|National Football League|
Brees leads Saints over Bucs, 41-0
By BRETT MARTEL
Brees passed for 307 yards and four touchdowns, and the Saints recorded their first shutout in 17 years in a 41-0 victory over the Buccaneers on Sunday, virtually ending Tampa Bay's already slim playoff hopes.
Freeman endured one of his worst outings of the season for Tampa Bay (6-8), throwing four interceptions and losing a fumble. Jabari Greer made two interceptions, Rafael Bush and Isa Abdul-Quddus the others. Cameron Jordan forced Freeman's fumble on a sack and recovered it.
New Orleans (6-8) also bottled up standout rookie running back Doug Martin, holding him to 16 yards on nine carries as the Buccaneers lost for the fourth straight time.
Although many fans had left in the fourth quarter, those remaining made as much noise as they could as the Saints allowed Tampa Bay to get into the red zone before preserving the club's first shutout since a 12-0 win in the 1995 season finale against the Jets in New York.
Brees had been in a bit of a rut during New Orleans' recent three-game skid, throwing nine interceptions during that stretch. That he would snap out of it against Tampa Bay made sense; the Bucs entered the game giving up 311.6 yards per game. Brees eclipsed 200 yards by halftime but eased off after his 34-yard touchdown strike to Morgan in the second half, when the Saints looked to run down the clock.
Ingram finished with 90 yards rushing and the Saints had their third-best total on the ground this season with 149 yards against a Tampa Bay rushing defense that came in first in the league, allowing 78.2 yards per game.
Brees completed 12 of his first 13 passes for 132 yards and his 9-yard touchdown over the middle Thomas.
He marched the Saints inside the Tampa Bay 5 before the second drive stalled with a false start penalty, followed by his second incompletion, which led to a field goal early in the second quarter.
At that point, New Orleans had outgained the Bucs 170-63 and had a 9-2 advantage in first downs.
The Bucs' squandered a chance to close the gap when Freeman missed badly on two straight passes, the first to an open Mike Williams in the end zone. The next was his second interception of the first half. Reserve safety Rafael Bush, who wears No. 25 as Reggie Bush once did, grabbed Freeman's errant pass at the 9 and looked like his namesake during a 40-yard return, coming to a complete stop near sideline to his left, then going backward and laterally to find more running room.
The Saints capitalized, thanks in part Brees completing a pass as he was flatted to Marques Colston for a drive-extending, 21-yard gain. That helped set up Brees' second TD toss, a 2-yarder to Sproles to make it 17-0.
Brees managed to put one more scoring drive together after Sproles returned a punt 37 yards to the Tampa Bay 38 with 1:04 left. Moore's 8-yard TD grab made it 24-0 at halftime, at which point Brees was 19 of 29 for 216 yards and three scores.
Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL
Updated December 16, 2012