NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their
league-leading defense might be dominating the rest of the NFL, but they
can't dominate New Orleans.
Despite a record-setting sacks performance by Tampa Bay's Simeon
Rice, the Saints ended the Bucs' four-game winning streak 23-20
Aaron Brooks, playing with a bruised throwing arm, threw two
touchdown passes in the first six minutes of the second half, while
the defense shut down the Bucs' running game and held off a late touchdown by the Bucs.
It was the second victory over Tampa Bay (9-3) by New Orleans, which
beat the Bucs 26-20 in overtime on the opening day of the season.
And it made a three-team race of the NFC South; the Bucs now lead
Atlanta (8-3-1) by a half-game and the Saints (8-4) by a game.
''This is kind of a round-robin,'' Saints coach Jim Haslett
said. ''We beat Tampa twice. Atlanta beat us twice. Hopefully,
Tampa will beat Atlanta next week and we'll just pass the thing
''It was great,'' added Joe Horn, who caught one of Brooks' touchdown passes. ''Now we'll just let them and Atlanta fight it out. This
gets us back on track.''
Rice, the NFL's sacks leader at 14½, took only five minutes to
get two sacks and set a record for consecutive games with multiple
sacks with five. Six minutes later, he got a third, and it resulted
in a safety for a 2-0 lead.
But the Saints' 26th-ranked defense played just as well, forcing
three turnovers and holding Tampa Bay to 34 yards rushing. The
Bucs, who came in leading the league with a plus-15 turnover
differential, forced just one turnover.
''When you lose the turnover ratio on the road vs. a good
team, I believe it's going to turn up biting you in the end,''
Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden said.
New Orleans forced the Bucs to run nearly two minutes off the
clock from first-and-goal at the 1 before a 2-yard fourth-down touchdown pass from Brad Johnson to Keenan McCardell with 2:49 left. Brad
Johnson hit Keyshawn Johnson for a two-point conversion that cut the
deficit to 23-20.
But Jake Delhomme, who replaced Brooks for the final series,
completed a 10-yard slant to Horn on third-and-8 from the 18 after
the two-minute warning to clinch the game.
''The big thing we did is stop the run,'' Saints defensive
tackle Norman Hand said. ''That's exactly what we wanted to do. If
you let them have both things, you're in trouble.''
Brooks, who bruised his biceps on the last play of the first
half, finished just 9-for-25 for 155 yards. But with the Saints
trailing 9-6 at the half, he threw touchdown passes of 3 yards to Jake
Reed and 14 yards to Horn on the first two possessions of the third
Late in the first period, a 52-yard punt by Tom Tupa, with an
illegal block penalty added on, put the Saints back at their 8-yard
line. On third-and-8, Rice broke through, slapped the ball away
from Brooks on the goal line and knocked it out of the back of the
end zone for a safety.
But New Orleans went 80 yards in 10 plays, capped by Deuce
McAllister's 6-yard touchdown run five minutes into the second quarter.
Coach Jim Haslett tried a two-point conversion, but McAllister was
stopped a yard short.
Tampa reciprocated by going 90 yards in six plays, with the
score coming on a 44-yard pass from Johnson to Mike Alstott, who
caught the ball a yard beyond the line of scrimmage and raced to
the end zone.
The Saints took a 13-9 lead on the first series of the second
half as Brooks' 52-yard pass to Horn on third-and-13 set up the touchdown pass to Reed in the back of the end zone.
Martin Gramatica cut it to 20-12 with a 51-yard field goal with
five minutes left in the third quarter. But John Carney hit from 48
yards just more than five minutes into the fourth quarter for New
Then came the final touchdown and Delhomme's one moment in the
''It was supposed to be a run with an option to pass,'' Haslett
said. ''But Joe Horn told the corner that if it came down to third
down, he was going to catch it. So I guess it was a pass along.''
McAllister, who missed the game last week with a sprained
right ankle, had 99 yards on 27 carries to go past the 1,000-yard mark. He now has 1,049 yards on the season. ... The Saints' two-point
conversion attempt was their 10th of the season, an NFL record. ...
McCardell had 11 receptions for 107 yards, five more catches than
his previous best as a Buccaneer. ... Tampa Bay had intercepted at
least two passes in each of its previous four games. The Bucs had
none Sunday night.