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Saints vs. Buccaneers Final Score: New Orleans defense stifles Jameis Winston

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Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers couldn't beat the New Orleans Saints at home as they lost 24-17, almost certainly dooming whatever playoff hopes they had left. In an ugly game, the Bucs offense struggled to put up points against the league-worst defense, and Tampa Bay's secondary got exposed by Drew Brees and company.

Jameis Winston may have had his worst game in months until the fourth quarter, missing receivers high, overreacting to pressure and generally not taking any shots at big plays and having a would-be interception dropped. He turned it on late in the game, leading the Bucs to a scoring drive and would-have-been a second scoring drive if not for a Donteea Dye drop, but it was too little too late. Winston ended the game completing 18 of 32 passes for just 182 yards, one touchdown, one sack and no turnovers.

In the first half, the Bucs were playing some ugly football. The defense looked horrifying, allowing Drew brees to complete 19 of 22 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns, with Brees converting both a third-and-13 and a third-and-21 on two of  his scoring drives. Gerald McCoy was obviously limited with his broken hand and no one on defense was getting any pressure, while the secondary looked like the unit the team trotted out there early in the year.

Meanwhile, the Bucs offense couldn't do much against the worst defense in the NFL. Winston completed seven of 13 passes for just 70 yards in the first half, and looked inaccurate and uncomfortable until the two-minute warning, when he got the Bucs into field goal range in a hurry. Despite all that, though, the Bucs were down just one touchdown going into the half.

The third quarter made matters even worse, with the Bucs going into the fourth quarter down 24-10, having targeted Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson (left the game with a knee injury) just once and generally struggling on both sides of the ball. But the fourth quarter is where the Bucs turned it around, and Jameis Winston, Mike Evans and Doug Martin finally got it going. But it was almost too late at that point, and a drop ended most of the Bucs hopes, while the defense's ineptitude then sealed the game.

With this loss, the Bucs have almost lost any perspective at the playoffs. They're 6-7, two games behind the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks for a wild card spot with just three weeks left in the season.

First quarter notes

The Bucs knew the Saints had some massive issues on defense and went straight after them on the first play, with a 36-yard catch by Vincent Jackson -- called back for offensive holding, and that turned what would have been a promising drive into a three-and-out instead. The Saints did the opposite: they turned their holding penalty into a touchdown on their first drive, beating Chris Conte on the touchdown and a big throw to Benjamin Watson, giving them a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.

The Bucs struggled on offense throughout the first quarter, with two three-and-outs and one five-and-out against the worst defense in the NFL. The defense struggled as well, giving up a lot of short plays and allowing Brees to complete all nine of his passes -- but at least they ended the quarter with a big sack.

Second quarter notes

That sack I just mentioned gave the Saints a third-and-21 -- which Drew Brees easily turned into a first down when the secondary broke down trying to play their staple Tampa 2 coverage. That unsurprisingly gave the Saints another touchdown, and a 14-0 lead.

Of course, the Saints wouldn't be the Saints if their defense didn't help the Bucs a little. They gave Jameis Winston two first downs and thirty yards with personal fouls, and another first down with a holding penalty -- Winston needed the help as he wasn't particularly sharp in the second half. Doug Martin then finished off the drive with a nice fourteen-yard touchdown run.

But the Bucs defense continued to look like their early-season selves, giving up a 23-yard play to Willie Snead and a third-and-13 for fourteen yards also to Snead. This time they actually got a stop -- kind of -- holding the Saints to just a field goal.

Third quarter notes

The Bucs defense actually got a stop to start the second half, giving Jameis Winston and company an opportunity to tie the game. But the Bucs offense continued to struggle, needing far too many plays to gain far too little yardage. When they settled for a field goal instead of going for it on fourth-and-two from the 29-yard line, Connor Barth missed it.

The Bucs defense then seemed to step it up, but an unnecessary hands-to-the-face penalty negated a third-down sack, and a horse collar penalty then put the Saints in the red zone, after which Tim Hightower put them back up by two touchdowns. Winston and company then produced yet another three-and-out, once again refusing to take a deep shot.

Fourth quarter notes

Desperately needing a touchdown, the Bucs offense continued to look sluggish and refused to take any deep shots even in the fourth quarter. Penalties, including a bogus offensive pass interference call on Mike Evans and a legit personal foul call on the same, then seemed to end that drive -- but a terrific quick throw under pressure by Jameis Winston on fourth-and-four, a couple of big plays by Mike Evans and an easy touchdown throw to Adam Humphries got the Bucs back in the game.

The Bucs defense managed a stop and Jameis Winston got a chance to tie the game, but a third-down drop by Donteea Dye led the Bucs to punt, and the defense couldn't find a way to get a third-and-short stop on three attempts, allowing the Saints to run out the clock and win the game.

Injuries

Vincent Jackson left the game with a knee injury in the first quarter and did not return. He was replaced by Donteea Dye and Adam Humphries.

Defensive tackle Akeem Spence had to be helped off the field in the fourth quarter and did not return. He was replaced by Tony McDaniel.

Starting middle linebacker Bruce Carter had to be helped off the field on one of the final defensive plays of the game.

What's next?

The Bucs head to St. Louis to take on the Rams on Thursday Night Football for their last playoff hopes. They haven't been eliminated  yet, but it's pretty close. A loss against the Rams would end any hopes they do have.