Buccaneers 20, Saints 17, OT

The moment Garrett Hartley’s foot drove through the ball, the

Louisiana Superdome crowd erupted and Saints owner Tom Benson

raised his arms in triumph.

The presumption was that these Saints, in this magical season,

were going to pull out another win in the clutch.

Not so fast.

Hartley’s 37-yarder hooked to the left, and those who’d allowed

themselves to celebrate prematurely were sent home soon after in

stunned silence.

Carnell Williams rushed for 129 yards and a score, and Connor

Barth kicked a 47-yard field goal in overtime, lifting Tampa Bay to

a 20-17 upset on Sunday that, for the time being, prevented New

Orleans from securing home field throughout the NFC playoffs.

Even in what will go down as the best regular season in Saints

history, a franchise long known more for its stumbles than success

found a way to make history with a loss. According to STATS LLC,

the result marked the first time a 13-win team lost to a team that

came in with only two victories.

“It’s hard to explain,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said.

“We started off fast, then after that there was a big lull.”

Kind of like their season.

New Orleans (13-2) won nine of its first 11 games by double

digits. After a 38-17 win over New England, the Saints appeared

better situated than ever to make the franchise’s first run to the

Super Bowl.

Since then, the Saints have pulled out a pair of three-point

wins over non-playoff teams and have lost two straight – both at

home – starting with a 24-17 setback to Dallas.

If Minnesota wins its final two games, starting Monday night in

Chicago, the Saints will have to win in Carolina next Sunday to

secure the franchise’s first No. 1 playoff seeding.

“The fact is we need to play better,” Brees said. “I don’t

feel like we’ve played our best football in a while and there’s

definitely some things that need to be corrected.

“You always find out more about a team when you start facing

adversity. This is just yet another one of those situations that I

feel we have the right character, the right type of leadership to

bounce back from and help us become stronger going into the

playoffs.”

New Orleans was favored by more than two touchdowns over the

Buccaneers (3-12).

New Orleans sped out to a 17-0 lead with its first three

possessions, but the Bucs, who have refused to quit on the season,

cut it to 17-3 on Barth’s 34-yard field goal as time expired in the

first half.

“We went back in the locker room and I tried to settle the guys

down,” first-year Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris said. “They

believe in me and I believe in them. … I know this team is

getting better. I could see it every week, even when we were

losing.”

Williams had not rushed for 100 yards since 2006 – before

serious injuries in both knees. He scored on a 23-yard run in the

fourth quarter, speeding away from pursuit once he broke into the

open near the left sideline. Micheal Spurlock’s 77-yard punt return

tied it at 17.

Hartley, who became the Saints’ lone place kicker last week when

the Saints waived John Carney and made him a kicking consultant,

said he rushed his missed kick.

“Knowing I let my team down is the worst thing,” he said.

“It’s definitely humbling. You have to learn from these

experiences in order to prevail the next one.”

After Hartley’s miss, only the second in his two-year career and

first from inside 58 yards, Tampa Bay won the coin toss to open

overtime and scored soon after.

“It feels great to win two in a row,” Williams said. “This

organization learned something today: that no matter how far down

you are you can still get back up. And that’s what happened out

here today. I am so proud of our offensive line. They did all the

work and all I did was hit the holes.”

The Bucs might have won in regulation if not for squandering two

other scoring chances in the second half, once on Tracy Porter’s

interception in the end zone and once on a failed fourth-and-short

from the New Orleans 19-yard line.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay’s defense continued to show improvement

since Morris took charge of the group following New Orleans’ 38-7

win at Tampa Bay five weeks ago.

Brees was held to 258 yards passing and one touchdown. The

Saints rushed for 124 yards, but gained only 28 yards on the ground

in the second half, when leading rusher Pierre Thomas sat out with

bruised ribs. Thomas had an 8-yard TD run for New Orleans’ first

score. Robert Meachem’s 30-yard catch accounted for the second and

was set up by Darren Sharper’s ninth interception of the season,

during which he set an NFL record for interception return yards in

a season with 376.

Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman was 21 of 31 for 271 yards. He did

not throw a touchdown pass and was intercepted twice, but made a

pivotal play in overtime when he scrambled for a first down on

third-and-6, sustaining the winning drive.

Tampa Bay’s Kellen Winslow had four catches for 76 yards,

including a 35-yard catch during a 98-yard drive that ended with

Williams’ score.

NOTES: Buccaneers FB Earnest Graham was helped off the field

favoring his right leg in overtime and DE Jimmy Wilkerson left the

game under his own power with a knee injury. … Winslow has 828

yards receiving, breaking the single-season franchise record for

tight ends that had been held by Jimmie Giles, who had 786 yards in

1981. … With their 17th point of the game, the Saints became the

12th team to score 500 points in a season in NFL history. The

previous was the 2007 New England Patriots, who scored an

NFL-record 589 points while winning all 16 regular-season

games.