NEW ORLEANS — With just one glance at the final score, it would be easy to think that the New Orleans Saints took out a season’s worth of frustration Sunday on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But the Saints said that wasn’t necessarily the case. The Bucs, they said, just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when the Saints put it all together for one of the few times this season.
The result was a dominant performance and a 41-0 blasting of the Bucs in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, which helped the Saints (6-8) remain in the playoff picture for at least another week. The Saints have to win their final two games and hope for a lot of help, but at least they played well in a convincing win.
The 41-point spread was the third-largest margin of victory in franchise history behind a 55-point win over the Indianapolis Colts (62-7) last season and a 42-point decision over the Denver Broncos (42-0) in 1988. In ending a three-game losing streak that all but dashed their own playoff hopes, the Saints handed the Bucs (6-8) their fourth consecutive loss and dropped them from postseason consideration.
“Honestly, this didn’t have anything to do with frustration or anything like that,” Saints left tackle Jermon Bushrod said. “It was guys wanting to come in and go to work every day and prepare. It shows that we’re going to play hard, and, at the end of the day, that’s what we’re here for.”
It certainly showed Sunday when they got four touchdown passes from Drew Brees, who had no interceptions after throwing nine during the Saints’ three-game losing streak, and the defense pitched a shutout for the first time in nearly 17 years.
The Saints had played 269 regular-season games since blanking the New York Jets, 12-0, on Dec. 24, 1995, in Giants Stadium until keeping the Bucs off the scoreboard. The NFL’s worst defense came up with five takeaways — including four interceptions of Josh Freeman.
“That was guys just loving the game of football,” said defensive end Will Smith, who had one of his team’s two sacks. “Knowing we really don’t have anything to play for as far as the playoffs are concerned, we wanted to play for each other and the fans and put on a good show.”
Brees completed 26 of 39 passes for 307 yards with touchdowns to four different receivers for a passer rating of 124.6 — which followed three subpar performances. He led the Saints to a fast start in going 5-of-5 for 67 yards on his team’s first possession, which he capped with a 9-yard TD pass to tight end David Thomas less than four minutes in.
Brees also tossed a 2-yard TD to running back Darren Sproles and later connected with receivers Lance Moore and Joe Morgan for scoring passes of 7 and 34 yards.
Running back Mark Ingram had an 11-yard TD run in the fourth quarter and also had gains of 31 and 26 yards in rushing for 90 yards — just one off his career high — while Garrett Hartley added field goals of 25 and 36 yards.
“Obviously, there was a renewed focus … maybe a new set of goals for these last three weeks the way we want to close out the season,” said Brees, who helped the Saints pile up 447 total yards.
The Saints defense, which ranked 30th in allowing 29.2 points per game after giving up 52 a week earlier against the New York Giants, also got the message.
Freeman, who threw for a career-high 420 yards and three TDs in a 35-28 setback to the Saints on Oct. 21 in Tampa, had a passer rating of 37.5 in completing 26 of 47 attempts for 279 yards.
He was intercepted by cornerback Jabari Greer and safety Rafael Bush in the first half and picked off by safety Isa Abdul-Quddus and Greer again in the second. Freeman also lost a fumble when sacked by defensive end Cameron Jordan in the fourth quarter, which Jordan recovered.
The Saints offense turned the Bucs’ five giveaways into 27 points.
“We did a lot of good things today,” Bushrod said. “I think we saw what we were capable of doing all season long. We just had some games that didn’t go our way, but today was definitely a total team effort.”
Saints right guard Jahri Evans said it was nice to have everything fall together and fall their way for a change.
“Every phase made plays today,” he said. “The defense got turnovers, and the special teams also set us up with good field position. It was just a good team win. It was nice to finally get one of those complete wins.”
“I think it was us executing today,” weakside linebacker Jonathan Vilma said. “We did a good job all around. That might be the first time all season that we complemented each other on offense, defense and special teams.”