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Brees' big game too much for Bucs to handle

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Saints fans partied near debris piles and leaning fences -- the lingering evidence of Hurricane Gustav's path through New Orleans last week.

The Louisiana Superdome was in good shape, however, as was the team that calls the enduring and iconic stadium home.

Drew Brees passed for 343 yards and three touchdowns against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, giving fans already jubilant about their team's quick return from Gustav a 24-20 season-
opening triumph to celebrate as well.

"It was a great way to start the season off," Brees said. "Obviously, coming off a week where everyone was displaced from their homes here in New Orleans, and coming back and obviously having the fans back in full force -- it was awesome."

Tampa Bay had a shot to win the brutally physical, back-and-forth contest until linebacker Scott Fujita intercepted Jeff Garcia's fourth-down pass, intended for Ike Hilliard, just inside the Saints' 20-yard line with about 40 seconds to go.

"I lost track of where the linebacker was," Garcia said. "If I had to do it all over again I probably would have gone outside and given Antonio [Bryant] a shot."

Brees' scoring passes went for 39 yards to David Patten, 84 yards to Devery Henderson and 42 yards to Reggie Bush, with Bush's score putting the Saints in the lead for good in the fourth quarter.

Garcia was 24-of-41 for 221 yards, including a 2-yard TD pass to Hilliard, which gave the Bucs a brief 20-17 lead.

Tampa Bay's offense produced only one touchdown. The Bucs' defense got the other in the first quarter, when blitzing linebacker Barrett Ruud hit Brees as he threw, causing a fluttering pass that Phillip Buchanon intercepted and returned 26 yards.

"Credit to New Orleans, but we missed some routine plays we normally make," Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden said. "It was bad coaching and bad execution."

Bush, who vowed to come back strong from a down second season in which he never had a gain longer than 25 yards, had 112 yards receiving and 51 yards rushing. He did most of the work on the winning drive, starting with a 29-yard gain on a short reception over the middle.

His touchdown came on a third-down swing pass on which he juked Jermaine Phillips at the 25 and stiff-armed Buchanon at the 5 before diving for the pylon. Bush was close to stepping out of bounds, but Tampa Bay did not challenge the call.

Making the score even more gratifying for Bush was the fact Phillips had been in his face one play earlier.

"The play before he was talking trash and the next play he was on my highlight tape," Bush said.

After sitting out all four preseason games, flamboyant tight end Jeremy Shockey made his debut for New Orleans and had the crowd chanting his name while he celebrated a tough 10-yard catch on third down. The gain, just a few plays after his 26-yard reception, set up Martin Gramatica's field goal late in the third quarter that tied it at 10.

Shockey finished with six catches for 54 yards.

Henderson's TD reception, a career-long catch for him, came after Brees had drawn the Bucs offside and then took a shot downfield for his fastest receiver, who was wide open after Ronde Barber fell down.

"When they jumped offside it was a no-brainer" to throw deep, Brees said.

The play put the Saints up 17-13 in the final minute of the third quarter.

"We don't give up explosive plays, but they were able to get a couple today," Gruden said. "They caught us in a couple man-to-man situations and executed them perfectly."

Tampa Bay finally converted its first third down early in the fourth quarter on Joey Galloway's 13-yard reception, which extended an 11-play, 73-yard drive that ended with Hilliard's score with 10:43 left.

Tampa Bay's Earnest Graham led all rushers with 91 yards on 10 carries. His career-long 46-yard gain, on which he broke four tackles, set up Matt Bryant's 33-yard field goal that gave the Bucs a 13-10 lead in the third quarter.

Game notes
Several Saints left the game with various injuries, including safety Roman Harper, cornerback Randall Gay and lineman Antwan Lake (left groin). Payton did not specify some of the injuries other than to say they appeared minor. ... Deuce McAllister dressed for the game but did not play, as expected, after missing some practice because of tenderness in his surgically repaired left knee. ... Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks left the game with a hamstring injury in the third quarter. ... Charles Grant and Bobby McCray each had one sack for New Orleans. ... Ruud had a game-high 10 tackles for Tampa Bay. ... Jonathan Vilma had nine tackles for New Orleans.

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