THIN WIN IN INDY!
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers raced into Indianapolis with visions of celebrating a win in Victory Lane. They did just that by beating a red hot Colts team 38-31 in Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday. It wasn’t a pretty win by any stretch, but it was a win nonetheless, and every win gets them closer to home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
This game was a tale of two halves as the Bucs played terribly in the first half and trailed by ten at halftime, then played really well in the second half, where they won by seven. It was a solid win over a quality football team on the road, and it was just what this team needed to catapult them into a playoff run. But before we start talking about playoffs, we still have a regular-season business to take care of, starting with this BIG team win versus the Colts. So here’s my “Good, Bad and Ugly” from that game.
The Bucs needed this one. Bucs fans needed this one. A road win, against a quality team, in a tough environment. Tampa Bay was 2-3 on the road this season going into this game after going 9-2 away from home last year. They needed this boost of confidence. The win puts them at 3-3 on the road and 8-3 for the season. It gives them a healthy three-game lead for the NFC South AND puts them in the third seed for the playoffs behind the 9-2 Cardinals and the 9-3 Packers. They can actually clinch their division, with a little help, by winning their next two games. If they can win their next three games, they’ll clinch no matter what else happens.
Lucas Field Lenny!
Leonard Fournette has become the hands-down, every-down back for the Bucs. He’s taken most of the first and second down reps from Ronald Jones, AND he’s taken over the third-down back position from Giovanni Bernard as well. He was a workhorse against the Colts, finishing with 17 carries for 100 yards, a 5.9 yards per carry average, and 3 touchdowns while adding 7 catches for 31 yards and a receiving touchdown. He helped seal the win with a 28-yard touchdown run that Bruce Arians said, “In hindsight, maybe he should’ve just went down at the 2-yard line so we could run out the clock“. In any case, it gave the Bucs the lead and the eventual win.
His four TDs tie for the most by a Colts opponent in the Super Bowl era, AND it matches the most by any Bucs player in a game in franchise history. He now has 51 catches, which puts him on pace for 79 this season, which would be the second-highest total in Buccaneers franchise history behind the great James Wilder.
It’s so nice seeing Gronk back in this offense. As much as I like and respect Cam Brate and OJ Howard, it just doesn’t run the same without Gronk on the field. He didn’t get his “tuddy“, but he did finish with 7 catches for 123 yards and a 17.6 yards per catch average in this game. That’s even higher than his career 15.5 yards per catch average in the 7 games he’s faced the Colts, where he’s totaled 29 catches for 450 yards and 7 touchdowns. Not only did he lead the Bucs in receiving for this game, but it was his highest yardage total in any game since he joined the Bucs, AND it’s his highest total in any game since Week 1 of the 2018 season.
Since signing his new “premiere edge rusher” contract back in March, Shaq hasn’t quite lived up to his paychecks. Coming into this game, he only had 5.5 sacks in 10 games this season. Against the Colts, he busted out with 5 tackles and 2 sacks, including the strip-sack fumble and recovery in the third quarter, which was the turning point of the game. His numbers haven’t really reflected the impact that he’s had on games this year. He’s getting a ton of QB pressures and affecting the quarterback plenty, plus he’s been very effective against the run as well. In fact, he’s among the league leaders in QB pressures this season. I would just like to see those dollar signs translate into more sacks.
The 3rd Quarter Takeaway Turnaround
After an ugly first half where they were down by 10 points, the Bucs needed to come out swinging in the second. It didn’t quite start that way. The Colts received the second-half kickoff and started moving the ball down the field, easily on Tampa’s defense. In fact, that drive had lasted 8 plays for 43 yards, taking a little over 4 minutes off of the clock, and put them down at the Tampa Bay 20-yard line.
Then it happened.
Shaq Barrett came with a speed rush around the edge and chopped down on Carson Wentz’s arm, causing the strip-sack and fumble, which Barrett also recovered. It was just what the Bucs needed to light a fire under their ass. Tom Brady then led the offense down on a 65-yard drive for a Leonard Fournette touchdown getting them within 3 points. Then came the Antoine Winfield Jr. interception, followed by another 65-yard drive for a Ronald Jones touchdown to take the 4-point lead. Then a three and out by the Colts, followed by the muffed punt that Scotty Miller recovered led to a field goal by the Bucs and a 7-point lead. They never trailed again. It was a miraculous third quarter, where the Bucs forced three turnovers and scored 17 points off of those turnovers.
Takeaways were the story for this game. The Colts had five, and the Bucs had two. Coming into this game, the Colts led the league in turnover differential at +15 and had just 10 turnovers in 11 games. The Bucs had forced five or more turnovers in a game just once in their previous 7 seasons, and they’ve now done it twice this year (Bears and Colts). The +3 turnover differential puts them at 5th in the league at +8 for the year. Their 23 forced turnovers rank 4th in the NFL this season after totaling 25 in the regular season of last year.
The 1st Quarter Offense
Tampa Bay’s offense came out super flat for this game. They had four full possessions in the first quarter and managed just 16 plays for 50 yards and 2 first downs. Their first three possessions were a three & out, a fumble by Chris Godwin, and a punt. Oh, and I should mention that they lost their “starting guard” Aaron Stinnie during this time as well. They finally managed to score early in the second quarter after Mike Edwards forced a fumble in Colts territory, and the Bucs got the ball on the Indy 34-yard line. It was an uncharacteristic quarter of football for Brady and the Bucs offense. One that I hope doesn’t repeat ever again.
The 2nd Quarter Defense
Injuries have been plaguing this team all season, and this game was no exception. Devin White and Jamel Dean both went down in the 1st quarter with injuries, and both missed the 2nd quarter, even though White did return after the half. That led to a total collapse of the Bucs defense in that 2nd quarter. After holding the Colts to just 12 plays for 25 yards and 3 points in the 1st quarter, the Bucs allowed drives of 75, 90, and 75 yards in the second. First, it was a 62-yard pass to receiver Ashton Dulin (I know, WHO???), the first of his career. On the next drive, they allowed Carson Wentz to run for a first down on 3rd & 16, which kept the drive alive and led to another touchdown. Then it was another 75-yard drive that ended with a TY Hilton touchdown, the first for him this season. Wentz threw for three touchdowns in a half for the first time since 2017, and the Colts led 24-14 at the half. Teams that had given up 21 or more points in the 2nd quarter were 3-36 since the beginning of the 2019 season, and the Bucs were 0-22 as a franchise when doing it. It was terrible football, no matter if you try to use the injuries as an excuse or not. Luckily, they came alive in the 3rd quarter and redeemed themselves.
The 4th Quarter First Drive
The Colts went back to the basics with their first possession of the 4th quarter after being shut out in the third. They had a 10-play drive for 75 yards, where 8 of the 10 plays were runs by Jonathan Taylor. After managing just 8 carries for 25 yards in the first three quarters, Taylor busted out with 8 carries for 58 yards and a touchdown on this drive alone. Bruce Arians‘ excuse for the Colts’ success running on that drive; was that the Bucs were expecting them to pass more, so they were playing for coverage with only six men in the box. Whatever it was, I hope they don’t let it happen again next time they play a top-rushing team like the Colts.
The Bucs ended up losing four starters in this game. Aaron Stinnie, who was already in for Ali Marpet, went down with a knee injury early and never returned. Reserve o-lineman Nick Leverett came in for him and actually played pretty well and even received a game ball. Then Jamel Dean went out with a shoulder injury and never returned. Luckily, there’s no structural damage there, so it will just be a pain tolerance thing that decides whether he’ll play on Sunday. Devin White, who was already playing hurt, went out early with a hip injury, but he did return to play the second half. And Mike Edwards suffered a bruised knee on his touchdown-saving tackle on the kick return at the end of the game, and now he’s a “wait & see” guy for Sunday. Injuries have been an issue for this team and especially the secondary all season. The Bucs ACTUAL starting secondary for this season lasted about 16 plays into the first game until Sean Murphy-Bunting injured his elbow. It all snowballed from there. Hopefully, there’s an end in sight. Bruce Arians says that there’s a good chance Carlton Davis will return for Sunday’s game against the Falcons, which should give Bucs fans some relief.
This was a HUGE win for the Bucs. On the road, in a hostile environment, against a quality team who was red hot and playing good football. They even came from behind to do it after trailing by 10 points at halftime. It was just what they needed to boost their confidence and propel them forward towards the playoffs. It was a complete team win, with all three phases contributing to both the low points and the highlights of this game.
Hopefully, this was the spark that ignites that championship fire that was burning after the bye week last year that led to eight straight wins and a Super Bowl victory. That’s the kind of run they need to get on right now, and they have just the schedule to do it. They have 6 games left in the regular season. Those are at Atlanta, the Bills and Saints at home, at the Panthers and Jets, then finish with the Panthers at home. The only team left on the schedule with a winning record is the Bills, and they have been struggling as of late. Running the table is not out of the question for the Bucs IF they can keep building on these wins, keep improving, keep getting better each week, and keep getting healthier each week. Ending this season winning eight straight, finishing 14-3, winning the NFC South, AND earning home-field advantage throughout the playoffs sounds pretty damn good to me. But they can’t do that unless they keep this streak going. We’ll see if that’s what happens when they invade Atlanta on Sunday.
Until then, as always, GO BUCS!!!