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John DeShazier: How the Saints beat the Buccaneers

Saints flipped the script from loss two weeks ago

Check out the action on the field as the Saints host the Buccaneers in Week 16.

OFFENSE: The New Orleans Saints' offense Saturday against Tampa Bay bore little resemblance to the one that was prevented from scoring a touchdown against the same Buccaneers in a 16-11 loss just 13 days ago. There's something to be said for running the ball effectively (31 carries for 123 yards and two touchdowns), not committing any turnovers (three against the Bucs in the previous game, none Saturday) and having a reasonable rate of success on third down (5 of 12). The Saints didn't just run effectively when Tampa Bay may not have been expecting it; they ran effectively when the Bucs knew exactly what was coming, and had loaded up to prevent it. Namely, three runs by Mark Ingram (18 carries for 90 yards and two touchdowns, and a successful run for a two-point conversion), totaling 19 yards, helped the Saints run out the clock after they recovered Tampa Bay's onside kick with 1:59 left. Ingram and the Saints' offensive line bullied their way to the clinching first down to ice the game. The offense didn't require fireworks from Drew Brees(23 of 34 for 299 yards and a touchdown), but that was due to the balance provided by the running game. Brandin Cooks(five catches for 98 yards) and Michael Thomas(six catches for 98) nearly topped 100 and each turned in a big play in the passing game, Thomas with a 46-yard reception and Cooks with a 42-yarder. But the Saints stayed away from bad down-and-distance situations (seven penalties on Saturday, 13 in the first game against the Buccaneers) and they were able to control the time of possession (31:36 to 28:24).

DEFENSE: After allowing 34 points and 400-plus yards against Arizona last Sunday, the Saints rebounded to a degree. Tampa Bay had seven points and 97 yards at halftime, and finished with 24 and 349, respectively. The biggest and best numbers for the Saints were two interceptions (both by safety Jairus Byrd) and two sacks (by defensive tackle Sheldon Rankinsand defensive end Cam Jordan). They had population around Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston(23 of 35 for 277 yards and two touchdowns) and flushed him several times. New Orleans wasn't fantastic against the run (21 carries for 89 yards and a touchdown for Tampa Bay), but it was good enough. And other than Mike Evans (seven catches for 97 yards and a touchdown), no Tampa Bay receiver shook free against the Saints.

SPECIAL TEAMS: We're beginning to see the progress that is coming from the emphasis placed on special team improvement. Rookie kicker Wil Lutznow has made 11 consecutive field goals (he made three Saturday), no snafus have occurred in the return game, the kick cover team chipped in a play (aided, greatly, by Josh Huff'smishandling of the second-half kickoff) and when the time came, Brandin Cookscleanly fielded Tampa Bay's onside kick. There haven't been any explosive "plus" plays, but no explosive "minus" plays, either. Lutz has been smooth, so the addition of special teams assistant Kevin O'Dealooks to have been a positive one.

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