Ground game helps Saints beat Bucs

by Patrick Flanagan

Drew Brees wanted to take a moment to remind everyone that there can be much more to New Orleans' offense that the prolific, record-setting passing for which he is known.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Drew Brees wanted to take a moment to remind everyone that there can be much more to New Orleans' offense that the prolific, record-setting passing for which he is known.

"People get enamored with our passing statistics at times and they maybe just don't - aren't aware - or don't give our guys enough credit for their ability to rush the ball," Brees said. "The balance is what's key."

It certainly was Sunday, when touchdown runs of 27 yards by Pierre Thomas and 18 yards by Khiry Robinson helped the Saints complete a 37-31 victory over Tampa Bay in overtime.

Even with Mark Ingram missing his third straight game with a broken hand, the Saints (2-3) gained 140 yards on the ground. Meanwhile, Brees looked often for running backs on short passes. Thomas, Robinson and fellow running back Travaris Cadet combined for 228 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns.

When the Saints won the coin toss in overtime and chose to receive, the running game was a big reason New Orleans never allowed the Buccaneers (1-4) to touch the ball. The Saints ran the ball on six of their last eight plays. Robinson ran on the final four plays for 5, 6, 2, and 18 yards to cap a 21-carry, 89-yard day on the ground

"We kept running the ball hard," Saints right tackle Zach Strief said. "As a group, we wore them down at the end."

It was an unfortunate finish for the Buccaneers, who led by 11 on two occasions in the second half, the second time coming early in the fourth quarter after Mike Glennon's 9-yard pass to Robert Herron made it 31-20.

But Tampa Bay's defense, which intercepted Brees three times, was unable to get a stop when needed, and the Bucs' offense collapsed on a key series deep in its own territory in the middle of the fourth quarter, giving up a safety on Junior Galette's sack.

The result was 17 unanswered points by New Orleans.

"I felt like we had an opportunity to steal a game," Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. "Whenever you get up like that on the road, you've got to be able to finish."

Here are some things we learned during the Saints' desperate comeback victory over the Buccaneers:

BREES' BURDEN: As much as Brees seems to love the idea of New Orleans running the ball, he still attempted 57 passes, and some of them were ill-advised. He completed 35 for 371 yards and two TDs, but he also threw three interceptions. His first two picks came on passes he attempted while getting hit. The first set up a Bucs touchdown and the second was returned for a score by linebacker Danny Lansanah.

GLENNON'S GROWTH: Glennon continued to make a case for retaining the starting nod even after Josh McCown returns from his thumb injury. He was 19 for 32 for 249 yards and two touchdowns. While he was intercepted once, he also led a pair of second-half TD drives and had the Bucs in position to win in the Superdome for the first time since 2010. "We had them right where we wanted them," Glennon said. "But at the same time, you have to look at Drew Brees and that offense and realize the game's never over."

DETERMINED DEFENSE: The Saints' defense already ranked 29th when three-time Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd went with a season-ending knee injury. The unit responded with one of its best performances this season. The 314 yards the Saints allowed was their second-lowest total in five games. Meanwhile, previously embattled defensive back Patrick Robinson, who lost his starting job in Week 2, made the Saints' first interception this season.

UNDISCIPLINED BUCS: Tampa Bay might have become the first team to beat Saints coach Sean Payton in the Superdome since the end of the 2010 season - if not for a rash of penalties. The Bucs were penalized 15 times for 113 yards. The offense drew some drive-stalling flags while the defense committed drive-extending infractions, including one in overtime - Johnthan Banks' illegal hands to the face pass after a third-down incompletion - after Brees had thrown what would have been a drive-stalling incompletion.

SAINTS RESOLVE: Despite a disappointing start for a Saints squad that saw itself as a Super Bowl contender in training camp, New Orleans isn't giving up easily. A failure to rally in the fourth quarter would have left New Orleans in last place in the NFC South at 1-4 heading into their bye week. Instead, they're still an unimpressive 2-3, but just a game behind division-leading Carolina. "This was a big confidence builder," Brees said. "This was a game that, man, by winning, could be a defining moment as we look back on this season."