TAMPA — Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Mason Foster saved a touchdown for the Bucs. Then he scored a touchdown for the Bucs.
Yet, when the game ended, it was all for naught.
A 27-yard field goal by New Orleans kicker Garrett Hartley as time expired gave the Saints a 16-14 victory, spoiling what could have been a special night for Foster and Tampa Bay’s defense.
In the fourth quarter, the third-year linebacker out of Washington made the play of the game. With the Saints offense facing third-and-7 at the Bucs’ 22-yard line, Foster anticipated a slant route to tight end Jimmy Graham, stepped into the throwing lane and intercepted the Drew Brees pass at the 15.
Running behind a caravan of blockers and breaking a few tackles on his own, Foster ran down the sideline and dove into the end zone for an 85-yard interception return for a touchdown. The play gave the Bucs a 14-13 lead with 12:40 remaining.
“You knew he was going to (Graham) on third down,” Foster said. “That’s Drew Brees’ guy. So, I just tried to make a play for the team. It was a great effort by the whole defense and everybody running down the field making blocks.”
Foster’s 85-yard interception return for touchdown was the third-longest in franchise history. Shelton Quarles holds the record with a 98-yard touchdown return against Green Bay in 2001. Derrick Brooks returned an interception 97 yards for a touchdown against Baltimore in 2002.
Moreover, it wasn’t Foster’s first game-changing play of the day.
In the third quarter, the Saints decided to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the Bucs’ 1-yard line. Saints running back Mark Ingram ran left and lowered his head, but he saw nothing but the chest of Foster, who wrapped up the Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama for no gain — saving a touchdown.
“You just wish you can win those games, but as far as playing physical and playing downhill, it was great,” Foster said. “You just have to finish games. It (stinks) to lose, so all that doesn’t matter. A loss is a loss.”
Two plays — a 56-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Graham in the first quarter and a 31-yard pass to Marques Colston with 24 seconds left to set up the winning field goal — were arguably Brees’ only big plays of the day. The former Super Bowl MVP finished 26 of 46 for 322 yards with one touchdown.
Tampa Bay intercepted Brees twice and sacked him four times for 26 yards. Brees finished with an uncharacteristically low 67.5 passer rating.
“It’s our job to stop them,” said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who also had a sack. “It doesn’t matter how many times we have to be on the field. It’s our job to stop the opposing offense. Don’t matter how much time is on the clock.”
Linebacker Dekoda Watson picked off a pass from Brees in the first quarter. Lavonte David recorded a sack and a half, assisted by Mark Barron on a sack in the fourth quarter that forced the Saints to punt from their own territory.
The effort was there. The plan was in place. But when it mattered most, the Bucs couldn’t stop Brees.
“We knew what to expect coming into this game,” Bucs safety Dashon Goldson said. “We knew what they were going to try to do. I think we matched up. We did that for 58 minutes. But we have to finish games — point blank.”