Bucs 38, Colts 35: What caught our attention

TAMPA, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 08: Jacoby Brissett #7 of the Indianapolis Colts and Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hug after a 38-35 Buccaneers win at Raymond James Stadium on December 08, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – What caught our eye in the Indianapolis Colts’ 38-35 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. The most stunning image: that’s the same score of the Colts’ incredible overtime win over the Bucs in 2003.

Can’t finish, again

The reality can’t be denied. The Colts’ pursuit of a second straight playoff berth has taken a major hit because they’ve been unable to finish games during a late-season skid. They’ve lost five of their last six and sit at 6-7, and have had the lead in four of those losses. They were tied in the other.

That was a painful message Frank Reich delivered to his team in the locker room after it frittered away a 35-28 fourth-quarter lead.

“We said in the locker room we’ve been in a little bit of a rut not making plays to finish games,’’ he said. “This is a few games in a row now where we’ve had a lead in the second half and not been able to sustain that.

“We’ve all got to get that corrected.’’

During the current three-game losing streak to Houston, Tennessee and the Bucs, the Colts have been outscored in the fourth quarter 31-0.

“It’s just been the finish part of it,’’ quarterback Jacoby Brissett said.

It’s worth noting the Colts earned a wild-card playoff spot in 2018 by making the necessary plays and winning nine of their last 10 games.

“I take responsibility for that,’’ Reich said. “We’ve just gotta keep fighting. I do believe in the guys we’ve got.’’

Offense can’t finish

The Colts settled into a 35-21 third-quarter lead on Brissett’s 12-yard touchdown pass to Zach Pascal.

“That was a crazy throw . . . a phenomenal throw,’’ Reich said.

However, the offense got very little accomplished after that. The final four possessions: punt, lost fumble, missed field goal, failed third- and fourth-and 2 plays at midfield with 2 minutes remaining.

The Colts experienced the first lost fumble of the season by a running back early in the fourth quarter, and it was a killer. Leading 35-31, driving, and facing a third-and-6 at the Bucs 21-yard line, Nyheim Hines took a screen to the right and had the football poked out of his hands by Devin White and recovered by Mike Edwards.

The defense neutralized the damage with Malik Hooker’s interception, but on their next possession, the Colts again came up empty. Chase McLaughlin, claimed off waivers Wednesday and kicking in place of the injured Adam Vinatieri, had his 47-yard field goal glance off the right upright.

After Tampa Bay took a 38-35 lead on Jameis Winston’s 12-yard TD to Breshad Perriman with 3:51 remaining, the Colts had one last shot. That ended when they were unable to convert third-and-2 (incomplete to Jack Doyle) and fourth-and-2 (Brissett caught his own tipped pass, then was penalized for an illegal second pass attempt) at the 50.

The final possession was one Reich envisioned the night before the game. He anticipated the Bucs being in “blitz-zero,’’ which is a swarm of rushers to pressure Brissett and a vulnerable secondary.

“We talked about it last night,’’ Reich said. “This game was likely going to come down to a last drive. We were going to get blitz-zero, which we did on the last two plays . . . that we wanted to be able to execute and make those plays to win the game.

“We didn’t get that done. That’s all of us, coaches and players. Obviously we didn’t have the best calls and didn’t execute it the way we wanted to.’’

Defense can’t finish, at all

Yes, we’re stating the obvious. Winston threw for a career-high 456 yards and four touchdowns, more than enough to counter his three interceptions. Winston’s yardage and Tampa Bay’s 542 yards are the fourth-highest totals allowed by the Colts in their Indy era.

It boggles the mind the Colts generated 35 points and were a plus-three in the turnover department and still lost. According to Pro Football Reference, teams had won 38 straight games when scoring at least 35 points with a plus-3 turnover differential. It was the Colts’ first loss in that situation since 1991.

The Colts, by the way, tied a dubious Indy-era record for most points in a loss. The last time they piled up 35 and lost: the 2016 opener against Detroit (a 39-35 loss). They’ve done it five times.

Coordinator Matt Eberflus’ defense had been making strides all season, and had a few moments against the Winston-led Bucs. Darius Leonard has two interceptions, including one he returned 80 yards for a touchdown. Malik Hooker added a third interception and rookie Rock Ya-Sin recovered a fumble.

Those four takeaways led to 17 points. But the rest of the day belonged to Winston. He exploited the Colts’ secondary, and it didn’t matter if they were in zone or man coverage.

Winston’s career day was built on chunk plays. He averaged 10.1 yards on his 45 attempts and 13.9 yards on his 33 completions. He had a staggering six completions of at least 27 yards, including a 61-yard TD to Mike Evans, who blew past cornerback Pierre Desir in the first quarter. Evans suffered a hamstring injury on the play and didn’t return.

Of course, the Bucs didn’t need him.

Six different receivers had at least four receptions and five had at least 48 yards. The four TDs were spread among Evans, Perriman, Justin Watson and Cameron Brate.

And let’s not forget Winston missed the Bucs’ first possession of the second half while dealing with an injury to his right hand.

On the day, Tampa Bay converted 8-of-15 third-down situations, a critical fourth-and-2 that led to the Winston-to-Perriman go-ahead TD, and averaged 6.9 yards per play.

Along with his two interceptions, Leonard was credited with nine tackles, two defended passes and one tackle for loss.

“We didn’t do enough to win,’’ he said. “We need more takeaways. If we had three, we need three more.’’

The Bad Jameis

Not to spoil Winston’s career day, but he upped his league-high turnover total to 28 and his career total to 104. That’s the most by a player since Winston entered the NFL in 2015 as the first overall pick in the draft.

And one more: Winston became the first player since Daryle Lamonica in 1969 with at least 23 touchdowns and 23 interceptions through 13 games.

We’re guessing no one cared in the Bucs’ locker room.

More kicking woes

McLaughlin was more than good enough until he wasn’t. He matched a career-best with a 50-yard attempt in the first quarter, added a 19-yarder in the second quarter and converted all three of his PATs.

But with the Colts holding a 35-31 lead midway through the fourth quarter, McLaughlin saw his 47-yard attempt ricochet off the upright.

That just extended what has been a miserable season for the Colts. Their kickers now have missed 15 kicks – nine field goals and six PATs.

This and that

Wideout Marcus Johnson had three receptions for a career-high 105 yards, including a 46-yard touchdown. He added a career-long 50-yard reception in the second quarter. . . . Leonard’s pick-6 was the Colts’ first since John Simon returned an interception for a TD at Tennessee Oct. 16, 2017. . . . End Justin Houston notched his ninth sack, matching his 2018 total.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

And be sure to catch the Colts Blue Zone Podcast:

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