Saints 21

(6-8, 4-3 away)

Buccaneers 17

(5-9, 4-3 home)

4:05 PM ET, December 19, 2004


1 2 3 4 T
NO 7 0 0 1421
TB 7 0 7 317

Brooks throws two TDs to lead late flurry

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- With their hopes of staying in playoff contention on the line, the New Orleans Saints wanted no part of overtime.

"It was all touchdown, no field goal," Donte' Stallworth said after catching a last-minute, 7-yard TD pass from Aaron Brooks to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21-17 Sunday and keep the Saints' postseason prospects alive.

"We've got a ways to go," coach Jim Haslett said. "But it was a great team effort from the standpoint we hung in there."

Allen's Analysis
Eric Allen Saints-Bucs: Too little, too late for the Saints? I don't think this is too late for the Saints. In fact it might be right on time. They are still improbably in the midst of a playoff run and can still save coach Jim Haslett's job. This was a big win for the team because, at least for a little while, they put it all together and beat a very good defense. This team is maddingly inconsistent, which is why it wouldn't be surprising if they found a way to make the playoffs.

Eric Allen played cornerback for 14 NFL seasons with the Eagles, Saints and Raiders. He's a regular contributor to Insider.

Brooks threw two touchdown passes in the last 4 minutes, including the decisive one with 32 seconds left, as the Saints (6-8) came from behind to win on the road for the second straight week.

The victory lifted them into a tie with Carolina and St. Louis for the last wild-card spot in the weak NFC with two games to go. The Saints face NFC South champion Atlanta at home next Sunday before finishing the regular season at Carolina.

Two weeks ago, New Orleans was on a three-game losing streak that fueled speculation about Haslett's job security. After overcoming 10-point deficits to beat Dallas and the Bucs, there's suddenly hope for what mostly has been a disappointing year.

"We've still got life," said punt returner Michael Lewis. "Just like coach said, it was going to come down to the fourth quarter. We just had to stand there and keep plugging away."

The Bucs (5-9) also entered the weekend as one of many teams in playoff contention, despite being three games under .500. Losing made them the first team to follow a Super Bowl victory with losing records the next two seasons.

"The fact is, we're just not good enough to get it done," Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said.

"The guys played hard. That's not the issue. We played bad, that's the issue, and we do it every week. We're about as undeserving a team as there is. You can put smoke and mirrors around it all you want. This team just finds ways to lose, man."

Lewis returned a punt 53 yards to the Tampa Bay 4 to set up Brooks' 4-yard TD pass to Joe Horn that trimmed a 10-point deficit to 17-14 with 3:33 to go. After John Carney's kickoff sailed out of bounds, giving the Bucs the ball at their 40, defensive end Will Smith forced Michael Pittman's fumble on first down and the Saints' Fakhir Brown recovered at the 41.

Eight plays later, Brooks threw to Stallworth, who squeezed between Barber and Dexter Jackson to just get into the end zone.

"It was a great throw, a perfect throw. I just had to catch it," Stallworth said.

The quick turnaround ruined an outstanding performance by Tampa Bay's Joey Galloway, who scored on a 3-yard reception and 59-yard punt return to build a 14-7 lead. Jay Taylor's field goal made it 17-7 with just over 11 minutes to go.

Penalties, turnovers and mental mistakes have undermined the Saints all season, and nearly did them in again.

Carney missed a 38-yard field goal and another scoring opportunity was wasted when Jerome Pathon fumbled after a 15-yard reception to the Bucs 3.

Brooks, who scrambled for 13 yards on fourth-and-12 from the Tampa Bay 43 to keep the winning drive alive, finished 14-of-21 for 169 yards. He didn't throw any interceptions, but was sacked seven times, with Simeon Rice getting 3½ of the takedowns.

"It was just a situation where we make that play or we go home with a loss," Brooks said of the fourth-down run.

On the opening kickoff, the Saints' Aaron Stecker slipped and let the ball roll through his legs -- but then picked it up and ran 98 yards for a touchdown.

Brian Griese completed 13 of 22 passes for 118 yards for Tampa Bay, which lost two fumbles in addition to an end-zone interception.

The Saints were limited to 64 yards in the opening half, yet went into the locker room tied at 7 thanks to Stecker, who played four seasons in Tampa before signing with New Orleans as a free agent last winter.

"I looked up and all I could see was a sea of red. My instincts took over," said Stecker, who was taken to the locker room after his TD.

"They said I hyperventilated," he explained. "I had never been so excited before the game. It all got to me."

Game notes

Saints OT Wayne Gandy left the game in the first quarter with a knee sprain. ... Galloway has five TDs in his last three games. ... Rice has 12½ sacks, his seventh season with at least 10. ... Michael Clayton had four receptions for 53 yards, becoming the first Bucs rookie with a 1,000-yard season.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press


Scoring Summary

Drive info: 0 plays, 0 yds, 0:00
Drive info: 0 plays, 0 yds, 0:00
Drive info: 2 plays, 4 yds, 0:07
Drive info: 2 plays, 4 yds, 0:07
Drive info: 1 plays, 2 yds, 1:14
Drive info: 6 plays, 60 yds, 2:44
Drive info: 6 plays, 60 yds, 2:44
Drive info: 8 plays, 41 yds, 2:26
tbFG11:48Jay Taylor 10 yd Field Goal
Drive info: 8 plays, 77 yds, 3:22
Drive info: 8 plays, 41 yds, 2:26