Houston's Ben Tate goes flying over Baltimore's defense on Sunday, and the Texans flew past the Ravens, 43-13.
TAMPA, Fla.— A chipper Jonathan Vilma gave New Orleans’ struggling defense an emotional lift, while Drew Brees did the rest for the suddenly resurgent Saints.
Vilma played for the first time while appealing a season-long suspension for his role in the Saints’ bounty program Sunday, finishing with one quarterback hit but no tackles in a 35-28 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“It’s awesome to have him back,” receiver Lance Moore said. “To go through the things that he’s gone through individually, then to just kind of break through and get a chance to get out there, be with his teammates — he spoke to us last night, got us all fired up, and we had to come out here and play well.”
While it’s debatable how much Vilma’s play impacted the defense, the Saints stopped two threats near the end zone in the second half, including the final drive of the game to preserve New Orleans’ second straight win.
Brees, meanwhile, continued the stellar play the Saints (2-4) are counting on getting from him to turn their season around following an 0-4 start.
Brees extended his NFL record for consecutive games with at least one TD pass to 49, while leading long scoring drives on four straight possessions to turn a 14-point deficit into a 28-21 halftime lead.
Vilma was very business-like, answering questions while getting dressed in the New Orleans locker room. He said he wasn’t sure how many snaps he played, but that he felt fine and believed he was in good enough condition to play an entire game.
The veteran linebacker said he had always believed he’d get an opportunity to play this season.
“Most people didn’t, but it was a long, drawn-out process, and for good or bad, it ended up this way and I was able to be back on the field with my teammates. That was a great feeling,” Vilma said.
“I talked to the team last night. I don’t really want to get into it,” Vilma added. “I think my talk, hopefully it worked since we won today.”
The Saints (2-4) barely had the ball in the third quarter, but took advantage of Tampa Bay’s inability to get into the end zone when Brees put together a 12-play, 95-yard march that Pierre Thomas finished with a 5-yard TD run that made it 35-21 with just over 13 minutes remaining in the game.
Brees threw TD passes of 17 yards to Marques Colston, 9 yards to Darren Sproles, 48 yards to Joseph Morgan and 20 yards to David Thomas to overcome the New Orleans defense yielding 513 yards. He has thrown for three or more touchdowns in five of six games this season.
“We want to get on a streak here. You’ve got to win more than one before you’re on a streak,” Brees said. “So now we’ve got two, and we want to keep that going.”
Josh Freeman threw for a career-high 420 yards and three touchdowns for the Bucs (2-4), who scored on their first three possessions of the game to build a 21-7 lead. Dallas Clark’s 3-yard scoring reception trimmed Tampa Bay’s deficit to 35-28 with four minutes left, and Freeman completed two passes to Vincent Jackson to help the Bucs get into position to possibly force overtime.
Jackson had seven receptions for 216 yards, but failed to score on a 95-yard play in which safety Malcolm Jenkins ran him down to make the tackle at the Tampa Bay 1. LeGarrette Blount was stopped for no gain on three straight runs, then Freeman lost 4 yards on a quarterback keeper on fourth down.
Brees launched the Saints’ final scoring drive from there. He also led TD drives of 80, 80, 79 and 72 on consecutive possessions in the opening half.
Vilma pressured Freeman on an incompletion that was nearly intercepted by Roman Harper, and got his hands on another pass that he tipped first with his right hand and then his left before it fell incomplete.
“Having him back just, emotionally, really made a difference in this game,” interim Saints coach Aaron Kromer said. “We were trying to get him in in certain packages, and we had a couple of linebackers go down early in the game.”
Brees said Vilma’s presence made a difference.
“You could just feel how grateful he was (for) just the opportunity to get out there again, but also, just the intensity. He’s just one of those guys, very vocal. He obviously knows guys very well, they know him, so his ability to say certain things at the right time and just provide a lift, whether it be just his productivity on the field or making a play, or something he would say, that presence was definitely felt this week,” Brees said.
Down a touchdown and out of timeouts, Freeman marched the Bucs from his own 19 to the New Orleans 9 in the final two minutes. He threw incomplete for Jackson, who came down with the ball out of the end zone on third down. On the game’s final play, Freeman rolled to his left to find Mike Williams open in the corner of the end zone.
But the receiver had been pushed out of the back of the end zone before coming back into the field of play. So, what appeared to be a possible tying catch was nullified for illegal touching.
“I thought we had the game tied. I see the flag down, think it’s a pass interference call or something. They say it’s illegal touching,” Williams said. “A swing of emotions. He gave me a little push. I have to be strong enough to stay inbounds.”
Freeman threw TD passes of 13 yards to Tiquan Underwood and 17 yards to Jackson in the first half. Doug Martin scored on a 36-yard run for Tampa Bay.
NOTES: Lance Moore had nine receptions for 121 yards for the Saints, which finished with 458 yards total offense. … Tampa Bay’s 513 yards total offense was a season-high. … It was Kromer’s last game as interim coach. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt returns from his suspension this week and will lead the Saints in Sean Payton’s absence the rest of the season.
TEXANS 43, RAVENS 13Matt Schaub threw two touchdown passes, Arian Foster ran for two scores and the Houston Texans dominated a showdown of the AFC’s two teams, routing the Baltimore Ravens.
Johnathan Joseph returned an interception 52 yards for a touchdown and the Texans (6-1) beat Baltimore for the first time in seven meetings. Antonio Smith had two sacks, J.J. Watt deflected the pass that led to Joseph’s interception and Houston’s defense returned to form after an embarrassing loss to Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay last week.
Terrell Suggs, the 2011 defensive player of the year, had a sack and three tackles in his first action for Baltimore (5-2) since undergoing surgery on his right Achilles tendon last May. Joe Flacco threw two interceptions and was sacked four times.
GIANTS 27, REDSKINS 23:— Eli Manning threw a 77-yard scoring pass to Victor Cruz with 1:13 to play and New York overcame a late touchdown by rookie sensation Robert Griffin III.
Manning’s pass to Cruz came two plays and 19 seconds after Griffin capped what was a potential game-winning, 77-yard drive with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss. The rookie had kept the drive alive with a 19-yard pass off a desperate scramble on a fourth-and-10 play deep in his own territory and a 24-yard run on the next play.
Cruz, however, blew by Josh Wilson and Madieu Williams and the more than 80,000 fans in MetLife Stadium celebrated as Manning triumphantly pumped his fist.
Griffin had Washington moving for another score when Moss was tackle by Chase Blackburn after an 11-yard reception and rookie Jayron Hosley recovered at the Washington 43.
PACKERS 30, RAMS 20:Aaron Rodgers threw for 342 yards and three touchdowns and Green Bay’s depleted defense flourished on the road.
Randall Cobb caught two touchdown passes and Jordy Nelson had eight receptions for a season-best 122 yards for the Packers (4-3), who brought a huge contingent of cheeseheads that was just as loud as the home fans and chanted “Go, Pack, Go!” during the Rams’ final possession. Rookie Casey Hayward made his first start in place of injured Sam Shields and intercepted his fourth pass in three games.
Green Bay ended the Texans’ unbeaten start at Houston last week, but had alternated losses and wins the first six weeks. Rodgers was 30 for 37 for his fourth 300-yard game this season.
PATRIOTS 29, JETS 26 OT: Rob Ninkovich recovered a fumble by Mark Sanchez after Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 48-yard field goal in overtime for New England.
The Patriots (4-3) moved into sole possession of first place in the AFC East. The day started with all four teams tied at 3-3, but the Jets (3-4) and the Buffalo Bills lost, while the Miami Dolphins were idle.
Gostkowski tied the game with a 43-yard field goal on the last play of regulation.
In overtime, each team gets the ball unless the first team with it scores a touchdown. So the Jets had a chance after the Patriots kicked a field goal. New York moved from its 15 to its 40 before Sanchez lost the ball as he was being sacked and Ninkovich recovered, ending the game.
RAIDERS 26, JAGUARS 23 OT:Sebastian Janikowski kicked a 40-yard field goal after Cecil Shorts III fumbled on the opening possession of overtime and Oakland rallied from 14 points down in the second half.
Carson Palmer threw one TD pass and ran for another to force overtime for the Raiders (2-4) before they won it after Lamarr Houston forced a fumble that Joselio Hanson recovered at the Jacksonville 21.
After one play to center the ball, Janikowski came on to kick the winning field goal to end a rough day for the Jaguars (1-5).
The Jaguars lost star running back Maurice Jones-Drew to a left foot injury on the opening drive and quarterback Blaine Gabbert to an injured left shoulder in the second quarter and managed only two downs after halftime behind backup quarterback Chad Henne.
COLTS 17, BROWNS 13:Andrew Luck became the first Colts quarterback to run for two touchdowns in a game since 1988.
Indy (3-3) has already won one more game than it did in 2011.
Brandon Weeden threw for 247 yards and two touchdowns, but Trent Richardson, who tried to play through a rib cartilage injury, sat out the second half after running eight times for 8 yards in the first half. The Browns (1-6) have lost 11 straight road games.
Luck scored on runs of 3 and 5 yards in the first half.
Weeden threw a 14-yard TD pass to Greg Little in the second quarter, and a 33-yard TD pass to Josh Gordon in the third quarter.
COWBOYS 19, PANTHERS 14: Dan Bailey made a go-ahead 28-yard field goal with 3:25 remaining to help Dallas end a two-game losing streak.
With Dallas trailing 14-13, Tony Romo led the Cowboys (3-3) into field goal range with a 10-play, 44-yard drive to send Dallas to its ninth consecutive regular-season victory over the Panthers (1-5).
Romo had 227 yards and a touchdown.
On a fourth-and-1 at their 39, the Panthers caught Dallas’ defense changing personnel and Cam Newton quickly completed a pass for an apparent first down. But officials ruled the Cowboys called timeout before the snap. On the ensuing play, Morris Claiborne collided with receiver Louis Murphy before the ball arrived, but no flag was thrown.
Bailey added his fourth field goal of the game with 53 seconds left.
TITANS 35, BILLS 24:Matt Hasselbeck hit Nate Washington for a 15-yard touchdown with 1:03 left in leading Tennessee.
It was Hasselbeck’s 22nd career fourth-quarter comeback and second in consecutive weeks. It happened in a game in which running back Chris Johnson enjoyed a long awaited breakout performance with 195 yards rushing and two scores.
Jamie Harper also scored twice for Tennessee (3-4). Jason McCourty’s interception of a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass set up the decisive drive.
Fitzpatrick finished 27 of 35 for 225 yards and three scores, but turned the ball over twice, including a lost fumble. Buffalo is 3-4.
VIKINGS 21, CARDINALS 14:Adrian Peterson ran for 153 yards and a first-quarter touchdown, and Minnesota survived an ugly second half to hang on for the win.
Percy Harvin caught Christian Ponder’s only touchdown pass, but Ponder threw an interception that led to a second-quarter touchdown run by LaRod Stephens-Howling. Ponder has seven turnovers in the last three games; two of them were turned into touchdowns last week at Washington.
Arizona’s John Skelton went 25 for 36 for 262 yards and two turnovers. Rookie Harrison Smith returned an interception 31 yards for a touchdown in the first minute of the second half, giving the Vikings enough of a cushion to withstand the offensive woes down the stretch.