TAMPA, Fla. (AP) – The streaking Tampa Bay Buccaneers bolstered their playoff hopes by building an early lead and holding off Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints 16-11 for their fifth straight victory on Sunday.
Doug Martin scored on a 1-yard run, Roberto Aguayo kicked three field goals and an improving defense intercepted Brees three times while holding the NFL passing leader without a touchdown pass.
Brees began the day leading the league in completions, attempts, completion percentage, passing yards and TD passes, but failed to throw for a touchdown for the second straight week, the first time he’s done that in consecutive games since 2009.
Rookie Vernon Hargreaves III and Brent Grimes, cornerbacks brought during the offseason, to overhaul a secondary, had two of the interceptions.
Safety Keith Tandy picked off the quarterback’s final pass on fourth-and-1 from near midfield in the final minute.
The Bucs (8-5) have won five straight for the first time since 2002, the season they went on to win their only Super Bowl. The surge has them in contention for their first playoff berth since 2007.
New Orleans (5-8) entered hoping to tighten the NFC South race, but instead dropped three games behind division co-leaders Atlanta and Tampa Bay.
Brees finished 25 of 41 for 257 yards. He also was intercepted three times during last week’s 28-13 loss to Detroit.
Jameis Winston was 16 of 26 for 184 yards and no interceptions for the Bucs.
Brees is in his 11th season with New Orleans and has thrown for more than 4,000 yards every season since signing with the Saints as a free agent in 2006. He reached the plateau again on a completion to Brandon Coleman late in the first half and has 4,000 passing through 13 games.
Winston is closing in on his second straight 4,000-yard season for the Bucs, who only have one other 4,000-yard season in team history (Josh Freeman 2012).
The Saints had three turnovers and also hurt themselves with 13 accepted penalties for 104 yards, including a false start that backed them on second-and-goal in the final minute of the second quarter. They wound up settling for a field goal that trimmed the Bucs’ lead to 13-8 at the half.
They wasted another opportunity to get in the end zone in the third quarter, when Brees’ 4-yard throw to Brandin Cooks initially was ruled a touchdown, but was overturned following a replay review, which determined the receiver didn’t make a clean catch.
In addition to safety Kenny Vaccaro beginning a four-game suspension for violating NFL rules pertaining to performance enhancing drug use, New Orleans played without leading receiver Michael Thomas (foot), center Max Unger (foot) and middle linebacker Craig Robertson (shoulder).
Tampa Bay was without three starters – tackle Demar Dotson (concussion), tight end Luke Stocker (ankle) and safety Chris Conte (chest) – sat out.
New Orleans continues on a stretch in which they’ll play three of their final four games on the road, traveling to Arizona on Sunday while the Bucs will play host Dallas (11-1) in a nationally televised Sunday night football broadcast.