Buccaneers playoff hopes take hit with 31-24 loss to Saints

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Mark Ingram rushed for two-touchdowns and a game-sealing first down in the final minutes, and the New Orleans Saints put a considerable damper on Tampa Bay’s playoff aspirations with a 31-24 victory Saturday.

The Buccaneers (8-7) needed a win to keep pace with Green Bay (9-6) for the final NFC wild-card spot, but couldn’t keep up with the Saints’ explosive offense.

Drew Brees was 23 of 34 for 299 yards and a touchdown for New Orleans (7-8), which gained 417 total yards and did not have a turnover against a with 26 takeaways – including three interceptions of Brees in the clubs’ previous meeting two weeks earlier.

This time, it was New Orleans’ defense producing turnovers; Jairus Bryd intercepted Jameis Winston twice. The first takeaway set up Ingram’s second TD, and the second stalled a promising Bucs drive into Saints territory.

The Buccaneers’ loss locked up the NFC South for Atlanta (10-5) and ensured a wild card for the New York Giants. Now Tampa Bay must win the season finale and hope for losses by Washington and Green Bay next week. If that happens, a complicated tie-breaker based on strength of victories will decide the final playoff spot between the Bucs and Packers.

Roberto Aguayo’s 35-yard field goal pulled Tampa Bay within a touchdown at the two-minute warning. An onside kick failed when Saints receiver Brandin Cooks recovered. Then New Orleans handed the ball to Ingram three times for a first down to run out the clock.

Cooks caught five passes for 98 yards, including a 42-yard reception. New Orleans rookie Michael Thomas had six receptions for 98 yards, including a 46-yarder that set up Travaris Cadet’s 11-yard touchdown catch. Ingram finished with 90 yards rushing on 18 carries.

Winston was 23 of 35 for 277 yards and two touchdowns, giving him 27 TDs this season, tying a franchise single-season record. His touchdown passes went to tight end Cameron Brate and Mike Evans.

Jacquizz Rodgers rushed for a 3-yard touchdown for Tampa Bay.

MISSING MARTIN

Bucs running back Doug Martin was surprisingly scratched before the game. Team officials said it was a coach’s decision and not injury related. Martin, who missed six games earlier this season with a hamstring injury, had started Tampa Bay’s previous six games before sitting out in New Orleans.

INJURIES

Brate, who caught his eighth touchdown pass this season in the first half, left in the third quarter after injuring his back. … Bucs cornerback Vernon Hargreaves twice left the game after receiving assistance from trainers, but came back both times.

UP NEXT

Buccaneers: host Carolina looking to sweep the series from the Panthers.

Saints: play season finale in Atlanta.

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