left and found an open Mike Williams for a touchdown that appeared to have given the Bucs a chance to tie the game, but Williams had stepped out of bounds before the score, negating the touchdown and giving New Orleans the nail-biting win.
After falling behind 21-7 in the first quarter, the Saints then turned things around, fighting back to grab a 28-21 lead at halftime thanks to three touchdown passes from Brees, including a 48-yard score where second-year receiver Joseph Morgan flipped a Buccaneer defender up into the air and onto his face.
See for yourself:
What looked to be like the breaking point for the Bucs came late in the third quarter, when Tampa flipped the field with one 95-yard catch from Vincent Jackson, but couldn't punch in a touchdown that would have tied the game at 28.
Standing on their own four-yard line, Freeman flipped a pass down the left sideline to Jackson, who caught the ball off a tip and ran all the way to the Saints' one-yard line before Malcolm Jenkins made a score-saving tackle.
The much-maligned Saints defense, which benefitted greatly from the return of linebacker Jonathan Vilma, stuffed LeGarrette Blount at the line of scrimmage three times in a row, then ran Freeman out of bounds on fourth down to force a turnover.
As if on cue, Brees and company then delivered a touchdown drive what looked like it was going to be the back-breaking blow.
The Saints' offense, spurred on by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Buccaneers, reeled off a 12-play, 95-yard touchdown drive that ended with Pierre Thomas rumbling into the end zone.
But Tampa Bay wasn't dead just yet.
The Buccaneers responded with a 15-play, penalty-filled drive where Freeman connected with Dallas Clark for a touchdown that made the score 35-28, then stopped the Saints on New Orleans' next drive.
With two big completions to Jackson and Clark and one huge fourth-down conversion, Freeman steered the Bucs into the red zone to give them one last shot to send it to overtime.
With just five seconds left in the game, Freeman found Jackson in the back of the end zone -- but he was only able to get one foot in bounds -- then, on the very next play, connected with Williams after he had stepped out of bounds.
Tampa Bay drops to 2-4 with the loss, while New Orleans moves to 2-4 with the win.
The Saints travel to Denver next week and Tampa Bay travels to Minnesota.
Fantasy studs: The Saints receivers, as usual, had a great fantasy day as Brees finished the day with 377 yards passing and four touchdowns, Marques Colston had seven catches for 73 yards and a touchdown, and Lance Moore grabbed nine catches for 121 yards. Jackson headlined the day for Tampa with seven catches for 216 yards and a score. Freeman also had an excellent day, passing for 420 yards and three touchdowns. Rookie runner Doug Martin had a solid afternoon as well with 85 yards rushing and a score.
Fantasy duds: The Saints' running backs. Thomas did score a touchdown, but no Saint rushed for more than 32 yards.
Did they cover?: The Saints covered the two-point line.