Tampa, Fla. - The New Orleans Saints defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 16-14 on a 27-yard Garrett Hartley field goal as time expired Sunday at Raymond James Stadium to improve to 2-0 for the first time since 2010.
It was an amazing ending to a wild game that featured a 69-minute weather delay in the first quarter, an 85-yard pick-six by Tampa linebacker Mason Foster, 10 Tampa Bay penalties, a failed fourth-and-one attempt by the Saints after they elected to take three points off the board and a 54-yard game-winning drive by Drew Brees.
The Bucs had a chance to ice the game but kicker Rian Lindell missed a 47-yard field-goal attempt, giving the Saints the ball with 1:06 to play. Brees hit Graham for a 15-yard gain, then Darren Sproles for eight yards before connecting with Marques Colston on a 31-yard completion to get the ball to Tampa's 9-yard line. Brees spiked the ball and Hartley converted his third kick of the game to allow the Saints to escape Tampa with the win.
Graham was the offensive star with 10 catches for 179 yards and a 56-yard touchdown, the 27th of his career, most all-time for a Saints tight end. Colston had four catches for 63 yards and Sproles had six for 36. Pierre Thomas was the team's top rusher with five carries for 29 yards.
Brees had a bit of an up-and-down game but came through again in the clutch. He was 26 of 46 for 322 yards with one touchdown and two picks, one of which seemingly gave the Bucs (0-2) the game. But it ended up being Tampa's second consecutive gut-wrenching defeat following last week's loss to the New York Jets. But the Bucs didn't help themselves as they finished with 10 penalties for 118 yards and surrendered two turnovers to a Saints defense that held them to 273 yards.
Quarterback Josh Freeman struggled, completing just 9 of 22 passes for 125 yards with one touchdown and one interception plus a lost fumble. Running back Doug Martin a strong outing with 144 yards on 29 carries.
But Graham had the game's outstanding individual offensive performance and almost finished with two touchdowns. He almost scored on a 31-yard pass toward the end of the first of first half but was ruled down on the 1. It was a pivotal play as the Saints couldn't score any points despite the great field position. Coach Sean Payton elected to take Garrett Hartley's 20-yard field goal off the board when the Bucs were penalized for offsides but Mark Ingram was stopped just short of the goal line on a fourth-down run to the left side.
Late in the game it looked like the Saints would need those three points but Brees and company came through in the clutch yet again.
The defense came through with its second consecutive strong performance as safety Malcolm Jenkins intercepted a Freeman pass and end Cameron Jordan forced a Freeman fumble that was recovered by Junior Galette.
The Saints, alone in first place in the NFC South, can improve to 3-0 when they take on the Arizona Cardinals next Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.