The Saints came out feeding the run game, and Ingram, early and often in the 1st Quarter. On their second drive, Ingram ran it in from the 6 yard line after two nice passes by Brees. He found Cooks and Fleener both for big 20+ yard passes to keep the drive going.
On the following possession, a deep punt by the Bucs pinned the Saints inside their own 5 and they were unable to move the ball out. Being forced to punt on 4th and 9 from their own 5, Bucs took possession on the Saints 39. A great play by Byrd forced a long 3rd and 14, but a costly penalty by Vonn Bell kept the drive going and Tampa would score from 12 yards out on a quick pass to Cameron Brate.
Following the Tampa kickoff, Saints began marching down the field after starting from their 25. With completions to Snead, Thomas and Cooks, Drew brought them within striking distance before a dropped pass by Cooks halted all momentum and forced a 4th down. Will Lutz’s field goal retook the lead with 6:45 remaining in the 2nd Quarter.
Defensively, Saints managed to “bend not break” for most of the 1st half. After the Lutz field goal, the Bucs Jameis Winston would be sacked by the combo of Paul Kruger and Sheldon Rankins for a loss of 10 yards. They would not be able to progress into Saints territory after a deep pass attempt falls incomplete.
Lutz would get more action following the punt as the Saints ran an almost perfect two minute drill. Tampa’s defense stymied Brees’ attempts to get into the end zone, but Lutz’ 34 yarder was good and they took the lead 13-7 headed into halftime.
#Saints more than doubling up Bucs in total yards (208-97) and lead 13-7 at halftime.— Christopher Dabe (@cmdabe) December 24, 2016
On the opening kickoff of the half, misfortune on the Bucs would result in great fortune for the Saints. The kickoff was a bouncer that was muffed inside the 5 and that is where Jameis Winston would be forced to start. After a run stuff pushed Tampa back to their own 3, Winston tried to go deep to Mike Evans only to be intercepted by Byrd. Mark Ingram would run it in from 14 yards out on the first play after the turnover giving New Orleans a 20-7 lead.
Jacquizz Rodgers and the Buccaneers would not go down quietly, however, as they would march 75 yards to match the Saints rushing touchdown with one of their own. On a drive that saw multiple Buccaneers runningbacks get runs of 10+, Rodgers would end up capping the drive with a 4 yard dive up the B gap.
Multiple drives had been stopped in the 1st half due to dropped passes, but it was due to big plays by the receiving group that would lead to the next New Orleans score. Michael Thomas would catch a quick slant and then make multiple Tampa defenders miss as he ran 46 yards into Tampa territory and inside the 20 yard line. Brees capped off the drive with an 11 yard TD pass to Cadet. New Orleans would go for 2 and get it as Ingram ran in on a draw play.
Coming into the game the Saints had giving up a NFL record 22 straight homes games of allowing 20 points or more. This streak would continue to 23 straight games as Mike Evans would be the recipient of a 34 yard TD pass from Winston and they would pull within 7. Looked like a potential penalty on Evans for a push off, but it went uncalled.
Referees call a highly questionable pass interference on Sterling Moore -- looked like Evans with a push -- but TB scores.— Joel A. Erickson (@JoelAErickson) December 24, 2016
With a shootout ensuing, New Orleans ended the 3rd quarter by marching down the field. Helped by a 42 yard catch by Cooks, they would start the 4th inside Tampa territory. Brees and company made it down to the 3 yard line before the drive would stall after two straight incompletions to Michael Thomas and Lutz would cap the drive with a 21 yard field goal.
Time ticking down on the Bucs in the 4th quarter, and trailing by 10, the drive after the Saints field goal was one dimensional. Every play was a pass, and the Saints caught on. Cameron Jordan would sack Winston for a loss of seven yards, and two plays later Byrd would record his second interception of the contest, and the season.
After New Orleans failed to capitalize on the turnover, Tampa would cap a quick drive with a field goal. The field goal marked the 2-minute warning. Being unable to recover the onside kick, the Buccaneers would give up multiple big runs to Mark Ingram and the Saints would run out the clock.