The Saints got by Tampa Bay on Sunday with a little help from their enemies.
The Bucs killed themselves with a slew of crucial penalties as New Orleans won 37-31 in overtime at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, even before an illegal use of hands call extended the Saints’ game-winning drive on overtime.
The Saints shut out the Bucs for the first 28 minutes, but the defense received plenty of assistance from the Tampa Bay offense.
Tampa Bay drew three critical penalties that nullified big gains in the first half. A 32-yard catch-and run by Doug Martin and a 27-yard reception by Louis Murphy were wiped out by illegal-formation penalties on consecutive snaps, forcing a punt. A 17-yard Murphy reception to the 16 turned into a 16-yard loss (the refs mistakenly marked off an extra yard) when tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins was called for grabbing a facemask. The Bucs salvaged that drive with a 55-yard field goal to cut their deficit to 13-3.
The flags kept flying.
A holding call on Logan Mankins negated a 9-yard completion on the Bucs, forcing them into a first-and-20 at their 24 instead of second-and-1 at the 43 with 1:35 left in regulation when the score was tied at 31. They wound up punting.
“That’s part of the game, the penalties,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “I was real pleased with how they (the defense played).”
The Saints lost All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham to a shoulder injury in the first quarter and played the rest of the way without him.
NFL.com reported Sunday night that Graham has a sprained shoulder and is set to be re-evaluated Monday.
For one day, though, his absence did not cost the Saints. Backup Ben Watson, who had four catches total in the first four games, had five receptions for 43 yards, and reserve Josh Hill added three receptions for another 53 yards.
Watson’s biggest play was a 10-yard gain over the middle on third-and-8 to keep the Saints’ winning overtime drive alive. His previous high for catches in two years with New Orleans was three.
Graham hurt his shoulder on a reception on the Saints’ third possession. He returned to catch another pass on that drive before heading to the locker room for evaluation. He did not play again.
“Jimmy is Jimmy,” Drew Brees said. “He’s a matchup problem. But I felt like our guys responded.”
The off week is coming at a good time for the Saints.
Already dealing with the absence of safety Jairus Byrd after a season-ending, non-contact practice knee injury on Thursday, they lost three more players in addition to Graham.
Center Jonathan Goodwin (knee) and linebacker Ramon Humber (ankle) left in the first half. Neither returned. Cornerback Patrick Robinson, who had the Saints’ first interception of the season, hurt a hamstring in the second half.
“Getting guys healthy will be important for us here,” Payton said.
The first thing Brees did after Khiry Robinson scored on an 18-yard run in overtime was hug center Tim Lelito, who replaced Goodwin.
“He just said, ‘great job,’ ” Lelito said. “I said the same thing. It was a good feeling.”
Lelito loved the way the Saints ended the game. They won on four consecutive runs by Robinson, covering 31 yards.
“When you’re an offensive lineman, it’s more fun for sure when you run it over and over and score,” Lelito said. “It’s more gratifying.”
Defensive tackle John Jenkins was activated on game day for only the second time this year, and safety Marcus Ball was activated for the first time in his short Saints career.
Jenkins started five games as a rookie but fell down the depth chart after having pectoral surgery in the offseason. He was on the Physically Unable to Perform list at the start of training camp.
Ball, who played two seasons with the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League, is in his first NFL season.
The Saints’ inactives were Byrd, running back Mark Ingram, fullback Erik Lorig, linebacker Ronald Powell, nose tackle Brandon Deaderick and receivers Joseph Morgan and Nick Toon.
The Saints extended their team-record home winning streak to 10 and have won 19 in a row at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with Payton on the sideline. … Brees threw 57 passes, his highest total in six years and the fourth most in franchise history. Brees and Aaron Brooks own the record with 60 attempts, while Brees threw 58 against Atlanta in 2008. … With an 8-yard completion to Travaris Cadet in the first quarter, Brees reached 40,000 career passing yards faster than any quarterback for one team. He did it is his 132nd game. The previous mark was 153 games by Miami’s Dan Marino. … The 31 points New Orleans allowed was its most in a home victory since a 40-33 win over Houston on Sept. 25, 2011. … Unfortunate timing award: the Saints Gameday program had Byrd on the cover.