Warren Sapp thinks the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are peaking at the right time. The Bucs (8-6) took a big step toward making the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons Sunday, routing New Orleans 48-21 for a one-game lead over the Saints (7-7) in the race for an NFC wild-card spot. ``We're in the driver's seat now,'' Sapp said. ``We've got to crank the car up and mash the gas.'' Brad Johnson threw three touchdown passes and Martin Gramatica kicked four field goals before being leaving with an injury as Tampa Bay rebounded from a 24-point road loss to Chicago with a dominating performance. Mike Alstott rushed for 101 yards and one touchdown, while Ronde Barber returned one of his three interceptions 36 yards for a TD with two minutes left. With Gramatica sidelined by a strained right hamstring, the Bucs finished the blowout with a 2-point conversion to equal the franchise record for points in a game. ``We've got some big-time players in this room and the bigger the game, we usually step up our performance,'' said Sapp, who sat out most of the fourth quarter with a sore left shoulder. ``We had to have this one, and we got it done against a tough ballclub.'' Tampa Bay improved to 12-1 at home in December under coach Tony Dungy. The Bucs close with home games against Baltimore and Philadelphia, while the Saints will play their last two at the Superdome against Washington and San Francisco. ``We have to move on and win our last two games,'' Saints receiver Willie Jackson said. ``If they stumble again, we'll be right there.'' The loss was the second straight for New Orleans, coming off a Monday night loss to St. Louis that dropped the Saints back into a tie for the sixth and final NFC playoff position. ``It's embarrassing, but you have to move on and try to put it behind you as quickly as possible,'' Saints defensive end Joe Johnson said. Johnson completed 16 of 31 passes for 207 yards and no interceptions. Aaron Stecker returned the opening kickoff a Tampa Bay-record 86 yards to set up Johnson's 14-yard TD throw to Karl Williams. Three plays later, Barber intercepted Aaron Brooks' first pass and Tampa Bay went up 14-0 on Alstott's 1-yard run. Johnson also threw touchdown passes of 17 yards to Warrick Dunn and 4 yards to Dave Moore. Gramatica kicked three of his four field goals in the first half while the Bucs were building the lead to 30-0.
Brooks threw TD passes of 11 and 16 yards to Joe Horn and 10 yards to Eddie Williams in the second half, finishing 21-of-38 for 248 yards and four interceptions. ``We were bad all around ... fell behind and never had a chance,'' said Saints coach Jim Haslett. ``We knew all week we were going to have to gang tackle. We did the opposite. We let them fall forward, and instead of it being second-and-9, it was second-and-5, second-and-4. You can't play defense if you can't tackle.'' The Bucs outgained New Orleans 269-34 while limiting the Saints to just one first down in the opening half. Alstott did much of the damage, averaging nearly 5 yards a carry as Tampa Bay amassed 104 on the ground before the break. The Saints led the NFL with 49 sacks, including 21 in their previous three games. However, a Tampa Bay offensive line that's had trouble protecting Johnson _ as well as opening holes for the running game _ did a good job of keeping the quarterback on his feet and clearing the path for Alstott. Johnson wasn't sacked, and the Saints didn't force any turnovers. ``I think it's a big confidence booster for our O line, because they heard all week long that here comes these four hunters that were going to kill 'em and drive 'em back, that we we're not going to be able to run the ball, that we ain't going to be able to do nothing,'' Sapp said. ``I've always said, just let us get in the playoffs. If we get there, I like our chances of doing well.'' Gramatica grabbed the back of his right leg after his extra point gave the Bucs a 40-14 lead with 9:03 remaining. He was replaced on the ensuing kickoff by safety John Lynch. Gramatica's brother, Bill, a rookie kicker with Arizona, suffered a season-ending knee injury celebrating a field goal against the Giants last week.