Take a seat
After a bye week gave Tampa Bay coaches an extended opportunity to analyze the first seven games, the Bucs benched OLB Geno Hayes, who entered Sunday's matchup leading the club with 48 tackles.

Hayes was relegated to special teams duty as veteran backup Adam Hayward played extensively, finishing with three tackles. The Bucs also used their nickel package often against the Saints, utilizing only two linebackers. "Geno was the backup at (weakside) linebacker today,'' Morris. "We needed some better play out of that position.''

Hayes, a former standout at Florida State, hadn't missed a start since late in the 2009 season.

Safety valve
Saints RB Darren Sproles, who carried the ball only once in the 26-20 loss at Tampa Bay in October, emerged as a versatile threat in Sunday's 27-16 triumph.

Signed as a free agent this summer, Sproles gained 42 yards on four carries and caught five passes for an additional 57 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown that put New Orleans ahead 14-0 midway through the second quarter.

Sproles also returned two kicks for 54 yards and one punt for 15 yards. "Sproles is an explosive player,'' Bucs CB E.J. Biggers said, "and he does his job real well.''

The ex-Charger leads the Saints in rushing yards and receptions, averaging 7.1 yards per carry and 8.0 yards per catch. On Sunday, Sproles hurt the Bucs repeatedly by catching swing passes out of the backfield.

Barber said New Orleans exploited the Bucs by flaring passes out to Sproles when Tampa Bay was caught in man-to-man coverages. "It's on the middle linebacker to get there, but he's trying to go through eight guys to get to Sproles,'' Barber said. "We played a lot of man today and they were ready for us.''

Conversion plan
It's no great surprise the Saints, who lead the NFL in third-down success at 55.7 percent, converted 5-of-10 on the money down against the Bucs. But while quarterback Drew Brees flourished, Tampa Bay struggled to sustain its drives, finishing 2-for-12 on third down against the blitz-happy Saints.

"I'm disappointed in the way our offense played,'' C Jeff Faine said after the Bucs had almost as many penalty yards (80) as rushing yards (84). "We didn't play smart, disciplined football today and we made too many silly mistakes. We continue to wait until our backs are against the wall before we start making plays.''

Tampa Bay couldn't cobble together more than two first downs on any possession until the fourth quarter. "Today, it felt like we lost by inches a lot,'' G Davin Joseph said. "We had some guys wide open and we have to hold our protection just a little longer to give Josh Freeman a chance to plant his feet on those throws.

"We're 4-4 and not out of the playoff hunt, by any means. All this loss might mean is that our road may not be as glamorous. Maybe we'll have to fight to get in at the wire, but we're ready for that if it comes down to it.''

Extra points
Barber stepped in front of a Brees pass intended for Sproles on the opening drive of the second half for his 42nd career interception.

For the 62nd consecutive game, Tampa Bay's offense failed to score more than seven points in an opening quarter.

Brees has thrown at least one TD pass in 36 straight games, tying Brett Favre for second place behind Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas (47).

With Earnest Graham out for the year with a torn Achilles' tendon, the Bucs used Kregg Lumpkin as their primary third-down back. Lumpkin caught four passes for 31 yards as Freeman threw completions to 10 different receivers.

TE Kellen Winslow, who provided Tampa Bay's only score with a five-yard catch in the final quarter, extended his streak to 84 consecutive games with at least one reception.

About the writer
Ira Kaufman has long been both a great writer for The Tampa Tribune and friend to the Bucs UK and BUCPOWER.COM. He writes on all sports for the paper but during the NFL season offers his stories on not just the Buccaneers, but also the NFL in general.