By KYLE HIGHTOWER, Associated Press
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The New Orleans Saints lost a game to Tampa Bay and their coach to injury Sunday.
Josh Freeman threw for 303 yards and two touchdowns, Earnest Graham rushed for 109 yards in place of injured starter LeGarrette Blount, and Tampa Bay outlasted New Orleans 26-20.
The win pulled the Bucs (4-2) into a first-place tie with the Saints in the NFC South and snapped New Orleans' four-game winning streak.
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 in the first quarter. Payton got his left leg caught under Graham as he was tackled on the sideline, suffering a torn ligament and a broken bone.
The Saints had a chance to take the lead late, but quarterback Drew Brees was intercepted in the end zone on a fourth-down pass. Brees became the first passer ever with four consecutive 350-yard games, but also threw three interceptions.
New Orleans had four turnovers in the game. Tampa's defense also held the Saints under 30 points for only the second time this season and shut down New Orleans' rushing attack.
The Bucs led 23-13 heading into the fourth period until Mark Ingram's 12-yard run capped a seven-play, 82-yard drive and pulled the Saints to within a field goal.
Tampa pushed it back to 26-20 with a field goal of its own with 7:54 left, opening the door for Saints. But facing a fourth-and-2 on the 4, Brees' pass was intercepted in the end zone by safety Quincy Black. The Bucs then put the ball in Graham's hands and were able to run out the clock.
After the collision with Graham, Payton stayed on the ground for several minutes receiving medical attention before being moved to the end of the bench. He coached from there until late in the half when he was carted to the locker room. It was announced at halftime that Payton tore the MCL in the leg and also sustained a fractured tibia. He was not on the sideline the remainder of the game.
The Saints' first drive of the game also ended with Ingram's fumble that was scooped up by Tampa's Da'Quan Bowers and led to a field goal three plays later.
Brees' touchdown pass to Marques Colston on their next possession briefly put the Saints up 7-3, but there was little to smile about after that as the Bucs reeled off 17 points.
Minus a few misfired throws early, Freeman was spot-on throughout, connecting with Arrelious Benn over the middle for a 65-yard score and later with Preston Parker in traffic from 18 yards.
Brees was intercepted twice in the half, including one off a deflection by Bucs safety Tanard Jackson. He was playing in his first game since being reinstated by NFL after being suspended more than a year for violating league's substance abuse policy.
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