NEW ORLEANS - Finally, the New Orleans Saints were handed a bounty they could enjoy.
Playing their first game after player sanctions in the Bountygate scandal were vacated by the NFL, the Saints turned four Josh Freeman interceptions and one lost fumble into 27 points, and Drew Brees threw scoring passes to four different receivers to spark New Orleans to a 41-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
In recording their first shutout since 1995, the Saints (6-8) snapped a three-game losing streak and played their most complete game of the season. Their last shutout was a 12-0 victory over the New York Jets on Dec. 24, 1995.
The Saints raced to a 31-0 lead early in the third quarter on the strength of Brees' marksmanship. His scoring strikes were for nine yards to tight end David Thomas, two yards to Darren Sproles, seven yards to Lance Moore and 34 yards to Joe Morgan.
By the time Brees hit Morgan on a go route behind cornerback E.J. Biggers, he had completed 21 of 31 passes for 260 yards. Brees went to the bench midway through the fourth quarter having completed 26-of-39 for 307 yards, good for a 124.6 quarterback rating.
Freeman, meanwhile, struggled mightily. He had entered the game having thrown for 1,259 yards, eight TDs and no interceptions in the previous four games against the Saints, but he looked out of sync from the start and was under pressure consistently from the Saints' normally meek defense. Freeman finished 26-of-47 for 279 yards and a 37.5 rating.
Trailing 7-0, Freeman threw wide of Dallas Clark inside the Saints' 20, and cornerback Jabari Greer came up with the interception. That led to a 25-yard field goal by Garrett Hartley and a 10-0 Saints' lead.
The Buccaneers wasted a 39-yard punt return by Roscoe Parrish to the Saints' 33 when Rafael Bush picked off Freeman at the Saints' 9 and returned it 40 yards to near midfield. That possession culminated in Brees' short scoring flip to Sproles, who used a double move to beat linebacker Lavonte David for a 17-0 lead.
The Saints made it 24-0 just before halftime, using a 37-yard punt return by Sproles to set them up at the Buccaneers' 38. Tight end Jimmy Graham got plastered on a pass over the middle, but on the next play, Graham made a circus catch inside the hashmarks for 24-yard gain to the Tampa Bay 7. Moore did a simple hook route and easily warded off cornerback Ahmad Black for the seven-yard scoring reception.
The Bucs lost their fourth consecutive game to drop to 6-8.
NOTES: Brees has thrown at least 20 completions in 50 consecutive games... In his first game against the Saints in October, Bucs rookie Doug Martin had 85 yards rushing on 16 carries and 37 yards on three receptions, but he was held to just 35 total yards from scrimmage Sunday... Freeman threw for a career-best 420 yards and three TDs in a 35-28 loss to the Saints in October... The Bucs had lost their previous three games by a combined 11 points and entered the game plus-12 in turnover margin.