Defense closes season with signature effort
Anwar Richardson, The Tampa Tribune, published 3 January 2011

The Buccaneers' defense did not breathe a sigh of relief Sunday when the Saints pulled QB Drew Brees with more than 10 minutes left in the game. In fact, Brees might have been out of breath.

Tampa Bay's defense limited Brees to 22 of 38 for 196 yards, one touchdown and one interception during a 23-13 victory. Brees finished with a 69.6 quarterback rating.

"We've got to play every down like it's our last," said Bucs LB Geno Hayes, who had one sack. "I think our guys went out there and did that. We played every play like we would have an opportunity to win the game."

Tampa Bay received a helping hand before the game when Saints WR Marques Colston was declared inactive, but its defense helped itself Sunday. The Bucs created three turnovers — two fumbles and one interception — three sacks and three quarterback hurries. Tampa Bay's biggest triumph occurred on its 3-yard line in the second quarter.

New Orleans had possession and appeared ready to score before LB Barrett Ruud forced Julius Jones to fumble. DT Frank Okam recovered the ball and New Orleans did not get into the red zone again until the fourth quarter.

"You understand your opponent the more the game goes on," Bucs DL Tim Crowder said. "We knew (Brees) was hard to get to. We were able to get into his face and force some bad things, which is as good as getting a sack. That's what happened."

Blount reaches1,000 yards
LeGarrette Blount became the third rookie running back in Bucs history to finish with more than 1,000 rushing yards. Blount, who started only seven games, rushed 19 times for 66 yards against New Orleans to finish the season with 1,007 yards on 201 carries, with six touchdowns.

"I had an exceptional season," Blount said. "I had fun along the way. It was definitely a tough ride. We had some tough losses and we had some key wins. We're definitely going to continue everything we need to do to be successful.

"On my behalf, without Cadillac (Williams), without Earnest (Graham), my offensive line being great, the blocking of Mike Williams and all my receivers, I wouldn't be nowhere near 1,000 yards."

Saints throw first punch again
Brees led the Saints on a 13-play, 78-yard drive in 5:17 for a score on their opening drive, capped by a 4-yard touchdown pass to TE Jimmy Graham for a 7-3 lead. It was the ninth time this season New Orleans scored on its first possession (seven touchdowns and two field goals).

Dating to last season, the Saints have scored on opening drives 19 times in 35 games (14 touchdowns and five field goals). "I don't know if I've stopped them on an opening drive yet. I still haven't," Morris said. "It's unbelievable."

No place like the road
Winning on the road in the NFL is supposed to be difficult, but Tampa Bay made it look easy this season in going 6-2. Josh Freeman said his team would have to figure out why it was successful away from Raymond James Stadium and build on it.

"We don't really have anybody who, when the moment of truth comes (on the road), they shy away from it," Freeman said. "When it comes to it, it's not always going to be pretty, but everybody we've got is going to get at it. …We've got to figure out what's making that work and find a way to win more consistently."

Extra points
Veteran CB Ronde Barber, 35, said after the game he will take some time to consider whether he wants to play a 15th NFL season. He is in the final year of his contract. Posts late Sunday to a Facebook page under the name Ronde Barber suggested he was retiring, but Barber, reached by telephone, said he does not have a Facebook page and called the reports bogus.

Elbert Mack said he sustained a concussion against New Orleans and could have continued playing, but the medical staff held him out as a precaution. Bucs WR Maurice Stovall left the game with a groin injury. CB E.J. Biggers hurt his knee, but returned.

RB Kregg Lumpkin and FB/TE Erik Lorig recorded their first receptions of the season.

Bucs TE Kellen Winslow extended his pass catching streak to 76 games, the third longest active streak among tight ends.