New Orleans beats Tampa Bay on road to end four-game skid

Published 12:01 am Monday, December 14, 2015

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints looked quite comfortable in the role of late-season spoiler.

Brees threw a pair of touchdown passes to Marques Colston to help New Orleans snap a four-game losing streak with a 24-17 victory Sunday that damaged the playoff hopes for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The 36-year-old Brees took over sole possession of third place on the career list for December TD passes, moving ahead of Dan Marino (110) with 112. Only Peyton Manning (134) and Brett Favre (116) have thrown more during the month.

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Brees, who also tied Manning for most career 300-yard games with his 93rd, recalled traveling to Miami for a preseason game as a rookie and seeing some of Marino’s statistics and records on display.

“I remember looking up there and just thinking, ‘Those are astronomical. Those are impossible. How would somebody ever reach those numbers?’” Brees said. “That part of it makes me look back and just realize just how lucky I am, how grateful I am to have had this opportunity.”

Brees completed 31 of 41 passes for 312 yards without an interception. Colston scored on receptions of 1 and 3 yards in the first half, and Tim Hightower had a 3-yard TD run in the third quarter for the Saints (5-8), who won for the eighth time in nine meetings between the NFC South rivals.

“Like I said earlier in the week, as long as they’ve got No. 9, you got to be ready for them,” Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said.

The Buccaneers (6-7) lost for the second time in three weeks, damaging their hopes of recovering from a slow start to a run for an NFC wild card.

“Normally you play your best ball when this much is on the line, but it’s amazing we lost by (only) seven points,” coach Lovie Smith said. “The things we did, you just can’t win a football game.”

The Saints converted 12 of their 17 third downs, the Bucs were penalized eight times for 80 yards, and Jameis Winston’s bid to rally his team in the second half was hindered by a missed field goal.

The No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft threw a fourth-quarter TD pass to Adam Humphries to trim a 14-point deficit to 24-17. The Bucs got the ball back with just over five minutes remaining, punted four plays later, and then watched New Orleans grind out three first downs to end the game.

“We didn’t put a good product on the field today,” Smith said. “Every area we didn’t play well. It’s as simple as that.”

Hightower rushed for 85 yards on 28 carries for the Saints, who bounced back from last week’s 41-38 home loss to unbeaten Carolina. Willie Snead had seven receptions for 122 yards, and Benjamin Watson had seven catches for 70 yards.

Brees and Colston have teamed for 71 touchdowns over 10 seasons, fifth most by a quarterback-receiver combination in NFL history behind Manning-Marvin Harrison, Steve Young-Jerry Rice, Marino-Mark Clayton and Philip Rivers-Antonio Gates. The two TDs on Sunday staked the Saints to a 14-0 lead, and Colston finished with six receptions for 36 yards.