NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Jabari Greer made a leaping, twisting interception of Josh Freeman's short pass to the right flat, stalling a first-quarter drive deep into New Orleans Saints territory.
In the fourth quarter, Greer outran receiver Tiquan Underwood along the sideline to pick off Freeman's deep pass to the end zone.
In between, the rest of New Orleans' defense did about everything right to secure the franchise's first shutout in 17 years, while Drew Brees and the Saints' offense made their share of big plays in a 41-0 rout of the Tampa Bay on Sunday, eliminating the Buccaneers from playoff contention.
What was easily New Orleans' most complete performance of the season probably came too late, with the Saints (6-8) needing to win out and needing four teams to lose their last two games to sneak into the last NFC wild card spot. Yet, for Greer, playoff possibilities were beside the point.
"We are accountable to one another and no matter what situation we're in, we're going to band together," Greer said. "We were going to play for the men in our locker room and the fleur-de-lis on our helmet, and that's what we did."
New Orleans' defense produced five turnovers in all, four on interceptions of Freeman and one on defensive end Cameron Jordan's strip and recovery on his sack of Freeman.
The fans who stayed in the Superdome until the end got an additional moment to celebrate as the Saints stopped Tampa Bay one last time at the New Orleans 10, preserving the club's first shutout since a 12-0 win in the 1995 season finale against the Jets in New York.
The shutout meant a lot to a unit that came in ranked last in the league, in large part because of high yardage totals allowed early in the season while adjusting to the scheme of new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
"We've come a long way. Our defense the first four or five games was on pace to be one of the worst defenses ever," Saints linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. "It's just good to finally get a game to where we can be like, 'All right, defense. This is us. This is what we're really all about.'"
The Saints' offense also looked more like the unit that set a slew of records last season.
Brees passed for 307 yards and four touchdowns. He avoided an interception for the first time in three games and connected on his scoring passes with tight end David Thomas, running back Darren Sproles and receivers Lance Moore and Joe Morgan. Mark Ingram added an 11-yard touchdown run.
"Even though maybe that Super Bowl trophy can't be ours this year, we still have a lot to play for," Brees said. "We have a very prideful group of guys, but also we have a group of guys that understand the big picture, and that is that we're going to be together for a long time and we can start building the foundation of something now that will carry over for years to come."
Freeman by contrast, was pulled in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach.
"It's my job to make sure everybody is educated as to what the play is. I've got to do a better job," Freeman said. "Some of those turnovers were really odd. Chalk it up to miscommunication."
Rafael Bush intercepted a pass thrown directly at him at the New Orleans 9, returning it 40 yards to set up a Saints touchdown drive. Isa Abdul-Quddus intercepted a long pass that Freeman seemingly threw up for grabs.
New Orleans also bottled up standout rookie running back Doug Martin, holding him to 16 yards on nine carries as the Buccaneers lost for the fourth straight time and suffered by far their most lopsided drubbing this season.
"We got our butts whipped, and that's it," Bucs guard Donald Penn said . "You can't sugarcoat it. We didn't perform today, and it's really tough and frustrating because we have so much talent."
The Saints will still be alive for a playoff berth when they kick off at Dallas next Sunday, but will have to finish in a multi-team tie at 8-8, which would require several other teams to lose their last two games. While the Bucs could finish 8-8, they would lose all possible tiebreakers.
Brees had been intercepted nine times during New Orleans' recent three-game skid. That he would rebound well against Tampa Bay made sense; the Bucs came in giving up a league-worst 311.6 yards per game. Brees eclipsed 200 yards by halftime but eased off after his 34-yard touchdown to Morgan in the second half.
Brees finished with more than 300 yards passing and four TDs for the 17th time in his career, passing Dan Marino (16) for the most times in NFL history.
Ingram finished with 90 yards rushing and the Saints had their third-best total on the ground this season with 149 yards against a Tampa Bay rushing defense that came in first in the league, allowing 78.2 yards per game.
NOTES: The Saints had a halftime presentation for former left tackle Willie Roaf, who last summer became only the second Saints player inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Roaf was given the customary Hall of Fame ring as he stood behind his bronze bust, which will be returned to Canton. The only other Saints Hall of Famer is linebacker Rickey Jackson, inducted in 2010. ... The Bucs were shut out for the first time since Sept. 27, 2009, against the New York Giants.
MAY 22 This post was written the day after the second line shooting in NOLA, by Brentin Mock. Mock is a friend of Deb "Big Red" Cotton, a blogger who was shot in the back and was seriously injured. It is a raw, emotional piece of writing, something the writer obviously felt he needed to get off his chest. But it raises questions that can't be easily dismissed, and might give some insight into where the source of these events truly is.
MAY 22 In this Baton Rouge Business Report post, Rolfe McCollister considers the privatization of bus service in Baton Rouge. After decades of under-funding, it is a mess, and although a tax (partially) passed last year, improvement hasn't happened yet. McCollister apparently feels it is time to let private business get in on the transit business.
MAY 22 This post on Bayou Buzz by Jeff Crouere urges the defeat of a bill that would grant modest pay increases over the next several years to the state's judges and clerks of court. The state is in no position to fund pay hikes, Crouere argues, with the pay increases costing a total of $9 million over several years. It sends the wrong message to the (proverbial) hard-working people of Louisiana, he says.
MAY 22 The Advocate reports here that State Treasurer John Kennedy is complaining about a meeting of the corporation that oversees the state's tobacco settlement. The Governor wanted it restructured, and he has some support, but not a lot. The corporation agreed with his plan, but Kennedy didn't, and it appears that the meeting was noticed in a manner completely different than that of all previous meetings. Kennedy's given to hyperbole, but in this case the fish don't smell too fresh.
MAY 22 In this Advocate story, Carencro Police Chief Carlos Stout says the recent federal indictment of a strip club owner is all wrong. The indictment alleges that drugs and prostitution went on with impunity because club staff made arrangements with "local" police. Stout says it never happened, and while his cops do work security in the parking lot, they're not allowed inside.
MAY 22 This amusing post in DIG Baton Rouge recounts an ad that ran on Craig's List recently; the advertiser was seeking tenants for a Beauregard Town house. He knew his market, and wrote an ad that the most ironical hipster couldn't resist. Apparently, he really did know his market, because the ad worked like a charm.
MAY 22 In this post in The Lens, Mark Moseley comments on the rhetoric Gov. Jindal employed in trying to save his tax "reform" package. One interesting point concerns Jindal's use of his brother, Nikesh, in a little story. Nikesh left Louisiana because of his inability to get a decent job, the story goes, but the story won't hold water: Nikesh lives in DC, which has an income tax level comparable to Louisiana, Moseley says. If income taxes caused the dismal situation, it should exist in DC too. Right?
MAY 22 This post by columnist John Maginnis traces the trajectory of the bill that would fund construction at community and technical colleges -- and bypass the Board of Regents and traditional higher ed funding mechanisms. Sure, it will bust the legislature's self-imposed debt limit, but some leges feel that there's more need (because there is more growth) in the community and technical college area than in the university area, he says.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.