Tampa, Fla. – If the New Orleans Saints didn't post a get-right win over Tampa Bay on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, they at least manufactured a thorough, get-back-on-the-right-track victory over the Buccaneers.
The 34-17 victory raised the Saints' record to 8-2 and widened their lead in the NFC South Division to three games, above second-place Carolina. It also was a strong response to last week's loss, which ended New Orleans' six-game winning streak.
The Saints continue to control their destiny, and did so by posting their fourth road victory of the season. And overall, New Orleans was solid across the board.
OFFENSE: A week ago, the Saints failed to score an offensive touchdown at home for the first time since the 2005 season. Sunday, they scored three against Tampa Bay – all Drew Brees touchdown passes, in part because they cleaned up their act in the red zone. The Saints were 3 of 4 in the red zone, after going 0-for-3 against Atlanta. Brees completed 80 percent of his passes (28 of 35), the Saints ran for 109 yards against a defense that only was allowing 77 per game, they were successful on seven of 13 third-down attempts and time of possession (37 minutes for the Saints, 23 for Tampa Bay) was back to what New Orleans had grown accustomed to. The 328 yards of offense were a bit misleading; when the Saints needed to make a play or convert, they did. They were efficient and capitalized on what the defense provided.
DEFENSE: And speaking of the defense: Man, did it provide. Four forced turnovers – interceptions by Demario Davis, Vonn Bell, Marcus Williams and P.J. Williams – not only took points off the board (P.J.'s came in the end zone), but also put points on the board (Marcus' was a pick-six). And Davis and Bell had their interceptions at the end of the first and second quarters, respectively, with Davis' immediately leading to a touchdown pass from Brees to Michael Thomas. Add in two sacks (1.5 by Cam Jordan), 12 quarterback hits and 12 passes defensed, and it was a stellar day on defense. And the Saints allowed just 36 rushing yards, after giving up 143 last week.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Saints didn't need or receive a game-changer from the unit. But solid was more than enough on Sunday. Wil Lutz delivered a pair of field goals, Alvin Kamara returned three punts for 32 yards, Taysom Hill handled the one kickoff he brought back (12 yards) and Thomas Morstead didn't give the Bucs anything to return in the punt game. We know the unit can make plays, but it's O.K. when it doesn't have to.