TAMPA — The Bucs defense beat the most prolific offense in the NFL on Sunday by twice stopping the Saints at what they do best: punching the ball in when they're close to the end zone.
Entering Sunday's game, the Saints had scored touchdowns the past seven times they had goal-to-go situations, and they were the NFL's No. 3 red-zone offense, scoring touchdowns on 68 percent of their opportunities when inside the opposing 20.
But the Bucs pulled out a 16-11 win by twice holding the Saints to field goals when they got inside the Tampa Bay 5, including one trip to the 1-yard line when the Bucs were helped by a false start.
"We had to, man. What was the score? That's a touchdown," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "Keeping them out. If they don't score, they don't win. There's not much more to defense: They don't score, they don't win. Coach (Dirk Koetter) talked about getting one more point than the Saints."
Just before halftime, the Saints had first and goal at the 1, down eight and potentially tying the score after a 13-0 Bucs lead. But the Saints had a false start, then Robert Ayers got to Drew Brees for Tampa Bay's only sack, forcing New Orleans to settle for a field goal as the half ended.
"That's huge, and it's something we emphasize throughout the week," Ayers said. "Not letting people into the end zone, it came through today. It's good to see we stood up when we needed to."
Again in the third quarter, the Saints got the Bucs 4 and had a touchdown on the scoreboard, but a replay review showed that Brandin Cooks didn't keep the ball off the ground, and the third-down score was reversed to an incompletion. Instead of taking the lead, the Saints took a field goal to pull within 13-11.
"When we watch this tape, we're going to see it come up time and time again, especially when we get down in the red zone," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "False starts, too many third-and-long situations, and it ended up costing us."
The Bucs defense has been at its toughest with its backs against the wall. In this five-game winning streak, it has given up only two touchdowns in five goal-to-go situations, holding teams to three points instead of seven and getting wins to show for it.
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.