Vilma gives Saints ‘D emotional lift against Bucs
Inspired by Jonathan Vilma’s return, New Orleans’ porous defense
found a way to keep Tampa Bay out of the end zone, then did it
again to preserve the Saints’ second straight win.
Drew Brees threw for 377 yards and four touchdowns, however
Sunday’s 35-28 victory over the Buccaneers wouldn’t have been
possible without a third-quarter goal-line stand and another stop
to end the game.
”I don’t know how much better we got. I know we won the game.
That’s always a positive,” safety Roman Harper said. ”We were
always finding ways to lose a game, and now we’re finding ways to
win a game.
With Vilma playing for the first time while appealing a
season-long suspension for his role in the Saints bounty program
and Brees shrugging off an early interception that led to Tampa
Bay’s first touchdown, New Orleans (2-4) took another step toward
turning around its season following an 0-4 start.
Vilma provided an emotional lift, if not any game-changing
plays. Brees extended his NFL record for consecutive games with at
least one TD pass to 49 and launched a 95-yard scoring drive that
put the Saints up 14 points after the defense stopped four straight
Bucs running plays from the New Orleans 1 late in the third
Safety Malcolm Jenkins began the sequence by hustling across the
field to stop Tampa Bay’s Vincent Jackson from scoring on a 95-yard
reception. LeGarrette Blount was stopped for no gain on three
straight carries from the 1, then defensive end Cameron Jordan
chased Josh Freeman out of bounds for a 4-yard loss on a
quarterback keeper to prevent the Bucs from tying the score.
Twelve plays later, Pierre Thomas scored on a 5-yard run to make
”All of the sudden, they’re about to tie the game, and Malcolm
– an unbelievable individual effort to run Vincent Jackson down,
and then a goal-line stand,” Brees said.
”Now in their mind, they’re thinking: `Hey, we went for it on
fourth down because now we’ve got them pinned back and we’re just
expecting to stop them and have them punt it to us and get great
field position.’ But we had a different plan in mind. We get one
first down, a big play, and all of the sudden we’re going down and
making it a two-possession game.”
Despite missing a third-quarter field goal and failing to get
anything out of the longest offensive play in franchise history,
Tampa Bay (2-4) still nearly found a way to get the game into
Freeman, who threw for a career-best 420 yards and three
touchdowns, marched the Bucs from their own 19 to the New Orleans 9
in the closing seconds.
On the game’s final play, Freeman rolled to his left before
throwing to Mike Williams for an apparent tying touchdown. But the
receiver had been pushed out of the back of the end zone before
coming back into the field of play. So, instead of heading to OT,
the reception was wiped out by a penalty for illegal touching.
Bucs coach Greg Schiano said he didn’t see what happened.
”It really doesn’t matter. If it’s called, it’s called. You
live with it. There’s nothing you can do about it,” Schiano said.
”So whether he did, didn’t, we’ll see it on tape. That’s
Brees was 27 of 37 and threw TDs passes of 17 yards to Marques
Colston, 9 yards to Darren Sproles, 48 yards to Joseph Morgan and
20 yards to David Thomas to overcome the New Orleans defense
yielding a season-high 513 yards.
Vilma, who has a hearing on his appeal scheduled for Oct. 30,
finished with one quarterback hit but no tackles.
”I tried to not let my emotions get the best of me,” Vilma
said. I didn’t want to put myself in a situation where I was going
to hurt the team or anything like that, so I tried not to be
Teammates said it was good to have him on the field.
”Having him back just, emotionally, really made a difference in
this game,” interim Saints coach Aaron Kromer said. ”We were
trying to get him in in certain packages, and we had a couple of
linebackers go down early in the game.”
Vilma was very business-like, answering questions while getting
dressed in the locker room. He said he wasn’t sure how many snaps
he played, but that he felt fine and believed he was in good enough
condition to play an entire game.
The ninth-year pro said he had always believed he’d get an
opportunity to play this season.
”Most people didn’t, but it was a long, drawn-out process, and
for good or bad, it ended up this way and I was able to be back on
the field with my teammates. That was a great feeling,” Vilma
Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has been appointed as
arbitrator for Vilma’s appeal, as well as the hearings for three
other players facing suspensions of various lengths.
”I think it’s a good first step for Paul to be the neutral
arbitrator,” said Vilma, who played mostly in passing situations
on Sunday. ”We expect that he’s going to do things in a neutral
capacity, which will allow us to cross-examine some of the
witnesses and allow us to see the evidence, if there is any
NOTES: Jackson had seven receptions for a Bucs-record 216 yards.
… Lance Moore had nine receptions for 121 yards for the Saints.
… It was Kromer’s last game as interim coach. Assistant head
coach Joe Vitt returns from his suspension this week and will lead
the Saints in Sean Payton’s absence the rest of the season.
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