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New Orleans Saints lose fourth-quarter lead, fall to Buccaneers 17-16

New Orleans forced two turnovers in the loss

New Orleans Saints fans had seen this movie too many times before.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady walked onto the field, down six, with less than three minutes remaining and one timeout. The Saints defense had held Brady to 218 yards until the final drive and picked him off twice, but the offense only managed six second half points.

Brady led the Buccaneers right down the field. One completion after another, Brady drove Tampa Bay into the red zone. The game appeared over when Brady threw a would-be touchdown to Chris Godwin, but a holding penalty negated the play. It didn't matter.

With three seconds remaining, Brady found running Rachaad White in the flat for the go-ahead six-yard touchdown, potentially crushing the Saints playoff hopes with one throw.

The Saints lost to the Buccaneers 17-16 Monday night, falling to 4-9 and 2.5 games out of the division lead. The Bucs are 6-6 and in first place in the NFC South.

"We gave ourselves every opportunity, we just didn't get it done," Saints Coach Dennis Allen said. "It sucks, it stings, it hurts."

Despite the loss, the Saints defense shined brightly under the lights for the majority of the game. The unit forced two turnovers and held Brady to under 200 passing yards for 55 minutes of gametime. However, two long drives by the Buccaneers in the final five minutes were too much to overcome.

The defensive unit for New Orleans has come into its own as of late, not allowing more than 20 points in a game since Nov. 7 against Baltimore.

Quarterback Andy Dalton led the New Orleans offense to four scoring drives, three of which were field goals. Dalton completed 71% of his passes for 229 yards and a touchdown.

"There's a lot of good that we did, but doing good isn't good enough," Dalton said.

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The Saints won the toss and deferred to the second half, meaning their defense would see the field first. Brady and the Buccaneers offense came out firing as he completed seven of his first eight passes. The 16-play drive took nearly eight minutes, but it resulted in just three points as New Orleans refused to break in the red zone. Safety Marcus Maye had six tackles on the opening drive, including a touchdown-saving tackle on running back Leonard Fournette.

The offensive woes from last week's struggle against the 49ers continued early Monday as the Saints started with a three-and-out. Dalton seemed to jump-start the offense on the second drive with a 40-yard completion to Rashid Shaheed — the lone highlight of the first quarter — but the drive quickly stalled after a holding penalty.

Shaheed was one of the few offensive bright spots for the Saints in the first half: the Weber State product caught three passes for a career-high 72 yards and returned a punt 42 yards. He finished with four receptions for 75 yards.

After the teams traded punts, New Orleans sustained its first drive of the game midway through the second quarter. The drive resulted in the first touchdown as well, as Dalton found a wide open Taysom Hill for a 30-yard score.

With the touchdown, Hill became the first player in the Super Bowl era with nine or more receiving, rushing and passing touchdowns.

Tampa looked to be building some momentum until linebacker Demario Davis intercepted Brady at midfield, putting the Saints in prime position for points at the end of the half. Davis' first interception of the year and his second as a Saints resulted in three points as kicker Wil Lutz drilled a 38-yard field goal to send New Orleans into the half with a 10-3 lead.

The Saints defense settled in after the opening drive field goal, allowing four first downs on the ensuing three possessions. After giving up 72 yards and five first downs on the opening drive, the unit allowed just 78 yards and six first downs the rest of the first half.

New Orleans continued its defensive dominance in the second half, as defensive end Cameron Jordan forced a Rachaad White fumble on Tampa Bay's first possession. Jordan's 14th career forced fumble was recovered by Carl Granderson — his first career fumble recovery — and the Saints took over at their own 32-yard line.

The Saints offense put together a long drive, taking over seven minutes off the clock in 12 plays, but it couldn't punch the ball across the goal line and had to settle for a 21-yard field goal from Lutz.

The Buccaneers kept sputtering on offense as the game flipped to the fourth quarter. Tampa managed just three first downs in the third quarter and punted from the Saints 40-yard line into the end zone to give Dalton the ball at his own 20.

With a chance to put the game out of reach, the Saints again stalled in scoring position. A 12-play, 69-drive that took nearly seven minutes resulted in just three points. Lutz knocked in the 29-yard field goal to improve the Saint lead to 16-3 with eight minutes remaining.

New Orleans forced a three-and-out on the ensuing Tampa possession as its dominant defensive performance continued.

With yet another chance to bury the Bucs, Dalton and Marquez Callaway couldn't connect on a third-and-1 pass, and the Saints punted the ball back to the Buccaneers with just over five minutes remaining and a 13-point lead.

The Saints had plenty of chances for points in the second half — possessing the ball for over 18 minutes of game time in the final two quarters — but they could only muster two field goals.

"I feel like I'm a broken record saying the same thing," Dalton said. "We just missed opportunities."

A methodical drive that was assisted by a pass interference call led to a late touchdown from Brady to tight end Cade Otton. The Bucs were now within a score with three minutes to play. The Saints quickly went three-and-out yet again, and Brady went on to lead his 44th career game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime.

"That's what Tom has done his whole career," Dalton said. "It's hard standing there on the sideline knowing what he's capable of doing."

Allen said the offense had every chance to put the game away, but it couldn't get it done, leaving the door open for Brady.

"When you play Tom Brady, and have a chance to put him away, you have to be able to put him away," Allen said

New Orleans will have to sit on this one for a bit as it has a bye week.

"Four games left, and this one hurts, it does, we got to make the most of it," Dalton said.

The Saints will return home for their next game as they face the Atlanta Falcons (5-8) on Dec. 18 in the Caesars Superdome.

New Orleans Saints players in action during their 2022 Week 13 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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