“Whew!” exclaimed Saints safety Rafael Bush. “What a day.”

Bush could have been speaking for himself, the rest of the Saints defense and maybe even the fans who didn’t desert the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to witness the home team’s fourth-quarter comeback and subsequent game-winning drive in Sunday’s 37-31 overtime victory against Tampa Bay.

“We almost beat ourselves this time,” said Bush, who replaced Pro Bowler Jarius Byrd, both on Sunday and presumably for the season. “But we were able to fight though it and made the plays when we had to.”

Indeed.

After giving up four points on four straight possessions, including back-to-back touchdown drives of 81 and 80 yards, the defense, which entered the day 29th in the league in yards allowed and 27th in points allowed, found itself somewhat surprisingly in position give the offense a chance to retake the lead if it could make its first stop since midway through the second period after Pierre Thomas’ 27-yard touchdown run made it 31-26 with 9:28 left.

They did it, too — twice — albeit with the help of a couple of holding calls (two of nine against the Tampa Bay offense that cost the Buccaneers 83 yards in gains plus 62 more marked off) and other miscues which set up Junior Galette’s sack/safety and a third-and-20 pass attempt that an open Louis Murphy couldn’t catch before the ball hit the ground, forcing a punt instead of giving the visitors a first down near midfield with plenty of time to move to within field goal range.

Then, when the Bucs made the wrong call on the coin toss, all the defense had to do in OT was watch Drew Brees and the offense go 80 yards in 12 plays, ending in Khiry Robinson’s TD run, which prevented Tampa Bay from having one more shot with the ball.

After their final score three plays into the fourth quarter, the Bucs never snapped the ball beyond their 34.

“That’s part of the game,” Saints coach Sean Payton said of the penalties. “In the fourth quarter, we were able to keep them in a negative situation.

“The field position differential in that fourth quarter was significant. We were getting them off the field on third down and there were a lot of guys who stepped up.”

The tackles were spread evenly Sunday with eight players being credited with between four and six stops.

Galette had only two tackles, but one of them was the virtually unblocked sack/safety of Mike Glennon that cut the Saints deficit to three points with 6:44 left and eliciting so much noise it seemed like the ’Dome had refilled itself.

“It was a poor decision on their part to make a call like that,” Galette said of the Bucs choosing to pass on third-and-29 from inside their 1. “But Bunk (nose tackle Broderick Bunkley) playing beside me did his job, I saw the opening and was able to make the play.”

The Saints, who averaged giving up 396 yards in their first four games, allowed 314 on Sunday, including just 66 rushing, a 3.1 average.

But they struggled getting pressure on Glennon before forcing him into incompletions on his final three attempts. For Bush and the rest of the Saints defense, the victory allows them to go into the off week to work on the problems that have plagued the unit this season — the lack of an effective pass rush and the scarcity of turnovers (although Patrick Robinson did come up with an interception) in a better frame of mind than if they had lost and were staring a 1-4 record with the hardest part of the schedule awaiting after the break.

“Any time you get a win, it puts you in a good frame of mind,” Bush said. “We’ll get some rest this week, get some guys healthy and maybe bring somebody in, although that’s up to the guys up front.

“I hope today was a turning point. We’ve just got to keep fighting to get better.”