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Late TDs Keep Saints' Playoff Hopes Alive

Monday, December 20, 2004; Page D10

SAINTS 21

BUCS 17

TAMPA, Dec. 19 -- The New Orleans Saints refuse to give up on their season.


Michael Lewis returns a punt 53 yards, helping New Orleans overcome a 10-point, 4th-quarter deficit. (Chris O'meara -- AP)

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Aaron Brooks threw two touchdown passes in the final four minutes, including a seven-yarder to Donte Stallworth with 32 seconds left, to keep the Saints' playoff hopes alive Sunday with a 21-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It was the second straight comeback win for New Orleans (6-8), which the previous week overcame a 10-point deficit against Dallas to stop a three-game losing streak.

The victory lifted the Saints into a tie with Carolina and St. Louis for the last wild-card spot in the weak NFC. The Bucs (5-9) became the first team to win the Super Bowl and then post consecutive losing records the next two seasons.

Michael Lewis returned a punt 53 yards to the Tampa Bay 4 to set up Brooks's touchdown pass to Joe Horn, which trimmed a 10-point Bucs lead to 17-14 with 3 minutes 33 seconds to go. On the first play of the Bucs' next possession, the Saints' Will Smith forced a Michael Pittman fumble and Fakhir Brown recovered at the Tampa Bay 41.

Eight plays later, Brooks threw to Stallworth, who squeezed between defenders Ronde Barber and Dexter Jackson to get into the end zone. Brooks, who scrambled for 13 yards on fourth and 12 to keep the winning drive alive, finished 14 of 21 for 169 yards.

Brian Griese completed 13 of 22 passes for 118 yards for Tampa Bay, which lost two fumbles in addition to an interception in the end zone.


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