Bridgewater’s breakout lifts Saints past Bucs 31-24

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Teddy Bridgewater won the affection of the Superdome crowd, which chanted his name as he picked apart Tampa Bay’s struggling secondary, turning in his best performance in nearly four years.

Bridgewater passed for 314 yards and four touchdowns and New Orleans beat the Buccaneers 31-24 on Sunday to keep their fill-in quarterback unbeaten in three starts this season.

“Today was one of those days everything was clicking,” said Bridgewater, who last eclipsed 300 yards passing as Minnesota’s starter on Dec. 10, 2015, at Arizona — just weeks before a major knee injury sidelined him for nearly two full seasons.

“It’s just a great feeling to win football game — this locker room especially,” Bridgewater said. “This is a group of guys who show up to work every day and they demand greatness out of everyone, from the training room staff to the equipment staff. Just being able to be part of something where there’s such a high standard, you just continue to be motivated to want more.”

With Bridgewater getting increasingly accustomed to playing for the injured Drew Brees, he had his best game yet for New Orleans (4-1) against a Tampa Bay defense that entered the game ranked second to last in the NFL against the pass.

With chants of “Ted-dy! Ted-dy!” echoing in the Superdome, Bridgewater completed 26 of 34 passes, with his two touchdown throws to Michael Thomas and one each to Jared Cook and Ted Ginn Jr.

Tampa Bay’s secondary couldn’t corral Thomas, who finished with 11 catches for 182 yards.

Bridgewater spoke of calling plays in the huddle and seeing Thomas’ eyes “just light up.”

“You know that he’s locked in and it’s comforting as a quarterback,” Bridgewater said. “You just approach the line of scrimmage with the mindset that, ‘Man, I’m going to give my guy a shot.'”

Bridgewater began seeing meaningful action with New Orleans in Week 2 of this season after Brees’ first-quarter thumb injury in a loss to the Rams. In his first 11 quarters, which included two victories as a starter, Bridgewater had not completed a pass as long as 30 yards.

That changed in the first quarter against the Bucs (2-3) with a 34-yard completion to Thomas. Bridgewater later hit Thomas for a 42-yarder early in the second half, setting up his 33-yard scoring strike to Ginn.

“I was happy to see some of the longer throws and the way that he played,” Saints coach Sean Payton said.

Bucs QB Jameis Winston saw his production drop dramatically from his triumphant 385-yard, four-TD performance against the Rams in Week 4. He was 15 of 27 for 204 yards and two touchdowns to Chris Godwin.

Still, Winston was opportunistic enough to keep his team in the game most of the way.

After rookie defensive back Sean Murphy-Bunting made his first career interception on a pass bobbled by Alvin Kamara in the first quarter, Winston effectively skirted pressure by climbing the pocket and hit Godwin for a 26-yard TD and a 7-3 lead.

The Saints, who’d beaten Dallas 12-10 on four field goals a week earlier, responded by snapping a streak of 13 offensive possessions without a touchdown. Bridgewater drove New Orleans 75 yards on a series dominated by Thomas, who had two first-down catches of 18 yards before his 14-yard TD reception put the Saints back in front.

The Bucs’ Peyton Barber powered in from 2 yards to make it 24-17 in the third quarter. But the Saints’ defense was able to apply more pressure as the game wore on, sacking Winston four times in the fourth quarter.

The Saints finished with six sacks in all, two by second-year end Marcus Davenport and one each by Malcolm Brown, Cameron Jordan and rookie Carl Granderson.

BLANKET COVERAGE

Winston could not connect with Mike Evans, who was an intended receiver just three times and did not have a catch.

“Mike is one of the top players in the league, so if we’re not getting Mike the ball, that’s not good for us,” tight end Cameron Brate said.

Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who had the primary coverage on Evans, said teammates during the game began mentioning to him that Evans didn’t have a reception.

“I’m like, ‘Man, don’t jinx it,'” Lattimore said. “Just let me keep playing. Let me stay focused and locked in, and that’s what I did.”

Evans was out of the visitor’s locker room by the time reporters entered for postgame interviews.

EJECTION

Buccaneers starting cornerback Carlton Davis was ejected in the second quarter for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Cook as the tight end attempted to catch a pass.

“I have no comment on the play. I just made a tackle,” Davis said. “However the refs seen it, that’s how they see it.”

The Saints parlayed the 15-yard penalty into a 75-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 9-yard pass to Cook.

PASSING IT AROUND

Bridgewater was just one of three players with a completion of at least 13 yards. During a scoring drive early in the fourth quarter, running back Alvin Kamara took a handoff from Bridgewater and completed a 13-yard, first-down pass to tight end Josh Hill. Earlier in the game, reserve QB and utility player Taysom Hill completed an 18-yard pass to Thomas.

INJURIES

Buccaneers: Right tackle Demar Dotson left with a hamstring injury.

Saints: Receiver Tre’Quan Smith left with an ankle injury after also having missed the previous two games with an ankle injury.

UP NEXT

Buccaneers: host Carolina on Sunday in London.

Saints: visit Jacksonville on Sunday.