Tampa, Fla. – The New Orleans Saints are NFC South champions again.
It wasn’t pretty but the Saints rallied to defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 28-14 at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday to win the division title for the second consecutive season, the first time that has happened in franchise history.
The division title guarantees the Saints (11-2) will play host to a playoff game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Whether that will be a wild-card game or divisional game depends on how the rest of the season plays out.
The Saints trail the Los Angeles Rams (11-1) in the race for the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs but have a two-game lead over the Chicago Bears (8-4) for the No. 2 seed and the first-round bye. The Rams and the Bears play each other on “Sunday Night Football.”
For most of the game the Saints’ play matched the dreary Tampa weather. But with 7:18 left in the third quarter and the Saints trailing 14-3, Taysom Hill provided the necessary spark when be burst through the right side of the Bucs’ line to block the punt of Bryan Anger. The Saints recovered at the 30 and quickly scored on a 1-yard pass from quarterback Drew Brees to fullback Zach Line. Alvin Kamara raced to left side of the end zone for the two-point conversion.
The Saints defense took over from there with sacks by A.J. Klein and Cameron Jordan (his second of the game) forcing a Bucs punt that gave the Saints great field position at their 49. New Orleans wasted no time, scoring on 1-yard dive by Brees with 11:46 to play giving the Saints an 18-14 lead.
The Saints put the game away with a 17-yard touchdown run by Mark Ingram with 7:26 to play. It was Ingram’s 49th rushing touchdown, tied for first in franchise history with Deuce McAllister. Wil Lutz added a 36-yard field goal with 1:12 to play, his second of the game (30-yarder in first half).
The Bucs (5-8) took a 14-3 halftime lead thanks to two Jameis Winston touchdown passes to tight end Cameron Brate. Winston also was effective running the ball (47 yards) but the Saints took over in the second half applying consistent pressure and recording its second straight second half shutout. Penalties also slowed the Tampa attack as it was penalized nine times for 74 yards. Marshon Lattimore intercepted Winston on the penultimate play of the game. This was the first time the Saints have held opponents to 17 points or fewer in five consecutive games since Nov. 26-Dec. 24, 2006.
Receiver Michael Thomas was Brees’ most consistent weapon with 11 catches for 98 yards. His second reception gave him the NFL record for most receptions in the first three seasons of a career.
The Saints’ three-game road swing ends Monday, Dec. 17 at Carolina. They will end the season with home games vs. Pittsburgh and Carolina.
Key Saints statistical leaders
Drew Brees, 24 of 31 for 201 yards with one TD and one interception
Mark Ingram, 13 carries for 52 yards and one TD
Alvin Kamara, 10 carries for 39 yards, five catches for 36 yards
Michael Thomas, 11 catches for 98 yards