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John DeShazier: Saints won one the hard way against Buccaneers

Posted Sep 15, 2013

But players made the plays at crunch time

Tampa, Fla. – Call it Houdini. Call it Drew-dini.

Call it improbable. Call it seemingly unlikely.

Whatever the label, finish off the description by calling it a win by the New Orleans Saints on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, a 16-14 decision over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that was dominated by fits and starts and divided by a 69-minute weather delay.

“We’re fortunate to get a win,” Coach Sean Payton said. “I was proud of the fact that they didn’t quit.

“We’ve been in a number of games like this (in the past). We have to clean up a lot of things. We were fortunate. (But) we’re excited to get a win on the road.”

Certainly, it was one the hard way, and won the hard way.

The threat of lightning halted game action at 3:18 p.m. CST, with 10:30 remaining in the first quarter and the Saints holding a 3-0 lead. The delay lasted until 4:27 p.m. The threat of the Buccaneers (0-2) catching lightning in a bottle in the fourth quarter, taking the lead on an 85-yard interception return for a touchdown by middle linebacker Mason Foster, nearly stopped New Orleans’ chance of winning its first two games of the season.

But the Saints’ defense produced yet another stop with 70 seconds remaining, and Tampa Bay kicker Rian Lindell missed a 47-yard attempt to give New Orleans a short field.

From there, with new life at the New Orleans 37-yard line and 66 seconds to move into field- goal range – and no timeouts remaining – Brees conjured his most significant drive of the day.

On first down he connected with tight end Jimmy Graham (10 catches, a career-best 179 yards and a touchdown) for 15 yards. Next, a short pass to running back Darren Sproles for 8 yards, to the Tampa Bay 40.

Finally, a 31-yard hookup with receiver Marques Colston to the Buccaneers’ 9-yard line and after a spike to kill the clock with five seconds left, kicker Garrett Hartley booted a 27-yarder to win the game as time expired.

“I think wins like this are vital,” Brees said. “No matter what you’ve done in the past, you’ve still got to prove it. “

And time and again as a Saint, Brees and his teammates have proved it. Comeback victories aren’t rare.

But the mood wasn’t totally one of glee after Sunday’s escape.

Defensively, there could be no gripes. Tampa Bay scored one offensive touchdown, was held to 273 yards, was forced into a couple of turnovers and averaged a meager 4.9 yards per pass play.

But offensively, Brees and Co. lamented lost opportunities. The Saints had possessions on which they had positions of first-and-goal at the Tampa Bay 1-yard line in the second quarter, first-and-10 at the Buccaneer 14 in the third, first-and-10 at Tampa Bay’s 39 in the third and first-and-10 at the Bucs 25 in the fourth.

And New Orleans only scored a field goal on those opportunities. One chance ended on a punt, another on a missed field goal, another on Brees’ interception return.

“They got the two touchdowns, which were completely my fault,” Brees said. His first interception, in the first quarter and on the Saints’ first possession after the weather delay, gave Tampa Bay possession at the Saints’ 35-yard line.

Seven plays later, and aided by a defensive holding penalty, quarterback Josh Freeman flipped a 5-yard touchdown pass to receiver Kevin Ogletree to give Tampa Bay a 7-3 lead.

“That can’t happen,” Brees said of the interceptions. “Thankfully, we had a chance to get the ball back at the end, go down and win the game.”

For the second consecutive week, that opportunity was provided by a defense that continued to string together stops and now, has allowed only three touchdowns in two games. The fact that the defense forced six punts helped offset the counter that the offense went 0 for 4 in the red zone.

That resiliency, safety Malcolm Jenkins said, will come in handy during the season.

“These kinds of wins make a team strong,” said Jenkins, who collected his first interception of the season. The Saints’ other turnover was a result of a sack-strip by defensive end Cam Jordan; the fumble was recovered by outside linebacker Junior Galette.

“Being down one point, late in the game is nothing,” Jenkins said, crediting his offense for maintaining that attitude.

Too, though, he tipped his helmet to Payton, whose willingness to gamble and take points off the board was a show of confidence in his defense, that it would continue to hold Tampa at bay. In the second quarter, Hartley kicked a field goal but because the Bucs were offside and the penalty pushed the ball to the Tampa Bay 1 on fourth down, Payton took the points off the board and the Saints ran a play.

Mark Ingram was stopped for no gain and Tampa Bay took possession. The Bucs ran a play to run out the clock and go into halftime with a 10-7 deficit.

“(Payton) is playing the game not afraid to turn to us (defensively) and put us out on the field,” Jenkins said.

And the Saints will enter Week 3 alone atop the NFC South Division with two division wins on the resume.

Call them whatever you want. But call them undefeated, too.

New Orleans Saints

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