NEW ORLEANS — Jameis Winston needed this. Boy, did he ever. After losing to his draft twin, Titans rookie Marcus Mariota, in Week 1 and throwing a pick-six on his first pass attempt, the Bucs' first-year quarterback had been called a deer in the headlights, a comparison that even doe-eyed creatures probably took offense to.
So all Winston did Sunday was outplay Saints quarterback Drew Brees, throwing for 207 yards and a touchdown, and running for another score in the Bucs' 26-19 win over New Orleans at the Superdome.
"It would've been easy for us to say, 'Oh, we got blown out last week, let's go in the tank,' " Winston said. "No, those guys fought hard, bounced back, and we got us a win against a very good team."
The Bucs defense needed this. Having made Mariota look like Dan Marino in a 42-14 loss, it pressured Brees all afternoon. Defensive end Jacquies Smith sacked him three times and forced him into two fumbles, once with a crushing blow in the first half that limited Brees' ability to throw deep.
Tampa Bay also took the ball away three times, including an interception and a forced fumble by former Bears safety Chris Conte. "Mouthwash" is how defensive tackle Gerald McCoy described it.
"It just takes one win to get the bad taste out of our mouth," McCoy said. "One win like that, people forget about Week 1."
Lovie Smith needed this. Having lost 15 of his first 17 games with the Bucs, the bloom was off the rose of the coach after the loss to the Titans in the home opener. Smith knew his 2015 team was better than that and said it would prove it.
"Disappointed. Angry. Anxious to go back," Smith said of his team's mood last week.
"After you lose one like that, there is a lot on that next game for us to see who exactly we are. I knew we were a better football team than that."
The victory over the Saints (0-2) evened the Bucs' record at 1-1 and left Tampa Bay a game behind the Falcons and Panthers in the NFC South.
Offensive guard Logan Mankins said he was pleased when players came to work last Monday feeling lousy about the Titans loss and wanting to do something about it.
"I think a lot of guys took it personal," Mankins said. "We grinded it out (last) week. We had good practices because I think guys were really wanting to fight back from that first game.
"That's the team we can be. … But we found a way to win (Sunday). Last year we would've probably found a way to lose it."
Winston might have made the biggest improvement. He had been called, among other things, a deer in the headlights by Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton for his disappointing debut last week.
With his grandmother Myrtle Winston watching him play Sunday for one of the few times ever in person, Winston took over the game after the Saints had taken a 7-3 lead on Mark Ingram's 11-yard touchdown run with 1:23 left in the second quarter.
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On the Bucs' next series, Winston threw a strike to Vincent Jackson on third and 16 for a first down that might have been the play of the game. He then connected with Louis Murphy for 23 yards before making a perfect 15-yard throw to Jackson in the back of the end zone with 12 seconds before halftime.
"For him to walk us down there and get a touchdown, it really set momentum up for us," Smith said.
By the time the Saints got the ball again, Winston had led the Bucs back to the end zone again. He needed only four plays to drive the Bucs 80 yards after taking the second-half kickoff, this time rolling to his left and rushing 1 yard for the touchdown.
"That's 14 points back to back, so that was big," Winston said.
Rookie Kyle Brindza kicked four field goals, including one set up by a Winston 54-yard heave to Murphy off his back foot while rolling to his right.
But the Bucs' 23-7 lead nearly disappeared in the final 10:17 of the game. Winston and running back Doug Martin lost fumbles. It took a fumble recovery by defensive Henry Melton late in the fourth quarter to preserve the lead, and Brees was still firing toward the end zone for the potential tying touchdown when time expired.
"I might not go to sleep, it's so exciting," Winston said.