The Saints (11-5) fell to the Buccaneers (10-6) 23-13 Sunday afternoon in the Superdome.
With the Falcons holding a large lead against the Panthers in Atlanta, ending the Saints chances at the No. 1 NFC seed in the playoffs, the Saints pulled some of their starters early in the fourth quarter, includng QB Drew Brees.
Brees finished 22-38 for 196 yards and tossed a touchdown and interception. Brees' 22 completions puts his season total at 448, breaking the NFL record he set (440) in 2007.
RB Reggie Bush led the Saints with 70 rushing yards on nine carries. The fifth-year back also had nine receptions for 55 yards. Rookie RB Chris Ivory added 33 yards on seven carries, all in the first half.
WR Adrian Arrington had his best game as a Saint with seven catches for 79 yards. WR Lance Moore chipped in with six catches for 53 yards.
Rookie TE Jimmy Graham scored his fourth touchdown over the past three weeks in the first quarter but was injured on the play and did not return.
On defense, the Saints were led by LB Scott Shanle who registered nin total tackles, seven in the first half.
Tampa Bay won the coin toss and elected to receive. P Thomas Morstead handled kickoff duties. Tampa Bay WR Michael Spurlock took the kickoff back from the one-yard line to the 23. On first down, Tampa Bay QB Josh Freeman was facing pressure and was forced to throw a pass that couldn't be caught by TE John Gilmore. On second down, Freeman completed a pass to Tampa Bay TE Ryan Purvis for a 11-yard gain. With the chains moved, Tampa Bay called their first timeout of the half. Buccaneers RB LeGarrette Blount took his first carry of the game for a five-yard gain. On second down, Freeman completed a pass to Tampa Bay RB Kregg Lumpkin for a 12-yard gain to advance into New Orleans territory at the 49. Blount then gained 16 yards on a play where S Malcolm Jenkins was shaken up. The Buccaneers lost four yards though on the subsequent run by Blount, where he was stopped up the middle by LB Danny Clark. Following Tampa Bay's second timeout of the half, on second and 14, Freeman was almost dropped for a sack by DE Will Smith, but he eluded the pressure before he was stopped by Clark for only a one-yard gain. On third down, Freeman completed a pass to Buccaneers WR Dezmon Brisco, where he was stopped for a gain of ten yards, three short of the first down marker. Buccaneers K Connor Barth drilled a 43-yard field goal to give the Buccaneers the first lead of the game.
The Saints offense would get humming quick though as they started at their 22. After Brees first attempted a bomb to Henderson, he completed a 21-yard throw to WR Lance Moore. On the next snap, Tampa Bay DT Roy Miller was called for an offsides penalty. RB Chris Ivory carried for 11 yards to move the chains and then Brees completed a five-yard throw to Moore. On second and goal from the four, a Brees pass intended for Moore was incomplete. On the next play, Tampa Bay CB E.J. Biggers was called for an illegal contact penalty. With a fresh set of downs at the 31, after two incomplete passes, Brees completed a pass to RB Reggie Bush for a ten-yard gain. Ivory then carried for four yards and following an incomplete pass, a 11-yard throw to TE Jimmy Graham put the Saints at the six. Ivory got two more yards on the ground and then following an incomplete pass, Brees threw a four-yard pass to Graham in the end zone corner to give the Saints the lead.
Following a holding penalty on the kickoff return by Tampa Bay, they would start at their nine. On the series, they were unable to convert a first down, sending their punt unit out with Bush on the other end. Bush took the punt at the 36-yard line and would advance it to the 43. On first down, Ivory carried for a gain of four yards before being tackled by Tampa Bay LB Barrett Ruud and S Sean Jones. On second down, Brees kept and was forced out of bounds for a two-yard loss by Buccaneers LB Geno Hayes. Brees then completed a pass in the middle of the field to Bush and he scampered for a total gain of 19 yards to move into Tampa Bay territory. With a fresh set of downs, Brees completed a throw to Moore for a six-yard gain. On second down, Ivory moved the chains up the middle on the final play of the first quarter with a gain of seven yards. With a fresh set of downs and the start of the second period, Brees handed off to Ivory, who gained two yards. He then gained three yards on his next run. With a third and five at the 18, Tampa Bay called their final timeout of the first half. The timeout didn't do any good as Brees and Moore moved the chains with a six-yard completion. Brees then completed a throw to WR Adrian Arrington for his first career catch and a nine-yard gain. On second and one, a throw intended for Moore in the end zone was incomplete. On third and one, Brees handed off to RB Julius Jones, who fumbled on the play and the ball was recovered by Tampa Bay DT Frank Okam at the Tampa Bay four before he was downed by T Charles Brown.
On first down, Freeman completed a throw to Gilmore for a nine-yard gain before he was tackled by CB Tracy Porter. On second and one, Freeman handed off to Tampa Bay RB Carnell Williams who gained seven yards and the first down before he was stopped by LB Jonathan Vilma. On the next first down play, Spurlock tried an option pass to Tampa Bay backup QB Josh Johnson that was broken up by LB Scott Shanle. On second down, Freeman completed a seven-yard throw to WR Maurice Stovall before being forced out of bounds by S Roman Harper. On third and three, Freeman eluded pressure and completed a pass to WR Mike Williams for the first down to the 35. Freeman then completed a pass that went off a deflection to Stovall for a gain of 38 yards, setting the Buccaneers up at the Saints 27. Freeman then completed a pass to Tampa Bay TE Kellen Winslow Jr. for a gain of nine yards. On second and one, Freeman handed off to Blount, who was stopped for a loss of a yard. On third and two from the 19, Freeman's pass into the end zone was broken up by Porter, sending the field goal unit out for a 37-yard attempt. On the attempt through, Porter was called for an offsides penalty resulting in five yards and a first down for Tampa Bay. Freeman then threw a screen to WR Preston Parker who advanced to the two, where Freeman completing a scoring throw to Briscoe to give the Bucs the lead back.
New Orleans failed to garner a first down on their drive and following the punt, Tampa Bay would start at their 26. On first down, Blount gained five yards before he was stopped by Shanle. On second and five, Freeman handed off to Blount again who gained five more and the first down before being stopped by Shanle. Blount carried for the third straight time and gained six yards, where New Orleans called a timeout. DE Jeff Charleston deflected the second down throw, but Freeman then found Parker for a 21-yard gain to move into Saints territory. Freeman then completed a pass to Winslow before he was stopped by S Darren Sharper for another first down at the 24 at the two-minute warning. On the first play following the warning though, Freeman was sacked by Smith for a nine-yard loss. On second down, Tampa Bay was called for a delay of game penalty pinning them back at the 38 for second and 24. On the next play, Freeman was dropped by Charleston, who forced him to fumble it and recovered it at the New Orleans 48. Following a replay review ordered by the booth, the ruling was confirmed.
Brees and co. immediately got to work as he completed a short throw to Bush for a seven-yard gain. On second down, he completed a 16-yard throw to Arrington. With a fresh first down, Brees threw an incomplete pass eluding pressure. On second and ten, a throw to TE Tory Humphrey resulted in a Tampa Bay defensive holding penalty and a first down at the 25, which was followed by an incomplete pass to Bush. On second down, a thrown down the middle to Arrington was broken up by Tampa Bay S Corey Lynch. On third and ten, a throw was intercepted by Tampa Bay CB Larry Asante at the Tampa Bay four and returned to the eight. Freeman took a knee on two consecutive plays to give Tampa Bay the lead at halftime.
New Orleans started at their 30 in the second half with Brees' first pass intended for Jones incomplete. On second down, Bush had his first carry of the game for a gain of seven yards. Arrington then had a key 17-yard third down reception. A first down flea flicker play was ruled incomplete. Bush then gained six yards on a rush. On a third down completion for a ten-yard gain to Moore, it marked an NFL record 441st completion of the season for Brees. After the chains were moved, Jones carried for one yard. On second down, Bush gained two yards. At third and seven at the 27, an incompletion would send the field goal unit out and K Garrett Hartley drilled a 45-yard attempt to tie the score.
Tampa Bay would start with outstanding field position at the New Orleans 33 following a 69-yard kickoff return by Spurlock. The Buccaneers had one first down on a ten-yard completion from Freeman to Tampa Bay FB Erik Lorig. But Tampa Bay got stalled in the red zone and were forced to settle for a field goal by Barth.
With the Saints starting off at the 29, Bush led off with an eight-yard run and then gained three more on a subsequent carry for the first down. Brees then completed a five-yard pass to Moore before he was stopped by Ruud. Following the pass play, T Zach Strief was flagged for a false start penalty. Two yards were gained back on a pass play for a gain of two to FB Heath Evans. On third down, Brees was sacked by Buccaneers DE Alex Magee, forcing him to fumble where it was recovered by fellow linemate Tim Crowder.
Freeman eluded Smith on Tampa Bay's next play and ended up scrambling for an 11-yard gain. Freeman then handed off to Blount, who gained three yards. A second down completion was snuffed out by Porter. Facing fourth and one, Tampa Bay decided to go for it, forced to call a timeout first. When the play got off from the 18, Freeman made a spectacular completion to Williams in the end zone to up Tampa Bay's lead to 20-10.
With the Saints starting at their 27, G Jahri Evans was flagged for a holding call. Bush carried on a drew play and got the yardage back and more with a 23-yard run. With the fresh set of downs, Brees was sacked by Miller, but in the process, he was called for a personal foul penalty, advancing the Saints to their 48. Brees then completed a pass to Bush that went for no gain. On second and ten, in the first play of the fourth quarter, Brees completed a throw for 20 yards to Bush. Following an incomplete pass, throws to WR Robert Meachem and Arrington moved the chains for a first down at the 15. Following a holding penalty on T Jon Stinchomb, New Orleans was backed up to second and 23 at the 28 and Brees completed a pass to Arrington that got eight of the yards back. On third and 14, a potential connection with Humphrey was missed bringing the field goal unit out, where K Garrett Hartley kicked a 38-yard field goal to put the Saints within seven.
The Buccaneers padded their lead on the following drive with a 48-yard field goal by Barth, his third of the game.