The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are supposed to be known for their defense. But it was the New Orleans Saints defense that came up with a stop when it was truly necessary.
Saints LB Scott Fujita picked off Bucs QB Jeff Garcia with 44 seconds remaining to secure New Orleans’ 24-20 victory on Sunday.
The victory came on a day in which Saints QB Drew Brees torched the Bucs (0-1) for 343 yards and three touchdowns and RB Reggie Bush finished with 163 total yards and a touchdown. The Saints finished with 438 net yards.
Brees’ final two touchdown tosses helped erase Buccaneers leads. First, Brees hit Devery Henderson for an 84-yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds left in the third quarter, giving the Saints a 17-13 lead.
After the Bucs rallied to take the lead behind Garcia’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Ike Hilliard early in the fourth quarter, Brees marched the Saints back down the field and connected with Bush for a 42-yard touchdown pass with 7:38 remaining.
The Bucs’ final drive started at its own 49 with 2:24 remaining. The Bucs reached the Saints’ 24 and faced 4th-and-6 when Garcia tries to force a pass into double coverage, leading to Fujita’s interception.
Garcia, in his first major action of the 2008 season, was 24-of-41 for 224 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
The Bucs did score an interception return for a touchdown early in the contest, as Bucs LB Barrett Ruud sacked Brees, forcing the ball into the air where Bucs CB Phillip Buchanon picked it off and ran 26 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 7-7.
The Bucs, the defending NFC South champions, saw running back Earnest Graham have an impressive day, finishing with 91 yards on just 10 carries. WR Joey Galloway, who missed all of preseason, had six catches for 56 yards, by far his worst game against the Saints in three years.
Hilliard also had six receptions.
The Bucs could have had a better day offensively, though, as they were 2-of-12 on third-down conversions.
With Deuce McAllister in uniform but not playing, the Saints were led in rushing by second-year back Pierre Thomas, who had 52 yards rushing on 10 carries. Bush added 51, but the Saints put the game largely in Brees’ hands as he and a young receiving corps tried to exploit a Bucs defense using first-round pick Aqib Talib as its third cornerback.
Brees wasted little time, as Talib fell in coverage and Brees hit David Patten for the game’s opening touchdown.
Two of the Saints’ offseason acquisitions had solid debuts. TE Jeremy Shockey caught six passes for 54 yards. MLB Jonathan Vilma led the Saints with nine tackles.
NOTES: CBs Randall Gay and Tracy Porter started for the Saints, in place of last year’s starters, Mike McKenzie and Jason David. McKenzie was inactive. … DT Antwan Lake left the game in the first quarter with a groin injury. … Other inactives for the Saints were WR Robert Meachem, RB Aaron Stecker, CB Usama Young, LB Mark Simoneau, LB Troy Evans, OT Jermon Bushrod and DT Hollis Thomas. … Bucs inactives were WR Michael Clayton, RB Michael Bennett, LB Geno Hayes, G Davin Joseph, T James Lee, DE Greg Peterson and QB Josh Johnson. … Rookie Jeremy Zuttah started at right guard for the injured Joseph. … WR Maurice Stovall suffered an injured shoulder before halftime.