TAMPA, Fla. (AP)—Perfect through 10 games, the New Orleans Saints think they can play even better.
“I feel like we haven’t peaked yet. … I feel like the sky’s the limit for this team,” Drew Brees(notes) said after throwing for three touchdowns in Sunday’s 38-7 rout of the struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“It only gets harder. By no means can we sit back on what we’ve accomplished thus far. Every team we face would love to give us that first loss.”
The Saints (10-0) shrugged off a slow start defensively, shutting down the Bucs after yielding a long touchdown drive to open the game. Offensively, they took advantage of numerous mistakes by young Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman(notes).
The Saints’ 10-game winning streak is the longest in franchise history.
“I like where we’re at. We’re 10-0 and we beat a division opponent on the road,” coach Sean Payton said. “I thought we got better today.”
A spate of turnovers made the Saints seem more vulnerable over the past month, but Brees didn’t throw an interception for the first time in five games. The Saints also didn’t allow a sack for the first time since Oct. 18 against the Giants.
Brees said the NFL’s No. 1 offense can become even more efficient.
“The last four games, we kind of got back to some old habits that we didn’t want to, which was the turnovers and negative plays,” the quarterback said. “We needed a game like this, to come out and look sharp in all phases.”
Brees completed 19 of 29 passes for 187 yards before being replaced by Mark Brunell(notes) late in the fourth quarter. With Reggie Bush(notes) out with a knee injury, Pierre Thomas(notes) rushed for 92 yards on 11 carries and Bell contributed 75 yards on 13 attempts.
Freeman was 17 of 33 for 126 yards and three interceptions. The first-round draft pick was sacked three times and also lost a fumble that led to Brees’ 11-yard TD throw to David Thomas(notes) in the third quarter.
“We knew how potent their offense was, and we knew that really the best defense was our offense being able to sustain drives,” Freeman said. “The tough thing is that only lasted our first drive.”
Brees countered Freeman’s TD pass to Clayton with a 68-yard drive that Meacham finished with his 4-yard scoring reception. Brees was 4 of 4 for 55 yards on the possession, including a 37-yard completion to Thomas—New Orleans’ longest play of the day.
Malcolm Jenkins’(notes) interception and 14-yard return to the Tampa Bay 29 set up John Carney’s(notes) 38-yard field goal for a 10-7 lead. Poor clock management by the Bucs at the end of the second quarter gave Brees an opportunity to put another touchdown on the board to make it 17-7 at the half.
Jonathan Vilma(notes) and Chris Reis(notes) also had interceptions for New Orleans. Scott Fujita’s(notes) sack forced the fumble that Anthony Hargrove(notes) recovered at the Bucs 15 to set up Brees’ TD pass to Thomas, who had four receptions for 66 yards.
The Bucs were limited to 124 yards after their opening march. Freeman said he was a “hair” off with many of his throws, but did not feel he took a step back running the offense in his third pro start.
“It’s just one of those days,” the rookie said. “An off day. … I don’t see it as a problem going forward.”
Notes: Bucs WR Antonio Bryant(notes) played after missing the previous two games with a sore left knee. He had three receptions for 40 yards. … Saints CB Chris McAlister(notes), signed last week to bolster an injury-weakened secondary, was inactive. … RT Jeremy Trueblood(notes) left the game in the second half with a knee injury that the Bucs did not feel is serious.