Saints trounce Bucs, leaving NFC South at stake in Week 18

Tampa Bay can still win with NFC South win a win over Carolina in the regular-season finale

The scenario for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday was simple: Win and make the postseason.

The Saints had other ideas. New Orleans opened a 20-0 lead, then held on for a 23-13 win over the Bucs to keep the NFC South division title in play and their own playoff hopes afloat.

The Buccaneers are still in control of their postseason path. A win against the Carolina Panthers next week would clinch the division. But the loss Sunday opened the door for the Saints, who can clinch the NFC South with a win against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 18 and a Bucs loss.

The Saints still have postseason hope after beating the Bucs. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
The Saints still have postseason hope after beating the Bucs. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

The Saints came out of the gates Sunday like a team with something to play for. Derek Carr led a 14-play, 73-yard drive on the game's opening possession, which concluded with a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Juwan Johnson.

A second-quarter drive saw Carr find Taysom Hill for a 22-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 14-0.

New Orleans' defense, meanwhile, forced three three-and-outs and intercepted Baker Mayfield once on the Bucs' four first-half possessions before Tampa Bay knelt the ball to mercifully end a first half that the Saints led 17-0.

The Bucs got on the board with a Mayfield touchdown pass to wide receiver Trey Palmer in the fourth quarter. They added another score on a 47-yard pass from Mayfield to Chris Godwin with 1:37 remaining.

But it was too little, too late. The ensuing 2-point conversion attempt and onside kick failed, allowing the Saints to run out the clock.

A swarming Saints defense forced four Bucs turnovers, including two Mayfield interceptions, while Carr helmed a steady Saints offense that put up 23 points and didn't turn the ball over. Carr finished the day completing 24 of 32 passes for 197 yards with two touchdowns. The Saints outgained the Bucs on the ground 108 yards to 57 as Tampa Bay was forced to abandon the run in its comeback effort.

Mayfield completed 22 of 33 passes for 309 yards with two touchdowns and the two interceptions. Palmer and running back Rachaad White each turned the ball over on fumbles. Playing with a lead, the Saints controlled the ball and dominated time of possession 36:38-23:22.

The win leaves the Saints still in need of significant help to make the postseason. They're depending on the Bucs to lose to an NFL-worst 2-14 Panthers team that just lost 26-0 to the Jacksonville Jaguars. That said, they gave themselves a chance Sunday while forcing Tampa Bay to keep its foot on the gas in its regular-season finale.