|Date of game: 12/28/2014
Recap: Tampa Bay vs. New Orleans
Tampa, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - Entering the fourth quarter with a 20-7 lead, Tampa Bay allowed 16 unanswered New Orleans points in a 23-20 loss to the Saints, and also clinched the top pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
"That's not a great feeling," said Bucs coach Lovie Smith. "If we would've won today, we would've felt better about this game, but the season as a whole, it's not where we want to be."
Drew Brees threw three interceptions for the Saints (7-9) but his 36-yard touchdown pass to Marques Colston just before the two-minute warning put New Orleans ahead for the first time in the game.
Brees threw for 281 yards on 24-of-38 passing.
Mark Ingram led the Saints with 57 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown, while Khiry Robinson also ran for score in the win. Kenny Stills was their leading receiver with 82 yards on five catches.
"It wasn't clean. It wasn't perfect," said Saints coach Sean Payton. "I was pleased the way we hung in there in the second half. We came up with enough plays to take the lead at the end."
The Buccaneers (2-14) totaled 183 yards on the ground, including 108 from Doug Martin. Charles Sims carried the ball 18 times for 69 yards and a touchdown.
Josh McCown tossed a touchdown pass to Mike Evans but also threw a key interception late in the game. He finished with 115 yards on 14-of-23 passing.
Evans was Tampa Bay's leading receiver with five catches for 54 yards, and his 12th touchdown of the season set the Bucs' single-season record for receiving scores.
After an unproductive first half, the Saints offense committed back-to-back turnovers on their first two possessions in the third quarter. New Orleans had no problem moving the ball down the field, but each drive ended with Brees interceptions in the red zone.
Each time the New Orleans defense responded by forcing a three-and-out. In the second half, the Bucs were limited to 32 yards and two first downs.
Brees and Robinson connected for a 17-yard pass down to the Tampa Bay 1-yard line on the final play of the third quarter, and Ingram punched it into the end zone to cut the Saints' deficit to six points just three plays into the fourth.
After the teams traded punts, the Bucs had the ball back with a chance to run more time off the clock or add an insurance score. Instead, McCown's pass to Tavarres King was intercepted by Keenan Lewis off a deflection and set the Saints up with good field position around midfield.
New Orleans then converted a 4th-and-2 with a 4-yard pass to Jimmy Graham to maintain possession. Brees later found Colston on a short crossing pattern for the go-ahead score and Shayne Graham's extra point gave the Saints their first lead of the game.
Now trailing, Tampa Bay's offense unraveled. A 17-yard catch by Sims was negated by a holding penalty and back-to-back sacks by Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette resulted in a Saints safety and a 23-20 lead.
The Bucs recovered the onside kick but not before the ball was illegally touched by King. New Orleans ran out the rest of the clock.
Tampa Bay initially led 10-0 with points on consecutive possessions in the first half. Patrick Murray hit a 39-yard field goal to start the scoring and Evans caught a 6-yard score.
The Saints got on the board on their next possession when Robinson's 1-yard plunge capped an 80-yard drive, but the Bucs responded with a 74-yard drive finished by Sims' 8-yard run for the first touchdown of his NFL career.
Brees' first interception of the game set up Murray's 27-yard field goal at the end of the half to give Tampa Bay a 20-7 lead at the break.Game Notes
New Orleans has won seven straight against Tampa Bay ... This is the Bucs'
worst season since they went 2-14 in 1985 ... Tampa Bay went 0-8 at home ...
The Bucs ran for a season-high 183 yards ... Brees threw six of his 17
interceptions this season to Bucs defenders... Ingram fell 36 yards short of
his first 1,000-yard season in the NFL ... Tampa Bay has picked first overall
four times in its history.