The illegal touch penalty against Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Mike Williams that wiped out an apparent touchdown catch on the game's final snap wasn't the only critical flag of the fourth quarter.
With the Saints ahead 28-21 early in the quarter, New Orleans lined up for a 50-yard field goal attempt. Tampa Bay's line suddenly shifted en masse and the Bucs were hit with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty after the snap, giving the Saints a first down at the Bucs 18-yard line.
Four plays later, Pierre Thomas scored on a 5-yard run to put New Orleans ahead by 14 points.
"According to the official, we said something we shouldn't have,'' Bucs rookie LB Lavonte David said. "All we said was, 'Move,' and they said we can't do that. It was a crucial moment for sure.''
According to Saints G Jahri Evans, who lined up on the field goal protection unit, the Bucs tried to confuse New Orleans verbally before the snap.
"They were trying to draw us offsides,'' Evans said. "It was the verbiage that they used, trying to get us to move. Their whole defense moved. It was like, 'Go,' or whatever, something like that. I don't know if that was the exact word, but it was something to try and make us jump.''
NFL rules prohibit defensive players from using acts or words designed to disconcert an offensive team at the snap.
From a distance
Pro Bowl G Carl Nicks helped keep Drew Brees upright for four seasons in New Orleans. On Sunday, he watched Brees operate from a different vantage point – and he didn't particularly like the view.
"You've got to give him his props because Drew did his thing out there,'' Nicks said after Brees carved the Bucs defense for 377 yards and four touchdown passes. "He threw an early pick and he bounced right back.''
With Nicks helping clear the way up front, the Bucs rolled up 513 yards Sunday, the second-highest output in franchise history.
Tampa Bay averaged 7.5 yards per snap against the NFL's most porous defense.
On rookie Doug Martin's 36-yard scoring run in the opening quarter, Nicks turned DT Tom Johnson inside out.
Despite all that production, the Bucs came up short against the NFC South rival that lost Nicks to Tampa Bay as a free agent seven months ago.
"You've got to tip your cap to their whole team,'' Nicks said. "The Saints got it done today.''
Getting better all the time
With Martin providing 122 yards of total offense, the Bucs boasted enviable offensive balance.
Coming off a 76-yard rushing day against the Chiefs last week, Martin gained 85 yards on 16 carries and added three receptions for 37 yards.
"He's getting better and better every week,'' LT Donald Penn said of the first-round draft pick out of Boise State. "I'm really impressed with what he's doing. He's showing a lot of character, playing like a veteran.''
Back in action
The Saints welcomed the return of veteran LB Jonathan Vilma, who played his first game of the season while appealing an NFL suspension for his role in the New Orleans bounty scandal.
"It was one of those where I tried to not let my emotions get the best of me,'' Vilma said after the Saints posted their second consecutive win after an 0-4 start. "I didn't have any mental errors or any mental mistakes.''
Vilma didn't start Sunday, but played extensively. Midway through the opening quarter, he almost picked off a Josh Freeman pass intended for Vincent Jackson. On the next snap, Martin darted off left guard for his 36-yard scoring run.
"I didn't want to put myself in a situation where I was going to hurt the team, so I tried not to be over-excited,'' said Vilma. "When I was out, I could let the emotions go.''
Tampa Bay wore its throwback uniforms and helmets in attracting an announced crowd of 58,906 as the Bucs avoided a home TV blackout for the first time in four regular-season games this season at Raymond James Stadium. …Pro Bowl TE Jimmy Graham didn't make the trip for New Orleans, sidelined by an ankle injury. …Brees extended his NFL record by throwing at least one touchdown pass for the 49th consecutive game. …Tampa Bay's Connor Barth, who converted on 25 consecutive field goal attempts before missing from 55 yards last week, saw his 42-yard try sail wide left in the third quarter Sunday. …Six of Lance Moore's nine receptions generated first downs for the Saints.