NEW ORLEANS-- In his third start since replacing Drew Bress, backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw for 314 yards, leading the New Orleans Saints (4-1) to a 31-24 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The win was the Saints their third straight since losing Brees to a thumb injury, sparked by Bridgewater who between the second & third quarter led his offense to three straight touchdown drives.
Tampa Bay (2-3) received the opening kickoff but after recording one first third down, their offense committed penalties on back to back plays forcing them to punt.
New Orleans' opening drive was almost identical with a completion on second down from Bridgewater to tight end Jared Cook on second down got their offense a new set of downs. But three plays later, they punted too.
After the Buccaneers second possession went three and out, the Saints second drive yielded more yardage & the game's first points. Their offense used a 34 yard completion from Bridgewater to wide receiver Michael Thomas on first down to get into Buccaneers territory. And after converting on a fourth & one play, the Saints made it into the redzone. But the drive stalled & kicker Will Lutz drilled a 29 yard field goal to give the Saints three points.
Trailing 3-0, Tampa Bay had the ball for just three plays before they were forced to punt again. And on that punt play, it appeared the Buccaneers recovered a fumble by wide receiver Deonte Harris. But the initial ruling on the field was the Saints retained possession, causing Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians to challenge the play, which was upheld with the officials unable the determine Buccaneers recovered the fumble. Fortunately for the Buccaneers, three plays later the Saints did commit the first turnover of the game when a pass by Bridgewater that was thrown behind running back Alvin Kamara was snatched out of the air by Buccaneers rookie cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting. And two plays following the interception, Winston stepped up into the pocket & found wide receiver Chris Godwin for a 26 yard touchdown play, giving the Buccaneers their first lead of the game.
Facing their first deficit of the game, the Saints moved the football 75 yards on 9 plays to erase the Buccaneers 7-3 lead. The drive was sparked by two 18 yard receptions by Thomas, one thrown by both Bridegwater & backup Taysom Hill. And the Saints grabbed the lead back when Bridgewater found Thomas again, this time inside the five with the wide receiver fighting his way into the endzone for the 14 yard touchdown catch. Thomas was a thorn to the Buccaneers secondary all day, finishing the game with 11 receptions for 182 yards.
With the score 10-7, the Buccaneers registered their longest drive of the half, going 51 yards on eight plays. But a sack on Winston on a second down play by defensive lineman Marcus Davenport, forcing the Buccaneers to settle for a 42 yard field goal by kicker Matt Gay.
The 10-10 score lasted as long as the next Saints' drive which was similar to their previous one. The length again was 75 yards but took just eight plays. The drive also included a 15 yard penalty & ejection after Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis III was called for unnecessary roughness plus leading with his helmet during a hit on Saints tight end Jared Cook. Cook was on the receiving end of the play that ended the drive, after Bridgewater found the veteran tight end for a 9 yard touchdown catch. Between the two touchdown drives, following the interception, Bridgewater had a string of 9 straight completions & ended the first half 15 for 18 for 160 passing yards.
After a first half where they were outgained 238-104, Tampa Bay kicked off to New Orleans to start the second half. And that opening drive in the second half for the Saints led to their third straight touchdown drive.
After recording 14 first downs in the first half, the Saints needed just three plays to grab a 24-10 lead. On the first play of the second half, Bridegwater hooked up with Thomas for a 42 yard gain but the play wasn't minus some controversy. Arians used another challenge claiming that Thomas pushed off cornerback Vernon Hargreaves. The play stood as called on the field & the challenge was overruled putting the ball inside Buccaneers territory & one play later, Bridgewater got wide receiver Tedd Ginn in the action with a 33 yard touchdown play. The pass was Bridgewater's 11th straight completion, including three for touchdowns.
Now trailing by two touchdowns, Tampa Bay, who failed on all four of their third down attempts in the first half, took nearly 9 minutes to cut the deficit to seven. After several carries by running back Peyton Barber, Winston, who threw for 204 yards, converted a third down with a pass to Godwin for 11 yards. The Buccaneers failed on their next third down conversion but used another completion from Winston to Godwin to convert a fourth down attempt. Another Godwin catch got the offense inside the five yard line & a two yard leap into the endzone by Barber made the score 24-17.
Both teams were forced to punt on their next drive but as the game entered the fourth quarter, the Saints were able to make their lead 14 again with a 13 play 91 yard drive that included four third down conversion & ended with Bridgewater throwing his fourth touchdown of the game & his second to Thomas, this one for 12 yards.
Winston threw his second touchdown of the game & his second to Godwin, this one for 26 yards with 13 seconds left in the fourth quarter for the game's final score. Godwin finished the game with 7 catches for 125 yards, his third 100 yard game of the season.
Tampa Bay has an unusual home game this coming Sunday when they host the Carolina Panthers in London with kickoff scheduled for 9:30 am.