Brees rallies Saints past Buccaneers 23-20

Brees rallies Saints past Buccaneers 23-20

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - - Thanks to Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers landed the top pick in next spring's NFL draft.

Brees shrugged off three interceptions - two of them stopping promising third-quarter drives - to throw for 281 yards in a 23-20 win Sunday. His 36-yard touchdown pass to Marques Colston gave the Saints (7-9) their first lead with 1:57 remaining. Junior Galette sacked Josh McCown for a safety that provided the final margin.

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 (2-14) flirted with damaging their chances of winding up with the No. 1 overall selection for the first time since 1987 when they selected Vinny Testaverde.

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, leaving the Falcons and Carolina Panthers to play for the NFC South title.

Even though New Orleans had little to gain by playing Brees in the finale, coach Sean Payton emphasized the Saints were playing to win.

Bucs coach Lovie Smith said the same, even though a victory could hurt the team's chances for the first pick in the draft. The Bucs began the day tied with Tennessee for the worst record in the league.

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'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. 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.

Brees was 24 of 38. He extended the go-ahead drive with a 4-yard completion to Jimmy Graham on fourth-and-2.

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