TAMPA, Fla. (AP) – Reggie Bush may be the new face of the New Orleans Saints. Marques Colston is the rookie who’s making them go.

Colston caught 11 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown, and Drew Brees threw for 314 yards and three TDs on Sunday to the help the Saints beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-14 and reach the midpoint of the season with twice as many wins as they had last year.

Despite playing without receiver Joe Horn, and with Bush at less than full strength because of a sore ankle, the Saints (6-2) had more than enough firepower to finish a sweep of struggling NFC South rival Tampa Bay (2-6) and rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski.

Colston, a seventh-round draft pick out of Hofstra, had a leaping 15-yard TD grab that gave the Saints an early lead against the notoriously slow-starting Bucs.

Tampa Bay, which has only scored 7 points in the first quarter, rallied from a 17-0 deficit with Gradkowski throwing two touchdown passes of 44 and 17 yards to Joey Galloway in the second quarter.

The scores made it close, but New Orleans was hardly rattled.

Deuce McAllister waltzed through the middle untouched on a 3-yard TD run in the third quarter, then Brees threw his second scoring pass to Devery Henderson, who had three receptions for 111 yards.

It could have been worse.

Charles Grant sacked Gradkowski and recovered a fumble at the Bucs 4 with 2:07 remaining. But instead of trying the score, Brees took a knee on four consecutive snaps and gave the ball back to Tampa Bay with 30 seconds left.

Brees completed his first 11 passes and finished 24-of-32 with no interceptions. He threw three picks, and New Orleans turned the ball over five times during a 35-22 loss to Baltimore the previous week.

The Saints scored on their first three possessions, building a 17-0 lead while outgaining the Bucs 165 yards to 6. With Tampa Bay’s offense going three-and-out on six straight possessions to start the game, it looked as though the rout was on.

But Gradkowski has had a knack of rallying his team, especially at home, where he threw a touchdown pass in the final minute to beat Cincinnati and marched the Bucs into position for a 62-yard game-winning field goal against Philadelphia two weeks ago.

The rookie was 3-of-10 for 9 yards before going 9-of-12 for 132 yards on the TD drives that got Tampa Bay back in it. Besides completing four passes for 97 yards to Galloway on the marches, Gradkowski scrambled for 8 yards on third-and-7 to help set up the receiver’s second TD.

Gradkowski completed 18 of 31 passes for 185 yards and no interceptions. Galloway has had big games against New Orleans with seven TDs in the last five games between the teams, but didn’t have a catch in the second half Sunday.

AP-ES-11-05-06 1633EST


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