TAMPA — The Bucs defense had enough trouble stopping the Saints Sunday, they didn’t need the offense to make it easy for Drew Brees.
The Pro Bowl quarterback threw three touchdown passes and saw his team take a 20-0 lead before coasting to a 34-17 win over the Bucs on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
Brees’ first TD pass came after O.J. Howard lost control of a pass from Jameis Winston and the ball was intercepted by linebacker Demario Davis at the Tampa Bay 16-yard line.
Winston threw four interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown by safety Marcus Williams. Winston appeared to injure his left leg on the play but remained in the game. His last pick came in the end zone by P.J. Williams as he tried to connect with Mike Evans late in the fourth quarter.
The 18 interceptions by Winston matched a career-high with six games left to play.
The loss dropped the Bucs to 3-7 on the season while the Saints improved to 8-2.
Can’t blame Vernon Hargreaves
The Bucs waived their most experienced starting defensive back, who was claimed by the Houston Texans.
Going with the kids is no way to make a living against Brees. The Bucs defense couldn’t get off the field and Brees rarely missed his target.
New Orleans held the ball for more than 20 minutes in the first half and the Bucs had only four offensive snaps in the first quarter.
Another empty challenge
Bruce Arians needs to just keep the replay challenge flag in his pocket.
With the Bucs trailing 27-17 but driving early in the third quarter, Evans appeared to have gotten a first down after catching a pass from Winston at the Saints 41 on fourth-and-1. But officials called him for offensive pass interference.
Arians challenged the call, and replays showed that Evans shoved Saints cornerback P.J. Williams to the ground. But that happened at the line of scrimmage, well within the five yards that there can be contact between the receiver and defensive back.
After the instant replay review, referee Bradley Rogers upheld the original call on the field and the Bucs were forced to punt.
What’s up with O.J. Howard?
This has been a tough year for Howard, who doesn’t seem to have the same focus as a football player.
In the season opener, Howard fumbled against the 49ers deep in San Francisco territory. He also had a high pass bounce off his hands for an interception. Then in the first half Sunday against the Saints, Howard failed to secure a pass from Winston that he lost control of football that officially was ruled an interception by Davis, who returned it to the Tampa Bay 16 yard line.
On the next play, quarterback Brees found Thomas all alone in the end zone for a touchdown and a 13-0 lead.
Injuries have been part of Howard’s story. He missed two games with a hamstring injury. But he only has one touchdown reception, and that came last week in a win over the Cardinals.
Welcome back, Cam Brate
Earlier this week, Bruce Arians commented on how unselfish Brate has been. Entering Sunday’s game, Brate had only been targeted 21 times this season. But on Sunday against the Saints, Brate was Winston’s favorite receiver. He had a career-high 10 receptions for 73 yards, the most by a tight end in Bucs history.
The Bucs had only four offensive plays in the first quarter. Their offense couldn’t stay on the field and the defense couldn’t get the ball back to them. The Saints had a huge edge in time of possession 21:05 to 8:55 in the first half. Four turnovers, of course, only adds to that imbalance.
Contact Rick Stroud at email@example.com. Follow @NFLStroud