TAMPA -- The New Orleans Saints overcame a two-touchdown deficit and an unusual penalty that nullified an apparent Tampa Bay touchdown on the last play to escape with a 35-28 victory over the Buccaneers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
With five seconds left, the Bucs had the ball on fourth down at the Saints' 9-yard line. Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman scrambled out of the pocket to his left and completed what seemed to be a touchdown pass to wide receiver Mike Williams in the back of the end zone.
However, the touchdown was nullified because Williams had been pushed out of bounds behind the end zone and then had come back into the end zone and was the first player to touch the ball, which is illegal.
The game-ending call was particularly unusual because in most cases it would have been illegal to push Williams out of the back of the end zone, which is obviously well beyond the 5-yard, no-chuck zone. However, because Freeman was out of the pocket at the time Williams was pushed out, the chuck was legal, so Williams was an ineligible receiver.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees completed 27 of 37 passes for 377 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.
On the Saints' opening possession, Bucs safety Ronde Barber intercepted a Brees pass that was tipped by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. One play later, Freeman hit receiver Tiquan Underwood for a 13-yard touchdown.
On Tampa Bay's next possession, running back Doug Martin took a delayed handoff 36 yards to put the Bucs up 14-0 with 6:05 remaining in the second quarter.
Brees and the Saints' top-rated passing offense responded with four consecutive touchdown drives, pulling away from a Buccaneers offense that couldn't keep pace despite a 420-yard passing performance by Freeman. The Bucs QB completed 24 of 42 passes and threw for three touchdowns.
The Saints' climb began when Brees found Colston on a crossing route for a 17-yard touchdown.
Darren Sproles caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Bress, who hit Joseph Morgan for a dazzling 48-yard touchdown on New Orleans' next drive. Morgan avoided three Buccaneers defenders.
Just before halftime, backup tight end David Thomas caught a 20-yard strike from Brees, putting the Saints up 28-21.
The Saints' defense made a critical goal-line stand in the third quarter, following a 95-yard catch and run by Tampa Bay receiver Vincent Jackson.
New Orleans stuffed Bucs running back LeGarrette Blount on three attempts at the 1-yard line, then pressured Freeman and brought him down for a loss on fourth down.
The Saints started to pull away with a 9-yard touchdown run from Pierre Thomas, capitalizing on an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty on a field-goal attempt.
The Bucs came back in the fourth quarter on Freeman's 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dallas Clark, then nearly tied the game in the final seconds.
The Saints improved to 2-4 with their second consecutive win after a poor start. The Bucs, also 2-4, have a quick turnaround, facing the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday night.
NOTES: Linebacker Jonathan Vilma returned to action for the Saints after being on the physically unable to perform list. He did not start. ... Lance Moore led the Saints with 121 receiving yards. ... The Saints were without star tight end Jimmy Graham, who is recovering from an ankle injury. He did not make the trip to Tampa. ... Jackson's 95 yard catch-and-run was the longest reception in Buccaneers history.