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
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
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
New Orleans was favored by more than two touchdowns over the
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
“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
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
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