Saints Fumble Away Game

By Brett Martel
The Associated Press
Sunday, January 2, 2011; 11:29 PM

NEW ORLEANS -- Josh Freeman and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can at least take pride in more than doubling last season's win total and beating the defending champs on their own turf.

Freeman passed for two touchdowns and the Buccaneers defeated the New Orleans Saints 23-13 on Sunday, but were later eliminated from the postseason when Green Bay beat Chicago to clinch the final NFC playoff spot.

"It's rough," Freeman said as he awaited results of later games that ultimately doomed the Bucs (10-6) to an earlier vacation than they wanted. "We had a good team this year. You hate to say goodbye right now."

Freeman passed for 255 yards, including a 2-yard toss to rookie Dezmon Briscoe in the back of the end zone, and an 18-yard TD to rookie Mike Williams on fourth-and-short late in the third quarter.

Connor Barth hit three field goals, the third from 48 yards to give the Bucs a two-score lead with 4:01 to go.

"These young guys are stepping up. Some of these guys I barely even know," Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris said. "They play fast, they play hard, they play consistent and they play for each other."

Even though the Bucs missed the playoffs, Freeman said, winning 10 games was "a great accomplishment and is something we can build upon."

Reggie Bush had 70 yards rushing and 55 yards receiving for the Saints (11-5), who were locked into the fifth playoff seed in the NFC by Atlanta's 31-10 win over Carolina and pulled several starters in an anticlimactic fourth quarter.

"We did the right thing, the smart thing. And that's part of the reason why some guys didn't play today when they probably could have," said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who left the game with the Saints down by only one touchdown. "You're thinking about, 'How can we put ourselves in the best position to succeed this next week?'"

The Saints, who have never won a postseason road game, open the playoffs Saturday at Seattle, which won the NFC West by beating St. Louis on Sunday night.

Freeman, who as a rookie led the Bucs to a stunning upset in New Orleans late last season, completed 81 percent of his passes (21 of 26) and was not intercepted to finish with a quarterback rating of 133.2.

LeGarrette Blount ran for 66 yards to finish his rookie campaign with 1,007 yards rushing.

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