It was a day when much of the Bucs' struggles were self-inflicted thanks to 15 penalties, their most in a game since the second week of 2003. The flags cost Tampa Bay 113 yards (not counting several big gains that were wiped out) and five Saints first downs, including on a hands-to-the-face call on CB Johnthan Banks on third down in overtime that gave a fresh set of downs to New Orleans on its winning drive.
"(Penalties) really hurt us," coach Lovie Smith said. "I can think of about three that, you are not trying to do them, of course, but (hands to the face) are ones that you just can't make. ... Like every game, there are some calls that go against you. I saw things differently on a few calls."
The Bucs' offensive line accounted for at least five penalties - two holds, an illegal formation, an illegal use of hands and a false start - and players took issue with some of the flags thrown against them.
"We had some that were pretty questionable," said GLogan Mankins, called for a hold. "I'm not going to say anything bad about the referees because I'll get fined. Everyone's allowed to get criticized but them, I guess."
Twice the Bucs were flagged for excessive celebrations after touchdowns - against WR Louis Murphy and LB Danny Lansanah - which forced them to kick off from their 20-yard line. Lansanah's penalty set up a short field that led to a Saints touchdown drive.
The Bucs opened the season in control of penalties, averaging four for 22 yards in their first two games. In the past three, however, they have averaged 12 penalties for 91 yards.
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Danny takes a dive for second pick-6
The last time Bucs LB Danny Lansanah went to the Superdome, he got on the field on special teams for his first NFL appearance in more than five years. On Sunday he had a much more central role in a game, picking off a Drew Brees pass in the third quarter and returning it 33 yards for a touchdown, his second pick-six of the season.
"The (defensive) line ... got a hit on the quarterback and made him throw a bad pass," Lansanah said. "I saw the ball in the air and caught it. After that, I'm thinking touchdown. We practice it all the time, and I was lucky enough to get it in."
DEMichael Johnson got a hand on Brees as he threw, and Lansanah sped down the sideline and made a diving flip into the end zone, part of a celebration that drew a 15-yard penalty. He also found the end zone late in the Bucs' loss at Atlanta, intercepting backup T.J. Yates.
"We talk about it every day, emphasizing it. That's a big game-changer if you can get turnovers," Lansanah said. "We did that (Sunday), but (the Saints) came out with one big play more than us."
After just one interception in their first four games, the Bucs had three Sunday, with cornerbacks Johnthan Banks and Alterraun Verner also picking off Brees. It was the first three-interception game for Brees since 2012. He had just two in the previous 60 games.
"Each one of them was big," coach Lovie Smith said. "We had opportunities for a couple, at least about two or three more that we weren't able to convert on. Danny Lansanah's touchdown is even better. If we just keep playing ball like that, eventually it will go our way."
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One sloppy series is the tipping point
The low point in the Bucs' late-game struggles - which saw them lose an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter - was the implosion of a drive that saw penalties and mistakes give the Saints a critical safety.
"It was not a good series for us," QB Mike Glennon said. "We ... obviously would have loved to move the ball and get points and eventually end the game. Between the penalties and everything else, the drive was not well-executed. That's something we will look at, to correct the mistakes and get better at it."
The Bucs led 31-26 with 9:28 left in the fourth and started a drive from their 20-yard line. Things started unraveling when RT Demar Dotson was flagged for holding, which backed them up to their 10.
They avoided one disaster when C Evan Dietrich-Smith snapped the ball while WR Vincent Jackson was in motion in front of the quarterback, the ball bounced off Jackson's shoulder and Glennon fell on the loose ball at the 2. A delay of game penalty pushed the Bucs back to their 1, and a false start left them feet from their end zone. A Doug Martinrun for no gain set up third and 29 from their 1.
The offensive line missed a stunt that sent DE Junior Galette unblocked to Glennon, whom he sacked in the end zone for a safety, pulling the Saints within a field goal, which they earned on their ensuing drive.
"It was more of a situation where the guys just didn't get it done," Dotson said. "We had every opportunity to win this football game. ... We just didn't finish. We let the game slip through our hands."
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Prolific receivers a plus
Even with rookie WR Mike Evans sidelined by a groin injury, the Bucs' receivers stepped up in a big way, helping QB Mike Glennon keep up with the Saints' potent offense until the very end.
"I had an assignment to do a post, and it broke down, so I scrambled," said rookie Robert Herron, whose 9-yard touchdown catch gave the Bucs an 11-point lead at 31-20 early in the fourth quarter. "I saw Mike looking at me, just stayed alive and made a play."
Herron wasn't the only receiver catching his first touchdown pass as a Buc. Louis Murphy, building off a 99-yard debut the previous week, caught a 20-yard toe-tap touchdown pass with 20 seconds left in the first half.
The biggest plays of the passing game came from veteran Vincent Jackson, who had his best game of 2014 with 144 yards on eight catches. Of those, 34 yards came on an improvised play in which Glennon, scrambling, lobbed a pass back toward the middle of the field to Jackson, setting up Herron's touchdown.
"Our offense, from the second quarter on, was really moving the ball well," said Glennon, who finished 19-for-32 for 249 yards and two touchdowns. "We had (the Saints) right where we wanted them. ... When you're playing the best, you have to play all 60 minutes."
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David leads defense in two ways
Trying to get their defensive players on the right page, the Bucs put their play-calling in the hands of LB Lavonte David, who had handled those duties the past two years and finished with a game-high 14 tackles Sunday.
"First two years I did it, so I was kind of used to it. I had to get back in the groove of it," said David, who took on a role that had been held by middle linebackersMason Foster and, in the previous two weeks, Dane Fletcher. "(Sunday) was a good thing to get it started, and we'll see how it goes from here. I'm used to it. It's just taking on a bigger responsibility."
Two of David's tackles were for losses, the biggest in the fourth quarter as the Saints, down three points, were driving for a go-ahead touchdown. On second down at the Bucs 26-yard line, Drew Brees threw a screen pass to RB Pierre Thomas, and David dropped Thomas in the open field for an 8-yard loss. That led to the Saints having to settle for a field goal to tie it at 31.
"When it came down to the nitty-gritty, we didn't get it done defensively," David said. "We have to do a better job."
David said the defense needs to be better at getting off the field on third down. The Saints converted 5 of 8 third downs after halftime after being 1-of-5 in the first half. And in overtime, New Orleans was methodical in a 12-play, 80-yard drive for the winning touchdown.
"That last drive in overtime, they got the running game going and we couldn't stop it," David said. "They kept running down our throat. It's sad to say it, but they did."
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- Bucs K Patrick Murray connected on a 55-yard field goal late in the second quarter, matching the fourth-longest field goal in franchise history. It was his second from 50-plus yards in as many weeks, following a 50-yarder in the win at Pittsburgh. "Lovie (Smith) asked me before we kicked it, 'Do we have it?' and I told him yes. I just did my job," Murray said.
- Drew Brees' 35 completions and 57 pass attempts tie for the third-most by a Bucs opponent, behind the Vikings' Steve Dils (37/62) in 1981 and the Raiders' Carson Palmer (39/61) in 2012. It's also the most pass attempts by Brees in a game since November 2008. And 57 pass attempts without giving up a sack? That had happened only four times in the NFL in the past 12 years.
- The NFC South is the only division to have three teams with losing records. Only Carolina (3-2) has more wins than losses.