Buccaneers lose 23-20 to Saints, clinch No. 1 pick
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers wound up winners after a season-ending loss.
Drew Brees shrugged off three interceptions - two of them stopping promising third-quarter drives - to throw for 281 yards in the New Orleans Saints' 23-20 win over the Buccaneers on Sunday.
With the loss, Tampa Bay (2-14) locked up the first pick in next spring's draft.
"It's been a long year," first-year Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith said. "When you're down there that's one consolation, I guess, from the season we've had. That's where we are now."
Tampa Bay played a number of non-starters, especially in the second half when the Saints rallied for the win.
"I don't think anybody tanked it," Tampa Bay quarterback Josh McCown said. "We played the guys we played to rotate guys in and give them a look. As far as players are concerned, the draft, that stuff is not relevant as far to how we're playing. We competed hard and that's the main thing. Got a chance to evaluate some younger guys as we build this thing."
Brees' 36-yard touchdown pass to Marques Colston gave the Saints (7-9) their first lead with 1:57 remaining. Junior Galette sacked McCown for a safety that provided the final margin.
"It wasn't clean," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "It wasn't perfect. 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."
Doug Martin rushed for a season-best 108 yards and rookie Mike Evans set a Tampa Bay record with his 12th touchdown reception as the Bucs flirted with damaging their chances of winding up with the No. 1 overall selection.
Mark Ingram scored on a 1-yard run early in the fourth quarter, trimming New Orleans' deficit to 20-14. Keenan Lewis' interception and return to the 50 led to Brees' TD pass to Colston to make it 21-20.
The Saints were eliminated from playoff contention by last week's 30-14 loss to Atlanta.
Patrick Murray's 39-yard field goal and McCown's 6-yard TD pass to Evans staked Tampa Bay to an early 10-0 lead. One of the league's weakest offenses kept moving the ball at will against the New Orleans defense.
In building a 20-7 halftime edge, the Bucs outgained the league's No. 1 offense 248 yards to 118, including a whopping 148-89 advantage on the ground, where both Martin and rookie Charles Sims were effective.
Then the Saints outgained the Bucs 220-32 after halftime.
Tampa Bay controlled the ball for nearly 20 minutes of the opening half, a stark contrast to an early October meeting between the division rivals in which the Saints ran 86 offensive plays to Tampa Bay's 54. New Orleans won that matchup, overcoming an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit before prevailing 37-31 in overtime.
Evans and Vincent Jackson caught passes on the first two plays of the game, making them the first tandem of Bucs receivers to top 1,000 yards in the same season.
"It was a goal for me and V-Jax to both have it," Evans said. "So that's pretty special."
It's the fourth straight 1,000-yard season - third with Tampa Bay - for Jackson, who left the game later in the first quarter and did not return because of a groin injury. That's tied for the second-longest active streak behind Calvin Johnson's five.
Evans, meanwhile, broke the team single-season record for TD receptions. He had shared the mark with Mike Williams, who had 11 as a rookie in 2010.
Evans didn't play most of the second half as the Bucs looked at other receivers.
Brees was 24 of 38. He extended the go-ahead drive with a 4-yard completion to Jimmy Graham on fourth-and-2.
NOTES: Tampa Bay LB Mason Foster was inactive because of a sore Achilles tendon. ... Smith said LB Danny Lansanah had limited playing time after violating a team rule.