TAMPA, Fla. — Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints embraced their roles as spoilers against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Brees threw a pair of touchdown passes to Marques Colston and the struggling Saints stopped a four-game losing streak with a 24-17 victory that damaged the Bucs’ playoff hopes Sunday.
New Orleans won for the eighth time in nine meetings between the NFC South rivals. 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.
The loss was the second in three games for Tampa Bay (6-7), whose hopes to recover from a slow start to the season and make a run at a wild-card playoff berth took a hit.
Jameis Winston 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, then watched New Orleans grind out three first downs to end the game.
Hightower rushed for 85 yards on 28 carries, Willie Snead had seven receptions for 122 yards, and Benjamin Watson had seven catches for 70 yards for the Saints (5-8), who bounced back from last week’s 41-38 home loss to unbeaten Carolina.
Brees and Colston have teamed for 71 touchdowns over 10 seasons, fifth most by a quarterback-receiver combination in NFL history behind Peyton Manning-Marvin Harrison, Steve Young-Jerry Rice, Dan Marino-Mark Clayton and Philip Rivers-Antonio Gates. The two TDs on Sunday staked the Saints to a 14-0 lead that Tampa Bay cut in half with quite a bit of assistance from the New Orleans defense.
The Bucs had managed just one first down against the NFL’s’ 32th-ranked defense until a pair of personal fouls on cornerback Kyle Wilson for hits on receivers following incomplete passes helped Winston jumpstart Tampa Bay early in the second quarter. A defensive holding call against cornerback Brandon Browner on third down hurt, too, extending an 80-yard drive Doug Martin finished with a 14-yard TD run on the next play.
Winston completed 18 of 32 passes for 182 yards, including an 11-yard TD throw to Humphries midway through the fourth quarter. Martin, the NFL’s second-leading rusher, finished with 81 yards on 11 attempts.
The loss stopped the Bucs, who had won four of six to climb into playoff contention, from climbing over .500 for the first time in three years.