Bucs' defense gets another test against Saints
Fresh off a bye week that followed their first victory, the New Orleans Saints seem confident they've begun to turn things around.
Whether the Saints' beleaguered defense can handle a resurgent Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense remains to be seen Sunday when the NFC South foes meet at Raymond James Stadium.
Mired in an 0-4 start and without suspended coach Sean Payton, New Orleans finally had something to build on after it rallied for a 31-24 home win over San Diego on Oct. 7.
"We're still very confident," safety Roman Harper said. "Nothing has really changed. I understand we lost some games, but you can't let them see you sweat. We understand we're right on the cusp of greatness. We just have to go out there and achieve it."
The Saints have had a plenty of time to get healthy and prepare for their next shot at greatness, but also understand there is plenty of work to be done.
"We control momentum," interim coach Aaron Kromer told the Saints' official website. "We control momentum with the way we practice, the way we prepare and the way we play in the game. We've continued to get better each week and that's our goal, to keep climbing and keep getting better."
Though the Saints did not allow a point after the Chargers scored a touchdown on their first possession of the second half, they still rank last in the league allowing 456.0 yards per contest, including 172.8 (31st) on the ground. Even if linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who was activated from the physically unable to perform list, manages to see the field Sunday, New Orleans faces a serious challenge against a Tampa Bay team that set season highs with 145 rushing yards and 318 passing in last Sunday's 38-10 rout of Kansas City.
"We know what is ahead of us," Kromer said. "We know it's a formidable opponent, we are at their place, and it's a divisional rivalry. We need to play our best football to win on the road and we can do that."
The Saints usually have a chance to win with Drew Brees under center. The former Super Bowl MVP set an NFL record with a touchdown pass in his 48th straight game versus San Diego, and finished that contest 29 of 45 for 370 yards with four TDs. He's thrown for 816 yards with seven touchdowns and an interception in his last two games.
Marques Colston has hauled in four of those TD passes while catching 18 balls for 284 yards in the last two. Tight end Jimmy Graham, third on the team with 25 receptions, did not make the trip due to a sprained right ankle.
Brees threw for 383 yards with a touchdown pass to Colston, but was intercepted three times during last season's 26-20 loss at Tampa Bay.
Though the Buccaneers (2-3) held the feeble Chiefs to 260 total yards and star Jamaal Charles to 40 on 12 carries, they rank 31st through the air, giving up 312.2 yards.
These teams have split their last eight meetings, including the last four at Raymond James, where the Bucs have won two of three since dropping their final three there last season.
Josh Freeman threw for 328 yards with three touchdowns while Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson combined for eight receptions for 179 yards and three scores versus Kansas City. Freeman has completed 60 percent of his passes for 627 yards with four TDs and two picks in two games since he went 10 of 28 for 110 during a 16-10 loss at Dallas on Sept. 23.
Williams is averaging 22.1 yards per catch on 15 receptions with three TDs, while Jackson averages 18.5 on 20 catches and has four scores. Both averages rank in the top five entering Week 7.
"We've got the talent, we've got the pieces, we just have to go out and play," Freeman said. "We know who we are and you just have to continue to work, continue to prepare like we've been preparing."
Freeman has completed 65.3 percent of his passes for 1,058 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions while Tampa Bay has split its last four with New Orleans.