NEW ORLEANS — Two days after Gerald McCoy and Darrelle Revis received Pro Bowl invitations, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense felt the wrath of New Orleans QB Drew Brees on Sunday.
Three losses within a four-game stretch left Brees and the Saints in a foul mood and they took out their frustrations in a 42-17 rout that capped an 8-0 mark at home and secured New Orleans a playoff berth as the NFC's No. 6 seed.
“You've got to come with your 'A-plus' game to beat them at their house ... and we didn't,'' Bucs middle linebacker Mason Foster said after New Orleans rolled up 468 yards, averaging 7.5 yards per snap. “They are so well coached and they've got a coach on the field in Brees. It feels like you're always at a disadvantage, especially when Brees gets on that roll.''
The Saints scored touchdowns on four of their first five possessions and Brees threw for 321 of his 381 yards in a majestic opening half. He finished with a passer rating of 157.4, just shy of perfection (158.3).
“That team's electric,'' Bucs right tackle Demar Dotson said. “They can put up points in a hurry, and that's what they did.''
Brees found 11 different targets in completing 24 of 31 attempts and was sacked only once as Tampa Bay allowed the most points since a 45-24 loss at Atlanta in the 2011 season finale, the last game for Raheem Morris on the Bucs' sideline.
The Bucs yielded six completions of 20 yards or more, after allowing only 40 such gains through the air in the first 15 games.
“They got the crowd behind them today and that got the Saints pumped up even more,'' Bucs linebacker Lavonte David said. “Man, they're tough to handle in this building.''
The Saints scored only one touchdown in Week 2, but rallied for a 16-14 triumph in Tampa. Returning home Sunday proved a tonic for Brees, who threw 27 touchdown passes and only three interceptions in eight games at the Superdome this year.
One bright spot for Tampa Bay's battered unit was the play of defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who posted a career-high 10 tackles. Clayborn had four stops for loss, two QB hits and Tampa Bay's only sack.
Early surprise from Bucs offense
The Saints had just marched 80 yards on the game's opening drive, capped by Lance Moore's 44-yard scoring catch, when the Bucs answered with some trickery executed to perfection.
Vincent Jackson's 9-yard reception on third-and-5 sustained Tampa Bay's ensuing drive. On the next play, Bobby Rainey took a handoff up the middle and took two steps forward to sell the run before pitching the ball back to rookie quarterback Mike Glennon as wide receiver Tiquan Underwood broke free downfield.
“That was a great call by (offensive coordinator) Mike Sullivan and we nailed it,'' said Underwood, who tumbled into the end zone as he finished off a 48-yard touchdown strike on the flea-flicker play. “We knew the Saints are very aggressive defensively and they come up hard and fast to stop the run. I was wide open, but as a receiver, sometimes those can be the toughest ones to catch.''
Underwood finished with five receptions for 93 yards and for the season, he averaged 18.3 yards on 24 catches.
Bucs 2014 opponents
The 2014 NFL schedule won't be announced until the spring, but the Bucs know their home and away opponents — and face the distinct possibility of playing some cold-weather games next season. Tampa Bay's 4-12 record tied with Atlanta in the NFC South, but the Bucs were relegated to the division basement because the Falcons owned a better conference mark.
At home in 2014, Tampa Bay will face Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans, Green Bay, Minnesota, Baltimore, Cincinnati and St. Louis.
Tampa Bay, which finished 1-7 on the road this season, travels next season to Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Washington, Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans.