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.

Despite wasting two scoring opportunities – one when they four straight running plays failed from the Saints' 1 – Tampa Bay (2-4) still nearly found a way to get the game into overtime.

Josh Freeman marched the Bucs from their own 19 to the New Orleans 9 in the closing seconds. On the game's final play, Freeman rolled to his left before throwing to Mike Williams for an apparent tying touchdown.

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.

Bucs coach Greg Schiano said he didn't see what happened on the play

"It really doesn't matter. If it's called, it's called. You live with it. There's nothing you can do about it," Schiano said. "So whether he did, didn't, we'll see it on tape. That's life."

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."

Ronde Barber's first-quarter interception set up Freeman's 13-yard TD pass to Tiquan Underwood. Jackson had a 17-yard scoring reception and Doug Martin ran 36 yards for a touchdown for Tampa Bay.

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."

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.

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.

___

Online: and

Links:


Loading Slideshow...
  • Cedric Peerman, LaMarr Woodley

    Cincinnati Bengals running back Cedric Peerman (30) falls into the end zone for a five-yard touchdown past Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley (56) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Tom Uhlman)

  • Mark Sanchez, Rob Ninkovich, Vince Wilfork, Austin Howard

    New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez (6) passes the ball under pressure by New England Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich (50) and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork (75) as Jets tackle Austin Howard (77) defends during the second half of an NFL football game in Foxborough, Mass. Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012. The Patriots won 29-26 in overtime. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

  • Kevin Walters, Cary Williams

    Houston Texans wide receiver Kevin Walter (83) scores a touchdown against Baltimore Ravens cornerback Cary Williams (29) during the first half of an NFL football game on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, Houston, Texas. (AP Photo/Waco Tribune Herald, Jose Yau)

  • Heath Miller

    Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller (83) celebrates after scoring on a nine-yard touchdown reception during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Michael Keating)

  • Carson Palmer, Paul Posluszny

    Oakland Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer (3) passes as Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny (51) applies pressure during the second quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • Vince Wilfork, Chandler Jones

    New England Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork (75) and defensive end Chandler Jones (95) celebrate a New York Jets safety in the second quarter of an NFL football game in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

  • Josh Freeman

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman (5) walks off the field following the their 35-28 loss to the New Orleans Saints in an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

  • Rashad Jennings, Mike Thomas

    Jacksonville Jaguars running back Rashad Jennings (23) celebrates after scoring on a 5-yard touchdown run with wide receiver Mike Thomas (80) against the Oakland Raiders during the second quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • Bill Belichick, Rex Ryan

    New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, right, shakes hands with New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan, left, after the Patriots' 29-26 overtime win in an NFL football game in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Jayron Hosley

    New York Giants cornerback Jayron Hosley (28) celebrates with teammates after recovering a fumble during the second half of an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in East Rutherford, N.J. The Giants won 27-23. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

  • Justin Bethel, Rashad Johnson

    Arizona Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel (31) and Rashad Johnson (49) watch the scoreboard in the second half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012. The Vikings won 21-14. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

  • New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees celebrates after the Saints defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 35-28 during an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan Ebenhack )

  • Nate Washington, Justin Rogers

    Tennessee Titans wide receiver Nate Washington (85) catches the winning touchdown over Buffalo Bills defensive back Justin Rogers (26) during the second half of an NFL football game in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012. Tennessee won 35-34. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

  • Robert Griffin III, Hakeem Nicks

    New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (88) shakes hands with Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III after an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in East Rutherford, N.J. The Giants won 27-23. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Robert Kraft, Donald Trump

    New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, left, and businessman Donald Trump, right, applaud on the field before an NFL football game between the Patriots and the New York Jets in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Victor Cruz

    New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz (80) catches a pass as Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson (26) and Madieu Williams pursue him during the second half of an NFL football game on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in East Rutherford, N.J. The Giants won the game 27-23. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

  • Arian Foster

    Houston Texans' Arian Foster celebrates a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens during the third quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Houston. (AP Photo/Patric Schneider)

  • Reggie Wayne, D'Qwell Jackson, Buster Skrine

    Indianapolis Colts' Reggie Wayne (87) is tackled by Cleveland Browns' Craig Robertson (53) and Buster Skrine (22) during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Indianapolis. Indianapolis defeated Cleveland 17-13. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Jerel Worthy, Morgan Burnett

    Green Bay Packers defensive end Jerel Worthy, left, and free safety Morgan Burnett celebrate during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the St. Louis Rams Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in St. Louis. The Packers won 30-20. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)

  • Dan Bailey

    Dallas Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey (5) watches his second field goal of the fourth quarter alongside Brian Moorman (2) in an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Charlotte, N.C. The Cowboys won 19-14. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

  • Tandon Doss, Dennis Pitta, Torrey Smith

    Baltimore Ravens Tandon Doss (17), Dennis Pitta (88) and Torrey Smith (82) celebrate a touchdown against the Houston Texans during the third quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Houston. (AP Photo/Patric Schneider)

  • Josh Norman ,Dwayne Harris,Tom Hill

    Carolina Panthers defensive back Josh Norman (24) and Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dwayne Harris (17) speak as Side Judge Tom Hill break them up during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

  • Randall Cobb, Trumaine Johnson

    Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb, left, catches a 39-yard touchdown pass as St. Louis Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson defends during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

  • Jonathan Stewart

    Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart (28) rushes upfield against the Dallas Cowboys during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

  • Bernard Pollard

    Baltimore Ravens strong safety Bernard Pollard (31) reacts to the officials call during the second quarter of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Houston. (AP Photo/Patric Schneider)

  • John McGrath, Bernard Pollard

    Baltimore Ravens strong safety Bernard Pollard (31) and head linesman John McGrath have a heated exchange during the second quarter of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Houston. (AP Photo/Patric Schneider)

  • Mike Tolbert

    Carolina Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert (35) reacts after scoring a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Charlotte, N.C.(AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

  • Joe Flacco, Glover Quin

    Houston Texans strong safety Glover Quin (29) tips a pass by Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) during the second quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Houston. (AP Photo/Dave Einsel)

  • Ahmad Bradshaw, Ryan Kerrigan

    New York Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw (44) is tackled by Washington Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan (91) and Josh Wilson (26) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012 in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

  • Robert Griffin III, Prince Amukamara

    Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) avoids a tackle by New York Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara (20) during the first half of an NFL football game on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012 in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Clay Matthews, Sam Bradford

    St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford (8) is sacked for a 9-yard loss by Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews during the third quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)

  • Brandon LaFell ,Gerald Sensabaugh ,Morris Claiborne

    Carolina Panthers wide receiver Brandon LaFell (11) can't make the reception while being defended by Dallas Cowboys free safety Gerald Sensabaugh (43) and cornerback Morris Claiborne (24) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

  • Miles Austin

    Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Miles Austin (19) reacts to his touchdown catch with teammate Lawrence Vickers (47) during the second half of an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

  • Cam Newton

    Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) runs the ball against the Dallas Cowboys looks on during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Charlotte. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

  • Andrew Luck, Donnie Avery

    Indianapolis Colts' Andrew Luck, left, and Donnie Avery celebrate after Luck ran for a 5-yard touchdown run during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

  • Chris Crocker, Reggie Nelson, Vontaze Burfict

    Cincinnati Bengals defensive back Chris Crocker (33) celebrates with safety Reggie Nelson (20) and linebacker Vontaze Burfict after Crocker intercepted a pass by Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the end zone during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Michael Keating)

  • Brandon LaFell, Brandon Carr

    Carolina Panthers wide receiver Brandon LaFell (11) heads into the end zone for a touchdown as Dallas Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr (39) defends during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

  • E.J. Biggers, Joe Morgan

    New Orleans Saints wide receiver Joe Morgan (13) beats Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback E.J. Biggers (31) to the end zone to score on a 48-yard touchdown reception during the second quarter of an NFL football game on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

  • Eli Manning

    New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass to Victor Cruz (80) during the second half of an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in East Rutherford, N.J. The Giants won 27-23. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

  • Johnathan Joseph

    Houston Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph celebrates a touchdown after intercepting a pass against the Baltimore Ravens during the second quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Houston. (AP Photo/Patric Schneider)

  • Christian Ponder, Calais Campbell

    Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder (7) breaks away from Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell (93) in the first half of an NFL football game in Minneapolis, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Andy King)

  • Adrian Peterson, Paris Lenon

    Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (28) tackles Arizona Cardinals inside linebacker Paris Lenon (51) after Lenon intercepted a pass in the first half of an NFL football game in Minneapolis, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

  • Fred Jackson

    Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson (22) reacts with fans after scoring a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans during the first half of an NFL football game in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

  • Percy Harvin

    Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin (12) celebrates after making a touchdown in the first half of an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals in Minneapolis, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Andy King)

  • Morris Claiborne

    Dallas Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne (24) picks off a Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton pass during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Charlotte. Dallas Cowboys inside linebacker Bruce Carter (54) looks on (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

  • Greg Little, JJerrell Freeman, Cassius Vaughn

    Cleveland Browns' Greg Little makes a 14-yard touchdown reception against Indianapolis Colts' Jerrell Freeman (50) and Cassius Vaughn (32) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Chris Johnson, George Wilson, Aaron Williams

    Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson (28) scores a touchdown in front of Buffalo Bills defenders George Wilson (37) and Aaron Williams (23) during the first half of an NFL football game in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

  • Robert Griffin III

    Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) leaves the field after an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in East Rutherford, N.J. The Giants won 27-23. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Ben Roethlisberger

    Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger pumps his fist in the second half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Tom Uhlman)

  • Tom Brady, Aaron Maybin, Antonio Allen

    New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) is pressured by New York Jets linebacker Aaron Maybin (51) and safety Antonio Allen, right, during the first half an NFL football game in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012. The Patriots won 29-26 in overtime. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Rex Ryan

    New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan talks with players during an NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012. The Patriots won 29-26 in overtime. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)