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Bucs knock off Saints to stay tied atop NFC South

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The Buccaneers (8-5) remain tied with the Falcons atop the NFC South after knocking off the Saints (5-8) at home. Here's what we learned from Tampa Bay's 16-11 win over New Orleans:

1. It wasn't pretty. It didn't need to be. Playing their biggest regular-season game since 2010, Tampa Bay delivered. With the Saints driving for a potential game-winning touchdown, Bucs safety Keith Tandy picked off Drew Brees with 57 seconds left to seal Sunday's defensively-charged showdown. Authoring its fifth consecutive victory, Tampa won displaying many of the traits present in victories over Chicago, Kansas City, Seattle and San Diego. Allowing 12.3 points per game since Week 10, the Bucs smothered a Saints attack that came into the day averaging 428.7 yards per tilt, the second-best mark in franchise history. Tampa coaxed Brees into three killer interceptions, though, including the game-winner by Tandy, a first-quarter pick by rookie corner Vernon Hargreaves and a Brent Grimes takeaway that snuffed out another fourth-quarter march. As much as we talk about Jameis Winston, the Bucs quarterback took a back seat on Sunday to a Mike Smith-led defense that has transformed itself over the past month.

2. Winston's 184 yards through the air marked his third-lowest output all year, erasing the memory of a fast start that saw the Bucs quarterback author two field-goal drives and a touchdown march out of the gate to put Tampa up 13-0. That production didn't translate down the stretch as Winston and the Bucs generated just 94 total yards in the second half. Running back Doug Martin ran for just 2.9 yards per attempt and wideout Mike Evans was held to 42 yards through the air. One bright spot: Charles Sims looked healthy in his return from a 10-week knee injury.

3. The Bucs suffered a disastrous three-play stretch before the half: After New Orleans punched in a field to cut Tampa's lead to 13-3, Bucs return man Josh Huff mistakenly tapped the ball on the kickoff just before it skirted out of bounds at Tampa's one-yard line. One play later, Saints pass rusher Paul Kruger stuffed Doug Martin in his own end zone for a safety to make it 13-5. Then, after the safety, Bucs punter Bryan Anger sent a free kick out of bounds, handing the Saints the ball at midfield in a rarely seen offering from the NFL rulebook. New Orleans turned that gift into a 14-play, 35-yard field goal march to make it 13-8 at the half, altering the complexion of this game down the stretch.

4. This game meant everything to the Bucs, who remain tied with the Falcons (8-5) atop the NFC South and finish the year with the Cowboys, New Orleans and Panthers. The game meant less to the fading Saints, who play the Cardinals, Bucs and Falcons and need to go 3-0 to prevent their third-straight losing season.

5. We're headed for an offseason of Roberto Aguayo "is in a new place mentally" articles, but the Bucs rookie kicker helped his case on Sunday, nailing field goals of 41, 39 and 26 yards. Still, it's fair to note that Tampa didn't trust Aguayo to try a 53-yarder with the Bucs up 16-11 with two-plus minutes to play.

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