Final

Buccaneers 27

(8-4, 3-3 away)

Saints 23

(5-7, 2-4 home)

Coverage: FOX

4:15 PM ET, December 2, 2007

Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA 

1 2 3 4 T
TB 3 10 7 727
NO 7 7 7 223

Top Performers

Passing: L. McCown (TB) - 313 YDS, 2 TD, 1 INT

Rushing: E. Graham (TB) - 22 CAR, 106 YDS, 1 TD

Receiving: J. Galloway (TB) - 7 REC, 159 YDS

Bucs backup QB McCown engineers winning TD drive vs. Saints

Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Sean Payton waited a long time to bring back the trick play he dubbed "the Superdome Special."

He picked the wrong time.

Devery Henderson fumbled a late, awkward toss from Reggie Bush, allowing backup quarterback Luke McCown to drive Tampa Bay for a touchdown with 17 seconds left that lifted the Buccaneers to a 27-23 triumph over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

The victory gave Tampa Bay (8-4) a comfortable three-game lead in the NFC South Division with only four games left.

"That's a disappointing loss and probably the worst job I've done as head coach since we've been here," said Payton, now in his second season as a head coach. "Obviously, I regret the play call. It cost us the game."

A strikingly similar play debuted during the Saints' dramatic victory over Atlanta in their first game back in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. It was a reverse on which Bush lined up as a slot receiver, took a handoff on what looked like an end-around, then tossed the ball to Henderson on a reverse. Back then, it went for an 11-yard touchdown and sent the Superdome crowd into an ecstatic frenzy.

This time, it yielded gasps, followed by a few boos and even some critical shouts regarding Payton's competence.

Call it a microcosm of a frustrating season for New Orleans (5-7), now on the brink of missing the playoffs after going to the NFC Championship Game a season ago.

Even Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden's decision to start third-string quarterback McCown instead of Jeff Garcia, who was hobbled by a bruised lower back, worked against New Orleans.

Making his first start for Tampa Bay and fifth of his career, McCown completed his first 15 passes and wound up 29-of-37 for 313 yards and two touchdowns.

The winning score was a quick 4-yard pass to Jerramy Stevens, who had to outleap Jason Craft to make the catch.

"We tried to not play defensive with a young quarterback playing in his first game in a long time. Luke McCown responded," Gruden said. "For us to win this game, we knew we would have to score some points. The only way we were going to do it was by throwing it."

The Saints appeared to seize control of the game when defensive end Will Smith sacked McCown for a safety that gave New Orleans a 23-20 lead with 3:44 to go. Tampa Bay was already down to one timeout, so a couple of first downs might have put it away.

But on second down at midfield, Payton called for the ill-fated reverse. Bush had trouble with the handoff, then his pitch was a little late and off target. Henderson reached for it but couldn't bring it in, and the ball squirted away from him when he tried to dive on it.

Jovan Haye recovered for Tampa Bay at the Saints' 37.

Tampa Bay was quickly faced with a fourth-and-1 at the Saints' 28. Gruden first sent out his field-goal team to go for the tie, then called them back and sent the offense out again. Earnest Graham gained a couple yards to extend the drive.

"I feel good about our fourth-down play selection and I just changed my mind. I had confidence in running the power off our right side," Gruden said. "You've got a chance to push it into overtime or you've got a chance to take advantage of the opportunity while you are there, and that's what we did."

Graham followed up his fourth-down conversion with a catch over the middle for a 21-yard gain to the 5 with just over a minute to go, setting up the winning score.

"I've never been in a game like that in my life," said McCown, a former Louisiana Tech quarterback who has appeared in only seven NFL games. "All I know is that we never quit. All the time, coach told me it wasn't over, and you saw out there today why you have to have faith."

Outplayed most of the game, the Saints made big plays to pull ahead on the scoreboard in the second half. Mike McKenzie returned an interception 53 yards for a score. Quarterback Drew Brees had a 45-yard touchdown pass to Henderson, who outran double coverage and made a diving catch in the back of the end zone.

Brees finished 17-of-23 passing for 179 yards and two touchdowns. His 40-yard completion to Marques Colston on a flea flicker set up a 4-yard TD pass to Terrance Copper.

Even beyond his involvement in the failed reverse, Reggie Bush did not make much of a contribution. He rushed for 64 yards on 13 carries and appeared to be in pain after a heavy hit to his ribs in the second half.

After the game, he sat in front of his locker, still in uniform, for 40 minutes with his hands on his head. He declined to speak with reporters.

Tampa Bay's Graham had the best day among the running backs with 106 yards on 22 carries.

Joey Galloway continued to torment New Orleans' secondary as he did early this season. His receptions of 41 and 60 yards set up first-half scores. He finished with seven catches for 159 yards.

Game notes


Tampa Bay had 466 total yards, far better than New Orleans' 246, but could not open a big lead because two early drives ended with Matt Bryant's field goals of 27 and 31 yards, and another drive ended with a missed field goal. ... McKenzie missed several plays on Tampa Bay's last drive while being looked at by trainers. Payton said after the game that McKenzie was fine and did not offer any details about what was bothering the defensive back.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press

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Team Stat Comparison

 
TB
NO
1st Downs2413
Passing 1st downs
168
Rushing 1st downs
75
1st downs from penalties
10
3rd down efficiency
5-135-11
4th down efficiency
1-10-0
Total Plays6647
Total Yards466246
Yards per play7.15.2
Total Drives1012
Passing294162
Comp-Att
29-3717-23
Yards per pass
7.46.2
Interceptions thrown
10
Sacks-Yards Lost
3-193-17
Rushing17284
Rushing Attempts
2621
Yards per rush
6.64.0
Red Zone (Made-Att)2-41-1
Penalties7-556-40
Turnovers11
Fumbles lost
01
Interceptions thrown
10
Defensive / Special Teams TDs01
Possession34:4625:14

Passing Leaders

TBC/ATTYDSAVGTDINTSACKS
McCown29/373138.5213-19
NOC/ATTYDSAVGTDINTSACKS
Brees17/231797.8203-17

Rushing Leaders

TBCARYDSAVGTDLG
Graham221064.8125
McCown23417.0026
NOCARYDSAVGTDLG
Bush13644.9014
Stecker7162.304

Receiving Leaders

TBRECYDSAVGTDLG
Galloway715922.7060
Askew34113.7016
NORECYDSAVGTDLG
Henderson14545.0145
Colston23919.5040

Scoring Summary

FIRST QUARTERTBNO
tbFG9:58Matt Bryant 27 yd Field Goal
Drive info: 10 plays, 65 yds, 5:06
30
noTD2:10Terrance Copper, 4 yd pass from Drew Brees (Olindo Mare kick is good)
Drive info: 5 plays, 57 yds, 3:06
37
SECOND QUARTERTBNO
tbTD14:26Anthony Becht, 1 yd pass from Luke McCown (Matt Bryant kick is good)
Drive info: 5 plays, 80 yds, 2:45
107
tbFG7:55Matt Bryant 31 yd Field Goal
Drive info: 6 plays, 52 yds, 3:21
137
noTD3:29Devery Henderson, 45 yd pass from Drew Brees (Olindo Mare kick is good)
Drive info: 6 plays, 67 yds, 4:31
1314
THIRD QUARTERTBNO
tbTD9:44Earnest Graham, 0 yd run (Matt Bryant kick is good)
Drive info: 6 plays, 55 yds, 3:27
2014
noTD3:15Mike McKenzie, 53 yd interception return (Olindo Mare kick is good)
Drive info: 8 plays, 25 yds, 3:29
2021
FOURTH QUARTERTBNO
noSF3:52Luke Mccown tackled in end zone by Will Smith.
Drive info: 2 plays, -2 yds, 0:04
2023
tbTD0:17Jerramy Stevens, 4 yd pass from Luke McCown (Matt Bryant kick is good)
Drive info: 8 plays, 37 yds, 3:16
2723