Saints 42, Buccaneers 17

Peter Finney Jr., The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange


NEW ORLEANS -- Drew Brees reignited a slumbering offense with first-half touchdown passes to four different receivers, powering the New Orleans Saints to a 42-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday and into the NFC playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons.
In snapping a two-game losing streak that extinguished their hopes for an NFC South title, a first-round playoff bye and a guaranteed home playoff game, the Saints (11-5) locked up an undefeated home record and a spot in the NFC playoffs by scoring touchdowns on six of their first seven possessions, not counting a kneel-down at the end of the first half.
The Saints, who went 8-0 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome this season, will open the NFC playoffs on the road against the winner of the Sunday night game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys.
Brees was at his surgical best in the first half, completing his first 11 passes and guiding scoring drives of 80, 80, 57 and 80 yards. Brees was 17 of 21 for 321 yards before halftime as the Saints raced to a 28-14 lead, and he finished 24 of 31 for 381 yards. He also ran for a fourth-quarter touchdown.
Brees completed the season with 5,162 passing yards, his third consecutive season of at least 5,000 yards and the fourth of his career. He threw 39 TD passes against 12 interceptions.
Brees' scoring passes went for 44 yards to wide receiver Lance Moore, 10 yards to tight end Jimmy Graham, 41 yards to wide receiver Robert Meachem and 76 yards to wide receiver Kenny Stills.
On their first possession of the second half, the Saints outfoxed the Bucs' defense with a third-down draw play that running back Pierre Thomas took for an 8-yard touchdown, extending New Orleans' lead to 35-17.
After New Orleans cornerback Keenan Lewis intercepted a Mike Glennon pass at the Tampa Bay 25, the Saints expanded their lead to 42-17, with Brees getting the payoff, this time with his feet.
Brees was listed on the Saints' injury report earlier in the week for a bruised right knee, but he scrambled up the middle on third down for a 9-yard score -- the Saints' longest touchdown run the season. Brees showed how fit he was by jumping and spiking the ball over the crossbar, and Graham responded by lifting Brees on his shoulders.
Glennon kept the Buccaneers within reach in the first half, throwing a 48-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tiquan Underwood on a flea flicker and a 1-yard scoring toss to tight end Tim Wright.
Down 28-14 with 32 seconds left in the half, the Bucs attempted a fake field goal on fourth-and-10 from the New Orleans 25. It was a disaster from the start. Holder Mike Koenen, Tampa Bay's punter, was flushed to the right sideline by defensive end Cameron Jordan, and Koenen's weak underhand pass fell incomplete.
The Bucs, who opened the season by losing their first eight games, finished 4-12. Second-year coach Greg Schiano is 11-20 overall.
NOTES: The Saints became the first team in NFL history to have four receivers with at least 70 catches in a season: TE Jimmy Graham (86), RB Pierre Thomas (77), WR Marques Colston (75) and RB Darren Sproles (71). ... The Saints' offense exploded after coming in averaging just 16.8 points in the previous five games and not scoring a touchdown on an opening drive since Week 4. ... The Saints made the playoffs for the fifth time in seven full seasons with coach Sean Payton on the sideline. In his past two full seasons, Payton is 16-0 at the Superdome. ... New Orleans ended the season averaging 34.0 points per game in eight home victories, but the Saints will start the playoffs on the road, where they averaged just 20.3 points in winning only three of eight games.