Karma stepped in to allow the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to defeat the New Orleans Saints 27-23 in the closing seconds of regulation at the Louisiana Superdome on Sunday.
Bucs QB Luke McCown threw his second touchdown pass of the game with 14 seconds left to Jerramy Stevens to give the Buccaneers the victory.
The Buccaneers got the football back bizarrely after giving up a safety on the other end of the field with 3:44 left in the game to fall behind 23-20
The Saints called an end around and RB Reggie Bush threw an ill-timed pitch to WR Marques Colston, who lost the football and Tampa Bay DT Jovan Haye recovered it.
The Bucs then drove down the field to get into scoring position, a drive that included a fourth-down conversion run by Earnest Graham, who rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown.
On the sixth lead change of the game, Stevens split out in motion to McCown’s right. The 6-foot-6 tight end then hauled in McCown’s pass over his head of 5-10 cornerback Jason Craft, who was playing in place of starter Mike McKenzie.
Before the final three minutes, the Bucs (8-4) appeared to be headed for a loss. Down 21-20. Saints P Steve Weatherford pinned the Buccaneers at their own 2-yard line. Two plays later, McCown was flushed out of the pocket and rolling right to find a receiver with DE Will Smith in pursuit. Instead of throwing the ball away, McCown attempted to get out of the end zone and Smith grabbed him from behind, tackling him just inside the goal line.
That gave the Saints a 23-20 lead and the football, as the Bucs had to give the Saints a free kick. The Saints got the football near midfield and appeared to have the game in hand before Bush’s fumble.
The Bucs fell behind late in the third quarter after McKenzie picked off McCown and returned it 53 yards for a touchdown to put the Saints up 21-20. It was the fifth lead change of the game.
McCown audibled into a different pass play, expecting a blitz from New Orleans. The Bucs picked up the blitz, but McCown threw an underneath pass to Joey Galloway, expecting him to turn around. Instead, Galloway continued upfield and McKenzie made the easy pick for a 53-yard interception return.
Those two glaring errors nearly spoiled an otherwise splendid start by McCown, making his first start since Dec. 26, 2004. McCown finished the game 29-of-37 passing for 313 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
With the victory, the Bucs have a three-game lead in the NFC South with four games remaining, all but assuring the Buccaneers of their second division title in three years. The Saints (5-7) missed a great opportunity to climb to within a game of the Buccaneers and into the NFC Wild Card picture. The victory was also Tampa Bay’s fourth straight.
Bucs WR Joey Galloway also had a huge game, catching seven passes for 159 yards, most of which game in the first half.
The Buccaneers defense sacked Saints QB Drew Brees three times, all in the second half and limited the Saints to about 250 yards in total offense.
Tampa Bay grabbed the lead in the third quarter after Graham broke two tackles to break off a 25-yard touchdown run for a 20-14 lead.
Graham’s touchdown run was his seventh of the season.
McCown was 18-of-21 in the first half for 230 yards and a touchdown, much of that going to Galloway, who had six catches for 148 yards by halftime.
The Saints didn’t wilt despite McCown’s efficiency, as Brees threw two touchdown passes to give the Saints a 14-13 halftime lead.
Brees threw his second touchdown pass of the day with 3:21 left in the second quarter, hitting Devery Henderson for a 45-yard touchdown pass. Bucs S Tanard Jackson was in great position to knock the pass away, but he appeared to turn his head away from the ball at the last second before Henderson made the catch.
McCown completed his first 14 passes of the game, including a 60-yard bomb to Joey Galloway that set up the Bucs at the Saints 1 on the final play of the first quarter.
That set up a play-action pass from McCown to tight end Anthony Becht two plays later to give the Bucs a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter.
On the next drive, McCown drove the Bucs to a 31-yard field goal by Matt Bryant. A false start penalty by Jeremy Trueblood on 3rd-and-4 in the red zone would have meant a first down, as McCown hit Galloway for an 8-yard gain before Bryant’s field goal with 7:52 left in the second quarter. That gave Tampa Bay a 13-7 lead.
On the Bucs’ final drive of the first half, McCown took a critical sack, and WR Ike Hilliard committed an offensive pass interference call to take the Bucs out of field goal range.
The Saints took a 7-3 lead in the first quarter after a 40-yard flea-flicker from Brees to WR Marques Colston set up the Saints inside Tampa Bay’s 10-yard line. Brees followed that with a 4-yard fade to Terrance Copper for the TD with 2:05 left.
Using a game plan that called for short passing, McCown completed his first five passes as the Bucs penetrated Saints territory before the drive sputtered at the Saints 9, leading to a 28-yard Matt Bryant field goal and a 3-0 Bucs lead on the game’s opening drive.
The Bucs had a chance to extend the lead on the following drive, but Bryant missed a 52-yard field goal three plays after a holding penalty by Davin Joseph negated an 8-yard run by McCown.
McCown started the game in place of veteran Jeff Garcia, who the Bucs declared the inactive third quarterback before the game due to a back injury suffered last week against Washington.
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Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.