Tampa, Fla. – The New Orleans Saints are NFC South champion again.
It was not handsome, but the Saints teamed up to beat Tampa Bay Buccaneers 28-14 at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday to clinch the division title for the second consecutive season, the first time it ever happened in franchise history.
The division title ensures that the Saints (11-2) will host a playoff game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Whether this will be a wild-card game or a divisional game depends on how the rest of the season unfolds.
The Saints follow the Los Angeles Rams (11-1) in the race for the first place in the NFC playoffs, but have a two-game lead over the Chicago Bears (8-4) for second place and first-bye. Sheep and bears play each other on "Sunday Night Football".
For most of the game, the Saints' match matched Tampa's dark mood. But with 7:18 in the third half and Santos losing 14-3, Taysom Hill provided the required spark by being thrown on the right side of the Bucs line to block Bryan Anger's pot. Santos rebounded at 30 and scored quickly in a 1-yard pass from quarterback Drew Brees to zach Zach Line. Alvin Kamara ran to the left side of the end zone for the colon conversion.
The Saints' defense took over from there with sacks by AJ Klein and Cameron Jordan (their second in the game) forced a Bucs that gave the Saints a great field position at 49. New Orleans wasted no time by scoring 1 yard of Brees with 11:46 to play giving Santos an 18-14 lead.
Santos put the game on the pitch with a 17-yard touchdown run by Mark Ingram with 7:26 to play. It was Ingram's 49th touchdown, tied for first in the franchise's history with Deuce McAllister. Wil Lutz added a 36-yard field goal with 1:12 to play, his second of the game (30 yards in the first half).
The Bucs (5-8) took a 14-3 lead into the break thanks to two touchdown passes from Jameis Winston to tight end Cameron Brate. Winston was also effective in running the ball (47 yards), but the Saints took over in the second half applying consistent pressure and recording their second shutout in the second consecutive time. Penalties also delayed Tampa's attack as it was penalized nine times for 74 yards. Marshon Lattimore intercepted Winston in the penultimate game of the game. It was the first time the Saints held their opponents 17 points or less in five consecutive games from Nov. 26 to Dec. 10. 24, 2006.
Receiver Michael Thomas was Brees' most consistent weapon, with 11 footprints for 98 yards. His second reception gave him the NFL record for most receptions in the first three seasons of a career.
The balance of three games of the Saints ends on Monday, December 17, in Carolina. They will end the season playing at home against Pittsburgh and Carolina.
Key Saints Statistical Leaders
Drew Brees, 24 of 31 for 201 yards with a TD and an interception
Mark Ingram, 13, carries 52 yards and a TD
Alvin Kamara, 10, carries 39 yards, five carries 36 yards
Michael Thomas, 11 sacks for 98 yards