The New Orleans offense took a hit early on when coach Sean Payton was hurt during a sideline collision.
However, four turnovers turned out to be a much bigger factor in the Saints’ 26-20 loss at division rival Tampa Bay yesterday. The win pulled the Buccaneers (4-2) into a first-place tie with the Saints in the NFC South and snapped New Orleans’s four-game winning streak.
Josh Freeman threw for 303 yards and two touchdowns for Tampa Bay and Earnest Graham rushed for 109 yards in place of injured starter LeGarrette Blount. All after the Bucs lost by 45 points at San Francisco last week.
“Really, that’s just always our mentality,’’ Freeman said. “You know, we don’t buy into all the hype. We took a step back [last week] and we just prepare to do everything exactly the same.’’
A bad tone was set on the first drive for the Saints when Payton toppled to the ground during a collision with New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham. Payton got his left leg caught under Graham as he was tackled on the sideline, suffering a torn knee ligament and a broken bone.
Graham spent time with Payton after the game and said the coach was in good spirits.
“I talked to him and said ‘My bad,’ ’’ Graham said. “He said, ‘No, it’s not your fault. You’re the one fighting for the first down.’ ’’
Payton spent the second half in the training room watching the game on TV and gave the play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael. Payton will have surgery on the knee today.
Tampa Bay’s defense also held the Saints to fewer than 30 points for only the second time this season and shut down New Orleans’s rushing attack (70 yards on 20 carries).
“I thought they played great today,’’ Drew Brees said of the Bucs. “They took the ball away four times, which if you do that you’re going to win a lot of games. We gave it away four times. The fact of the matter is that will get you beat.’’
The Saints had a chance to take the lead late, but Brees was intercepted in the end zone on a fourth-down pass. Brees (29 of 45, 383 yards) became the first passer in NFL history with four consecutive 350-yard games, but also threw three interceptions.
The Bucs led, 23-13, in the fourth quarter until Mark Ingram’s 12-yard run capped a seven-play, 82-yard drive and pulled the Saints within a field goal. Tampa Bay stretched it to 26-20 with a field goal with 7:54 left.
The Saints’ first drive of the game ended with an Ingram fumble that was scooped up by the Bucs’ Da’Quan Bowers and led to a field goal four plays later.
Except for a few misfired throws early, Freeman was solid throughout, connecting with Arrelious Benn over the middle for a 65-yard score early in the second quarter and with Preston Parker for an 18-yard touchdown that gave Tampa Bay a 20-7 lead with 3:40 left in the first half.
Bucs coach Raheem Morris said he never worried about his team being able to recover from last week’s drubbing to the 49ers.
“It’s not a redemption thing,’’ Morris said. “I had a lot of confidence in this team bouncing back.’’
Eagles 20, Redskins 13
Philadelphia (2-4) raced to a 20-0 second-quarter lead in Landover, Md., and picked off Rex Grossman four times while breaking a four-game losing streak. Kurt Coleman celebrated his injury-induced return to the starting lineup with three interceptions, and the Eagles gave the ball 28 times to LeSean McCoy, who rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown.
Grossman was benched late in the third quarter after throwing his fourth pick. John Beck, making his first regular-season appearance since 2007, got Washington (3-2) back into the game on a 2-yard draw to cap an 80-yard drive that pulled the Redskins within 7 points with 2:44 remaining. But the Eagles ran out the clock on their next possession.
Beck completed 8 of 15 passes for 117 yards. Grossman went 9 of 22 for 143 yards. Washington was outgained, 422-287, and converted only 1 of 10 third-down attempts.
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan wouldn’t declare who will be the starting QB next week against the Panthers, saying that decision will be made Wednesday “after looking at film.’’
Packers 24, Rams 3
Aaron Rodgers threw for three touchdowns, including a career-long 93-yarder to Jordy Nelson, and Green Bay rolled over visiting St. Louis to remain the last unbeaten team in the NFL. Rodgers passed for 310 yards, delivering touchdowns to Nelson, James Jones, and Donald Driver - however, the Packers (6-0) went scoreless in the second half.
Sam Bradford was 28 of 44 for 321 yards with an interception for the Rams (0-5), who were coming off their bye week.
Trailing just 10-0 midway through the second quarter, St. Louis punted and pinned the Packers at their 7. But Rodgers got cornerback Al Harris, a former teammate, to bite on a fake and then threw a rainbow to the wide-open Nelson for an easy score.
Bengals 27, Colts 17
Cornerback Nate Clements blocked a late field goal try that would have tied the game, and Carlos Dunlap returned a Colts fumble 35 yards for the clinching score, helping host Cincinnati hold off winless Indianapolis. The Bengals (4-2) matched their victory total from last season and ended a seven-game losing streak against the Colts, who fell to 0-6 for the fifth time in franchise history.
Curtis Painter rallied Indianapolis from a 20-7 deficit in the second half, getting the Colts in range for Adam Vinatieri’s tying 52-yard field goal try with 5:38 left. But Clements swatted it away. After the Bengals missed a field goal, Pierre Garcon was stripped of the ball after a reception and Dunlap ran it back with 2:22 left.
Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton sent the Bengals into their bye week on an upbeat note by putting together an impressive performance. He was 25 of 32 for 264 yards and one touchdown without a sack, completing 13 straight throws over one stretch.
Falcons 31, Panthers 17
Michael Turner ran for 139 yards and two touchdowns, Matt Ryan punched in the tiebreaking score with seven minutes remaining, and Corey Peters came up with a huge interception that helped host Atlanta (3-3) close out another tough loss for Carolina (1-5).
The Falcons were intent on establishing their trademark running game against a vulnerable defense. Led by Turner, they ran the ball 35 times - 13 more than they threw it. Turner carried a season-high 27 times in reaching 100 yards for the first time since Week 2.
After Matt Bryant’s tying 24-yard field goal and Ryan’s 1-yard TD sneak, Panthers rookie quarterback Cam Newton made his biggest blunder of the day trying to set up a screen pass. Peters, a 305-pound defensive tackle, caught Newton off guard by dropping into coverage. Newton tried to flip a short pass toward running back DeAngelo Williams, but Peters reached up with one hand and picked it off at the Carolina 40. Newton was intercepted three times.
Ravens 29, Texans 14
Joe Flacco threw for 305 yards and ran for a score, Billy Cundiff matched a Ravens record with five field goals, and host Baltimore (4-1) did enough on defense to earn its third straight win and remain in first place in the AFC North.
The Ravens held Houston scoreless over the final 21 minutes and limited standout running back Arian Foster to 49 yards on 15 attempts. Flacco had two turnovers, but he also had gains of 51 and 56 yards among his 20 completions. Cundiff connected from 43, 48, 25, 33, and 40 yards.
Even though the Texans (3-3) were without wide receiver Andre Johnson and linebacker Mario Williams, they led briefly in the third quarter. Houston trailed, 19-14, until the Ravens went on a 66-yard drive that ended with a 4-yard touchdown run by Ricky Williams with 4:01 left.
Bears 39, Vikings 10
Devin Hester set the tone with a 48-yard touchdown catch and scored on a career-best 98-yard kickoff return in the third quarter before leaving with a chest injury, and host Chicago (3-3) routed Minnesota (1-5) to avoid joining the Vikings in the NFC North basement.
Hester’s 48-yard TD pass from Jay Cutler on Chicago’s first possession got the Bears started quickly as they grabbed a 26-3 halftime lead, and Hester’s big kickoff return - his first for a score since 2007 - came directly after Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson scored on a 4-yard run. Hester had five catches for 91 yards.
The Bears held Peterson to 39 yards on 12 carries.
Raiders 24, Browns 17
Jacoby Ford returned a kickoff 101 yards and Kevin Boss caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from punter Shane Lechler on a fake field goal during an emotional win for Oakland (4-2), which was playing its first home game since the death of longtime owner Al Davis.
The victory came with one major concern as starting quarterback Jason Campbell was knocked out late in the first half with a broken collarbone. Campbell landed hard on his shoulder after being hit at the end of a scramble by Cleveland linebackers Chris Gocong and Scott Fujita.
Cleveland (2-3) was held to 65 yards rushing. Colt McCoy completed just 21 of 45 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns, including a 12-yarder to Mohamed Massaquoi that cut it to 24-17 with 1:06 remaining.