The New Orleans Saints rode into town during a maelstrom of media reports dealing with internal problems for the Buccaneers, and they surely intended to capitalize on the distraction caused by the media frenzy in Tampa over the past week.
The Saints received the opening kickoff and proceeded to convert a string of third down conversions as they marched down the field into Buccaneer territory. As they were approaching the red zone, the Buccaneer defense was buoyed by a huge Gerald McCoy sack that pinned back New Orleans, holding them to a field goal.
3-0 New Orleans
Lightning crackled across the Tampa Bay sky and a delay that would end up lasting nearly 45 minutes forced both teams into their locker rooms as fans sought shelter under the concourses.
Once play resumed, the Buccaneers did nothing with the opportunity provided by nature for additional game planning, and was forced to punt. On New Orleans ensuing possession Dekoda Watson makes a spectacular interception after dropping back into coverage and stepping in front of a short pass from Brees. Tampa makes the most of the opportunity and proceeds to march down the field. The drive is highlighted by a key third down conversion with Josh Freeman scrambling for a first down and taking the Bucs into the New Orleans red zone. After a defensive holding penalty moves Tampa inside the five yard line, Freeman completes the drive by connecting on a short inside slant to WR Kevin Ogletree for the touchdown.
Upon receiving the ball, Drew Brees quickly takes the wind out of the Ray Jay crowd by completing a gigantic touchdown to Jimmy Graham. Brees seemingly confused the defense by calling an audible at the line of scrimmage and Dekoda Watson and Dashon Goldson were clearly not on the same page. Goldson approached the line of scrimmage prior to snap and Watson simply let Graham run right past him assuming he had help over the top (at least that's what I hope he thought, because otherwise he might be brain dead).
10-7 New Orleans
The second quarter begins with Adrian Clayborn getting great pressure on Drew Brees and delivering a vicious hit and forcing a fumble. Unfortunately, Clayborn went helmet to helmet and is called for a personal foul. Dashon Goldson, upset that someone else got a personal foul besides him, proceeds to get a helmet to helmet personal foul himself on the next play. New Orleans attempts to capitalize on their free 30 yards by calling a flea flicker against the reeling Tampa defense. Marques Colston initially beats Darrelle Revis down the sideline, but Revis shows us why he makes a million dollars a game by easily catching up to Colston and sneaking by him to break up the pass. After another big pass to Graham, followed by yet another great play by Revis, Garrett Hartley shows some rust and misses a 43 yard field goal.
Tampa goes three and out after Vincent Jackson drops an easy first down. On New Orlean's ensuing possession Greg Schiano wastes a timeout on one of the stranger challenges I've seen in awhile. After Mark Ingram is tackled by Dashon Goldson on a run up the middle, Goldson seems to wrestle the ball away while on the ground. Maybe he got possession before Ingram's knee was down, but no ref in his right mind was going to overturn it and rule it a fumble. Strange, strange challenge.
New Orleans moves the ball down the field on screen after screen until a holding call helps stall the drive and they are forced to punt. Tampa does nothing with their next possession as they again shoot themselves in foot. A huge first down is vacated by an illegal formation penalty, which is followed by Vincent Jackson dropping his second pass of the game on a short out route.
After Tampa punts, safety Ahmad Black tries to get in on the personal foul party and literally tries to kill Jimmy Graham. On a hit that will surely leave him lighter in the wallet, he goes helmet to helmet on Graham after the tight end had already dropped the pass. It was extremely ugly, as Graham was bent over backwards on the play and appeared to go limp. The sad thing is that this play, like the Dashon Goldson hit before it, were both completely unnecessary. Lavonte David had provided great coverage on both plays and the penalties negated them. Graham gets up unscathed and the Saints march on.
Immediately following the two minute warning, Brees connects on yet another huge pass to Graham, who has now accumulated eight catches for 156 yards in the first half. It's the best game of his career and it's only going to get better (in the biz, this is what we call foreshadowing). Initially ruled a touchdown, the referees review the play and rule that Graham was down at the one yard line.
The Bucs make a dominant goal line stand, as both Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas are stood up and pushed back by Dashon Goldson and company. The Saints kick a field goal, but Leonard Johnson goes offsides, and New Orleans attempts to to go for it on 4th and short and takes the points off the board. The gamble turns out to be a big mistake as Mark Ingram is once again stood up, this time by Mason Foster and Lavonte David. Ball converts to Bucs and they run out clock to half time.
Tampa Bay receives the kickoff and Doug Martin starts things off with a bang with a big run. This drive is unfortunately highlighted by an ugly injury to Saints cornerback Patrick Robinson. In what seemed to be an apparent knee injury, Robinson was carted off the field, and this seemed to open things up a bit for the Bucs passing game. Auditioning for all his potential suitors out there (I kid, I kid) Freeman shows off his beautiful deep ball on a pass that must have traveled 65 yards in the air. He overthrows Ogletree, but the pass opened up some of the underneath stuff that had been missing. Freeman connects with Jackson on an inside post route. At this point Freeman seems to have gotten rid of the jitters and is playing at a high level. It's all for nothing though, as on the next play Cam Jordan gets to Freeman on his blind side and forces the fumble as Freeman's arm is still going backwards on his throw.
New Orleans starts deep in Buc territory, but a big Lavonte David sack stalls them and they are held to a short field goal.
13-7 New Orleans
On the Buccaneers next possession, Freeman again shows off his arm and throws a 73 yard touchdown pass to Jackson. Unfortunately, Demar Dotson wasn't paying attention at the pee wee football practice where they show tackles they have to line up on the line of scrimmage and the play is called back for illegal formation. However, the offense isn't entirely deflated and Doug Martin rips off a great 28 yard run to take the Bucs to midfield. In a classic case of Josh Freeman being Josh Freeman, he throws a horrible pass off his back foot while avoiding pressure and is intercepted by New Orleans safety Malcolm Jenkins.
The Bucs force a three and out. Saints kicker Garrett Hartley was going to attempt a 53 yarder, but in a move they could only have learned from the their counterparts on the opposing sideline, shoot themselves in the foot with a false start. Instead of attempting Hartley's career long field goal, Sean Payton elects to punt.
While all this is going on Tampa wastes it's second timeout of the quarter with confusion over player substitutions. Coach Greg Schiano looks like he's going to have an aneurysm on the sidelines as he berates his players for the rookie mistakes. On their next possession, a Tampa tight end makes a rare appearance when Freeman connects on a long pass to Nate Bynam, but the offense is ultimately stymied and they are forced to punt.
Shortly into the 4th quarter Mark Barron is called for a ridiculous pass interference penalty on Saints' WR Kenny Stills and is hit with 37 yards. Honestly Barron might have nudged with his arm, but I saw absolutely nothing to warrant a flag being thrown. Saints have 1st and 10 on Tampa's 22 yard line.
On what was undoubtedly the play of the game, linebacker Mason Foster suckers Drew Brees into throwing it directly to him and is led by a caravan 85 yards for a defensive touchdown. Foster looks amazing breaking tackles and Lavonte David and the rest of the defensemen lay block after block to pave the way for his long touchdown. Realizing that they can't get a big play without a penalty on offense, the defense promptly gets an excessive celebration penalty.
The next Saints' possession leads to a punt, highlighted by a great play by Mark Barron as he knocks away the ball on a short out route to Jimmy Graham.
Doug Martin starts things off with a bang yet again by gashing the Saints with another big run. Unfortunately the offense stalls when Mike Williams can't get his second foot down on a pass down the sideline for a first down, and Bucs are forced to punt as well.
The defense proves stout again as they stop New Orleans and Mark Barron and Lavonte David meet up at Drew Brees' chest and leave them with a long 3rd and 18, which Brees' fails to convert.
On the next possession "good Freeman" shows back up and he delivers a great pass to Vincent Jackson on 3rd and 11. Jackson takes a big hit from safety Kenny Vaccarro, but since Vaccarro went for his knees (which isn't dangerous to a player at all) he isn't flagged. Freeman completes another big pass to Jackson, who again takes another huge hit, this time by the other safey, Malcolm Floyd. Jackson is visibly shaken after this one (still no flag) and has to go the sideline.
Jackson comes limping back in and Doug Martin converts a very important 3rd and one as we wind down to the two minute warning. A couple of Doug Martin runs later and we're left with 4th and three with 1:10 left on clock. The Saints have no timeouts, but instead of trying to convert the 4th and short, Greg Schiano decides to allow Rian Lindell to attempt a 47 yard field goal that would put the Bucs up by four points, making it necessary for them to score a touchdown to win. Lindell proceeds to miss the field goal and everybody in the stands knows what is about to happen.
Brees drives the Saints down the field. Completing a pass to his favorite target Jimmy Graham and then another deep pass to Marques Colston, who had been shut down entirely up to that point. Colston ran right by Leonard Johnson, and is finally brought down around the ten yard line. Hartley makes the gimme, and just like that, it's over.
MVP (for Bucs since I guess I can't give it to Jimmy Graham):
Adrian Clayborn -
While many players on the defense may deserve this after such a great effort by New Orleans dynamic offense, Clayborn gets the game ball because he was constantly in Brees' face today. His motor was outstanding and he altered the game considerably with the pressure he caused.
Leonard Johnson -
I was going to give this award to Vincent Jackson for his drops in the first half, but he redeemed himself was some clutch plays in traffic where he knew he was going to be hit in the second half. He also had the huge touchdown called back through no fault of his own. I was also tempted to give the ball to Mike Williams, who was invisible this game. But ultimately decided to give the play to Johnson, who looked lost at points today, and nearly cost the team a great defensive stand at the end of the first half with his bonehead offsides penalty.