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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-2) welcomed the New Orleans Saints (4-1) to the Raymond James Stadium, hoping to improve their record before they jet off to London to entertain the NFL’s UK-based fans next week.
Having collected impressive victories over the likes of the Atlanta Falcons so far this season, the Bucs were keen to keep their win percentage over the 500 mark, despite having fallen to a franchise record defeat to the San Francisco 49’ers last week. Standing in their way however, was an in-form Drew Brees and his Saints were not going to be pushovers, as their impressive record so far shows.
With LeGarrette Blount sidelined through injury, the Buccaneers turned to Earnest Graham, but the running back failed to make much of an impression with his early rushes. The Bucs did however grab the lead when the Saints turned over possession, and the home side kicked a field-goal after failing to convert a 3rd down.
The lead was to be short-lived however, with Brees finding tight end Jimmy Graham for a 16-yard gain, giving the Saints great field position, and also furthering Graham’s lead at the top of the tight end reception table in the NFL. From here, wide receiver Marques Colston collected a 38-yard TD pass from Brees, putting the visitors into the lead for the first time.
The lead changed hands again early in the 2nd quarter however, when Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman found Arrelious Benn, who had escaped the man coverage, for a 65–yard TD pass, the longest for the Bucs since 2008.
The Bucs continued to press home their advantage, with Graham rushing for big gains consistently on a drive which culminated in a field goal, extending their lead to six points. Meanwhile, the Saints continued to struggle to get their offense going, and when the Bucs regained possession, they worked their way down the field before Freeman found Preston Parker on the slant route for a 19-yard TD pass.
The Saints came close to striking back just before the interval, having started on their own 2-yard line, but Brees passed successfully to Graham for 43 yards, and then to Colston for 37 yards, but had to settle for three points with a field goal as time ran out.
The 3rd quarter went by fairly uneventfully for both sides, with neither side truly threatening the opposition end-zone, until the Saints moved to within 10 yards of the Bucs end-zone with just three minutes left in the quarter. Unfortunately for Sean Peyton’s side though, the Tampa Bay defense were more than a match for the New Orleans offense, and limited them to the field goal.
This did however make it a one-possession game heading into the 4th,, until the Buccaneers struck back quickly, kicking a field goal themselves, and re-establishing the 10-point lead. The Saints soon closed the gap on the Bucs once the 4th quarter started, driving to Tampa Bay’s 12 yard line, which then allowed explosive rookie Mark Ingram to power into the end-zone, reducing the lead to just three points.
With time running down in the 4th, and the Bucs having added three more points to their lead, Brees was moving them Saints offense down the pitch, taking them to the Bucs 4 yard line. The usually infallible Brees then threw an interception in the Bucs end-zone, with Quincy Black picking the ball, and allowing Tampa Bay to run the ball away, with the game finishing at 26-20 to the Bucs.
Raheem Morris will be thrilled with his team’s effort and performance last night, especially that of his defense, who made life extremely difficult for Brees.
The Saints will not be entirely disheartened however, with tight end Graham collecting over 100 receiving yards for the fourth game in the row, and really establishing himself as a danger-man for the Saints, as they hope to bounce back this week, and continue their march towards the playoffs.
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