Saints keep playoff hopes alive with win over Buccaneers

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Despite a season’s worth of inconsistency, playoff hopes for the New Orleans Saints (8-8) aren’t dead yet. With Sunday’s 23-13 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8), Dennis Allen’s squad kept its chances at an NFC South title alive.

How it happened

For the first time this year, New Orleans received the opening kicked off and actually turned it into points. Derek Carr connected with Juwan Johnson on a four-yard touchdown to cap off the 14-play drive and take a 7-0 lead.

With the defense holding firm for the next three possessions, along with an interception by defensive back Alontae Taylor, the Saints upped their lead with a 22-yard Taysom Hill touchdown reception. A field goal off the foot of Blake Grupe made it a 17-0 lead going into halftime.

After the break, Tampa Bay opened with a punt before getting the ball back and fumbling it. The second turnover of the game for the Saints had Mississippi written all over it as it was forced by former Mississippi State defensive back Jonathan Abram and recovered by Brandon High School alum Demario Davis. The turnover was cashed in on another field goal by Grupe, making the score 20-0 with 4:25 left in the third.

The Buccaneers found some steam in the fourth quarter as Baker Mayfield found wide receiver Trey Palmer from 22 yards out to cut the lead to two possessions with just under eight minutes remaining. New Orleans then converted another field goal to extend the lead to 23-7.

Tampa then fumbled away the next possession, this time being recovered by Abram. Forcing a stop, Mayfield and company got the ball back again and turned it into a Chris Godwin touchdown before failing on the two-point attempt. As Foster Moreau recovered the onside kick, the Saints left Raymond James Stadium with a much-needed victory.

What the coach said

After the game, Allen gave all three units credit but said more could have been done. Nevertheless, a win’s a win and this is one the Saints had to have to maintain their chances of winning the NFC South.

“Good team win for our football team. Still feels like there are things we left out there on the field, but takeaways were big things for us during the game. I’m proud of our guys for continuing to play,” Allen said. “Never question the mindset of toughness of our team… When we faced some adversity, we knew we had to win this game and were coming here for the win. Confidence is born from demonstrated ability.”

On top of forced fumble and fumble recovery, Abram made the most of another opportunity after being promoted back from the practice squad earlier this month. The Columbia native also notched five solo tackles and an interception.

Bottom line

Week 18 is huge for New Orleans. If they beat division rival Atlanta, who they lost to 24-15 on Nov. 26, and Tampa Bay loses to Carolina, the Saints will be back in the playoffs for the first time in three seasons. If they lose, all postseason hopes are quickly diminished.

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