Surging Bucs hold off Saints 16-11 for 5th straight victory
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By FRED GOODALL
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Jameis Winston and his supporting cast are anything but the same old Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The second-year quarterback led the streaking Bucs (8-5) to their fifth straight win Sunday, a 16-11 victory over the New Orleans Saints that bolstered the young team's growing confidence and playoff prospects.
"Five in a row is a nice little accomplishment but, we're not where we want to be yet," coach Dirk Koetter said. "We've got bigger fish to fry right now."
Winston had modest statistics, throwing for only 184 yards. He failed to throw a TD pass for the first time in his career, but still outplayed Brees by doing what he's done well during Tampa Bay's surge - take care of the football.
Brees began the day leading the league in completions, attempts, completion percentage, passing yards and TD passes, but failed to throw for a touchdown for the second straight week, the first time he's done that in consecutive games since 2009.
"It's huge. The first time he hasn't thrown a touchdown (against us) and also the first time in Jameis' career he hasn't got one," Koetter said. "I think that also says a lot about how far our guys have come that we can find different ways to win."
Safety Keith Tandy picked off the quarterback's final pass on fourth-and-1 from near midfield in the final minute.
"Right now we're just a confident bunch ... a scary bunch," Tandy said. "Keep it rolling."
The Bucs have won five straight for the first time since 2002 , the season they went on to win their only Super Bowl. The surge has them in contention for their first playoff berth since 2007.
New Orleans (5-8) entered hoping to tighten the NFC South race , but instead dropped three games behind division co-leaders Atlanta and Tampa Bay.
"It's very tough. But we're all professionals here. ... I always believe when you go through moments like these, there's something you're going to be able to pull out that's positive," Brees said.
"You may not feel it or know it, but it will allow you to accomplish the things in the future you want to accomplish. But it's hard to swallow right now."
The Saints ran just six plays in the opening quarter and trailed 13-0 before changing momentum of the game with a field goal, followed by a safety on Tampa Bay's ensuing possession, which started from the Bucs 1 after Josh Huff fumbled the kickoff before the ball rolled out of bounds.
Brees finished 25 of 41 for 257 yards. He also was intercepted three times during last week's 28-13 loss to Detroit.
Winston was 16 of 26 with no interceptions for the Bucs. He had thrown for at least one touchdown in 28 consecutive games to begin his career.
THAT'S A LOT OF YARDS
Brees is in his 11th season with New Orleans and has thrown for more than 4,000 yards every season since signing with the Saints as a free agent in 2006. He reached the plateau again on a completion to Brandon Coleman late in the first half and has 4,000 passing yards through 13 games. Winston is closing in on his second straight 4,000-yard season for the Bucs, who only have one other 4,000-yard season in team history (Josh Freeman 2012).
The Saints had three turnovers and also hurt themselves with 13 accepted penalties for 104 yards, including a false start that backed them on second-and-goal in the final minute of the second quarter. They wound up settling for a field goal that trimmed the Bucs' lead to 13-8 at the half.
They wasted another opportunity to get in the end zone in the third quarter, when Brees' 4-yard throw to Brandin Cooks initially was ruled a touchdown that would have given New Orleans the lead, but was overturned following a replay review, which determined the receiver didn't make a clean catch. Wil Lutz has his third field goal of the game - a 22-yarder - on the next day, cutting Tampa Bay's lead to 13-11 late in the third quarter.
"I thought the penalties certainly hurt us. It ended up being really the difference," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "When we watch this tape we're going to see it come up time and time again. We get down in the red zone, false start. Too many third down and long situations ended up costing us. The turnovers as well."
Saints: Continue stretch in which they'll play three of their final four games on the road, traveling to Arizona on Sunday.
Buccaneers: Play at Dallas on Sunday night.
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Updated December 11, 2016