For the first time this year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played a complete game. The defense played well, forcing four turnovers, preventing Drew Brees from scoring touchdown and stifling a previously productive running game. Josh Freeman got it together, scoring two touchdowns and racking up 303 yards through the air with nos interceptions. Earnest Graham rushed for a massive 109 yards, icing the game in the fourth quarter when the Bucs needed to run out the clock. Special teams played very well, limiting any returns and giving the Bucs good field position all day long.
And despite that, the Bucs still couldn't get off to a fast start. Despite a recovered fumble in Saints territory, the Bucs trailed 7-3 after the first quarter. A Drew Brees touchdown to Marques Colston as Ronde Barber got fooled by looking in the backfield got the Saints the seven points. It wasn't until the second quarter when the Bucs really made their mark.
But when they did get going, they got going quickly. They started the second quarter with a deep, play-action pass to Arrelious Benn for the touchdown, on what seemed like a blown coverage by New Orleans. They followed that up by forcing a three-and-out, and the Bucs added a field goal after a nine-play, 66-yard drive.
The Bucs weren't done yet, though, as Tanard Jackson notched an interception in his first game back off a tipped pass. The talented safety looked like he had never left as he played fast and seemed to always be in position. He did have to leave the game for a few plays late in the game, possibly because of conditioning.
The Bucs took that turnover in Saints territory, and turned it into points. Josh Freeman hit Preston Parker on a slant, and he walked into the endzone. The Bucs defense then notched another interception for good measure, as E.J. Biggers was handed the ball by Drew Brees on a badly thrown fade to Marques Colston. The Saints would finally get three more points as time expired, making it 20-10 Bucs at the half.
In the second half, the Bucs didn't do much more than hold on for dear life. The defense gave up yardage, but managed to keep the Bucs out of the endzone. And on the other side, the Bucs managed to get yardage but couldn't convert in Saints territory to truly put them away.
At the start of the fourth quarter the Saints managed to pull within three points on a 12-yard Mark Ingram touchdown. That came on a drive that had been sustained by an iffy pass interference call against Elbert Mack, and a 40-yard completion to Lance Moore down the sideline. The Bucs added another field goal in the fourth quarter to make it 26-20, but the Saints had plenty of time to take the lead at that point.
And it seemed like that was exactly what the Saints were doing. They marched down the field to the Bucs' goalline. But on a fourth-and-two from the four-yard line the Buccaneers finally stopped Drew Brees. Quincy Black intercepted Brees in the endzone on a pass that went nowhere. The Bucs then only had to run out the game, which they did with few problems. A key third-down completion to Dezmon Briscoe got them one first down, and one more run by Earnest Graham got them the final third down they needed.
The Bucs notched a complete win, but there was still room for improvement. The red zone offense still needs work, while Mike Williams still dropped too many footballs. The offensive line also really struggled in pass protection, although Gregg Williams blitzed Freeman relentlessly.
But the team looked much better than it had at any point this season, and the Bucs have now taken the division lead as they hold tiebreakers over the 4-2 New Orleans Saints.
The win did come with some costs, though. Mason Foster left the game during the first half and did not return. There was no word on his injury, although Foster came into the game with an ankle injury. Jeff Faine injured his bicep and did not return either. After the game he said it was just a strain, and that he would be fine. Finally, defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake suffered a torn patellar tendon while celebrating Tanard Jackson's interception.
Next, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers make the trip across the ocean to London to face the Chicago Bears in Wembley Stadium. The goal of winning the division is within reach.