It was a battle in Indianapolis between the Buccaneers and the Colts. “It wasn’t pretty the first 30 [minutes], but it was real pretty the second 30 [minutes],” said Head Coach Bruce Arians.
Quarterback Tom Brady added, “It was a really hard fought team win.”
Tampa Bay went three and out on several drives in the first quarter, including their opening drive. After a short rush by running back Leonard Fournette, Brady threw two incomplete passes and the Bucs were forced to punt the ball.
Punter Bradley Pinion’s botched 14-yard punt combined with a holding penalty gave the Colts great field position. However, despite starting on the 30-yard line, they were unable to convert against Tampa Bay’s number one rush defense. The Colts settled for a 45-yard field goal.
Tampa Bay’s offense appeared to have better progress on the second drive. Brady completed a 20-yard pass to Rob Gronkowski followed by a 9-yard pass to Mike Evans and a first down rush for Fournette. However, on 3rd and 10, the Bucs fumbled on a screen pass to Chris Godwin. The ball was punched out by Colts linebacker Darius Leonard and recovered by safety Andrew Sendejo.
Defense Steps Up
Tampa Bay’s defense stepped up and prevented a scoring drive. Linebacker Shaquil Barrett sacked Carson Wentz for a loss of 4 yards, and on the next play cornerback Jamel Dean pushed the receiver out of bounds before the first down mark. However, Dean injured his shoulder on the play and was unable to return to the game.
Both teams went three and out for a slow first quarter, until the Buccaneers forced a turnover on a pass intended for receiver Zach Pascal. Cornerback Mike Edwards punched the ball out as Pascal fell to the ground. Lavonte David recovered it at the Colts 46-yard line and ran it back 12 yards. Following Brady’s passes to Gronkowski and Fournette, they were in the red zone.
The Buccaneers continued the drive into the second quarter, and Fournette scored on a 1-yard rush. It would be his first of four touchdowns in the game. Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, the Colts immediately responded and took back the lead. Wentz threw a 65-yard touchdown to Ashton Dulin who was able to break away from cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting.
On the next drive, Brady was intercepted on a deep pass intended for Scotty Miller. Indy turned it into another scoring opportunity with a 15-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jack Doyle. The Bucs answered with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Fournette, and the Colts responded with their own 4-yard touchdown to T.Y. Hilton. The score was 24-14 at the half with the Colts in the lead.
At halftime, Fournette gave a speech to his team, explaining “I’m like, man, you have to have a will and a want. You know you have to be willing to risk everything, play by play, you have to want to win, want to fight each and every play.” He added, “and I think they understood that message and came out and played their lights out.”
In the third quarter, Tampa Bay came alive on both sides of the ball. On the opening drive for the Colts, Shaq Barrett sacked Wentz, knocked the ball loose, and recovered the fumble. Arians said, “That was huge . . . that strip sack changed the whole ball game.”
After getting the ball back, the Bucs offense was again facing a 3rd and 8 situation. Brady threw a deep pass intended for Scotty Miller that drew a pass interference on the Colts. It was a costly 37-yard penalty, as the Bucs were given a 1st down at the Indianapolis 15-yard line. Brady connected with Brate for 10 yards, and then Fournette ran in his second rushing touchdown of the game.
Defense Continues To Shine
On the next drive, the Buccaneers defense got their third turnover. Safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. made an impressive interception on Tampa Bay’s 5-yard line. Wentz threw a deep pass intended for Michael Pittman, Jr., but Winfield recognized the ball was thrown just behind the receiver. He adjusted, made the catch and ran it back 30 yards. Tampa Bay took the lead back 28-24 on a 1-yard rushing touchdown by Ronald Jones.
In the fourth quarter, the Buccaneers came away with yet another turnover, but this time on special teams. Colts punt returner Nyheim Hines lost the ball during the catch and it was recovered by Miller at the Indianapolis 19-yard line. Tampa Bay added 3 points with a 25-yard field goal.
Running back Jonathan Taylor led the charge for the Colts on a 10-play drive to tie up the game. Despite the Buccaneers rush defense stopping him the majority of the game, Taylor rushed for 58 yards during the drive including a 4-yard touchdown.
A Fourth From Fournette
On Tampa Bay’s final drive, Fournette scored with a 28-yard rushing touchdown leaving only 20 seconds left in the game. With an impressive run, Colts specialist Isaiah Rodgers returned the punt 72 yards to the Bucs 32-yard line. However, the Bucs defense still had one more play up their sleeve.
On their fifth and final turnover, Pierre Desir intercepted a deep pass intended for Pittman at the 2-yard line ending the game. Tampa Bay won 38-31.
The Buccaneers carry their 8-3 record and road win into next week’s game against the Atlanta Falcons.