by Hunter Dawkins

Despite the weather being slightly overcast and cool at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Sunday, the New Orleans Saints (8-2) football team recovered to reinforce a three game lead in the National Football Conference South Division by beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 34-17.  Capitalizing on five possessions with points and four interceptions, including one for a touchdown return, the Saints brought back the energy of a team one game out from the NFC lead in the National Football League (NFL).

“It’s all about execution,” said New Orleans Saints Quarterback and Future Hall of Fame player Drew Brees.  “I thought the tempo was better and I thought we started faster.”

Offensively, the Saints had an answer this week scoring points on the first four possessions.  With New Orleans kicker Will Lutz knocking in field goals on lengthy drives, the Saints finally crossed the goal line.

After the first of four interceptions by Tampa Bay Quarterback Jameis Winston, Saints Linebacker and South Mississippi native Demario Davis returned the ball a yard setting up a 16-yard touchdown pass from Brees to New Orleans All-Pro Receiver Michael Thomas for 16 yards.  Once Lutz put the kick through the uprights, the Saints led after the first quarter 13-0.

New Orleans was not letting up, as the Saints defense pressured Winston every play.  The Saints ended the Buccaneers drive with a sack of 6 yards by New Orleans defenders Cameron Jordan and Von Bell.

Controlling the time of possession was in favor for New Orleans this week, as the Saints burned a little more than six and half minutes on the next series.  Following the thirteen play drive, Brees found New Orleans Tight End Jared Cook in the back corner of the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown pass.  Lutz conversion with 5:13 left in the half, built the Saints lead 20-0.

Winston and the Bucs marched down the field before the half, finding the end zone on a 6 yard pass.  The extra point put the halftime score as 20-7, with potential momentum shift.

Tampa Bay jumped back on the scoreboard on the opening possession with Bucs kicker Matt Gay connecting on a long 55-yard field goal and cut of the lead 20-10, New Orleans on top.

As they have for most of the season, New Orleans countered with a ten-play drive that Brees eventually found Saints receiver Ted Ginn, Jr on a 6-yard touchdown pass.  With Lutz point after conversion, the Saints increased the lead 27-10 at 5:27 left in the third quarter.

The Buccaneers stormed back trying to break the Saints, returning the favor with an eight-play drive where Tampa Bay receiver Chris Godwin jumped past a missed assignment and ran the reception in for a 30-yard touchdown.  After Gay converted the extra point for Tampa Bay with 1:22 left in the third quarter, this would be the last time the lead was cut from the Saints, as the score was 27-17.

Beginning the final quarter, both teams traded possession until Tampa Bay got control of the ball near midfield.  On a decisive fourth down play, the Buccaneers Winston threw a duck ball that was intercepted by the Saints defensive back Marcus Williams and returned 55 yards for a touchdown with a converted extra point making the score 34-17 at 5:07 left in the game.

This pic-6 secured the victory for the Saints and put them ahead by a few games in the division.  A division championship would allow them to host at least one NFC playoff game.

New Orleans Quarterback Drew Brees started and completed 28-of-35 passes for 228 yards, three touchdowns, and a 122.4 quarterback rating. Brees led the Saints on five scoring drives resulting in three touchdowns and two field goals.  Brees now has 160 career games with multiple touchdown passes, surpassing South Mississippi legend Brett Favre for third place all-time in the NFL.

Saints Receiver Michael Thomas led the team in receiving with eight receptions for 114 yards and one touchdown, his sixth 100 yard game this season and 15th of his career. Thomas’ four straight games with over 100 yards receiving ties the club record set by tight end Jimmy Graham in 2011 and 2013.  Thomas now has 4,928 career receiving yards, surpassing Danny Abramowicz for fourth place in club history.

Finally, the Dome Patrol Defensive end Cameron Jordan played in his 138th career game, moving into a tie with center Josh Hill for 20th on the club’s all-time games played list and finished with three tackles and 1.5 sacks, moving his career total to 81 sacks.  With his next 1.5 sacks, Jordan will move into past Wayne Martin for second on the club’s all-time sack list.

The New Orleans Saints will host the Carolina Panthers next Sunday at noon in the Mercedes Benz Superdome.

(Photos by Brian Lamar)