Jameis Winston came back from an injured throwing hand and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, behind Winston's career-high 456 passing yards and five total touchdowns, came back from two double-digit deficits to beat the Indianapolis Colts, 38-35, Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
"We just kept battling, kept being resilient, kept persevering," said Winston.
Winston threw two first-half interceptions to LB Darius Leonard, one returned 80 yards for a touchdown, and the Bucs quickly found themselves in a 10-point hole. Tampa Bay rallied to a 14-10 lead but was trailing again at halftime, 27-21, which Indianapolis widened to a 14-point lead with a touchdown midway through the third period. From that point forward, however, the Buccaneers scored 17 unanswered points and Winston completed 13 of 17 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns. A Devin White forced fumble at the Bucs' 14 and a 47-yard Colts field goal attempt that bounced off the right upright helped.
"It's a damn good thing I'm a young, healthy man, because coaching the nicest team in the league is tough," said Head Coach Bruce Arians after the game. "We just love spotting 15, 17 points to the other team and then coming back and beating them. It was a crazy game. I felt at halftime once we got it back to a score we were in good shape. It didn't all go great in the second half but we were able to stick together, get a turnover and get pressure on a field goal to miss and go down the score to win the game. The resilience in this team is growing on me."
Winston's 456 passing yards were the third most in a single game in Buccaneers history and the team's 542 yards of total offense was also the third-most in franchise annals. Still, the Bucs needed some late-game heroics, including a fourth-and-two completion to Dare Ogunbowale just before Winston's 12-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Breshad Perriman. It wasn't the most dramatic 38-35 finish in Bucs-Colts series history – the Peyton Manning-led Monday Night Football comeback in 2003 was legendary, or infamous from the Bucs' point of view – but it certainly didn't lack in that department. The Bucs won despite a 4-1 deficit in turnovers, as Ogunbowale also lost a fumble in the first half and Winston was intercepted a third time in the fourth quarter. But Winston responded in impressive fashion.
"I haven't been around too many," said Arians of quarterbacks who could shake off early turnovers. "It usually crushes a guy. The second one, after we create a turnover and then give it back, to go down and win the game just speaks a lot about the guy's character."
The Bucs' final two touchdowns belonged to Perriman and second-year WR Justin Watson. Both stepped up in a big way after Mike Evans was lost to a hamstring injury at the end of a 61-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter, with Watson grabbing five passes for 59 yards and Perriman getting 70 yards on three grabs. No Buccaneer pass-catcher went over 100 yards but six different players had 48 or more.
"The confidence I have in him never waned," said Arians of Perriman. "When Mike goes down, now he's got a big role. I've got to say, he stepped up and Justin Watson really stepped up today, as a punt returner, fielding that one on the hop, making a big first-down catch. Both of those guys really stepped up."
Watson had all of three catches for 18 yards in his NFL career prior to Sunday's game. He saw his most extensive action yet after Evans' injury and had several key receptions, including two that produced first downs in the drive that led to Matt Gay's 44-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, cutting Indy's lead to 35-31.
"I'm a man of faith and all the time I talk about preparing and doing things for the glory of God and not the glory of men," said Watson. "So for me, it's just an every-week [thing], preparing and just being ready for this."
The game marked the first time the Buccaneers had come back from a double-digit deficit to win since a 34-17 decision against San Francisco on Oct. 23, 2016. It was only the 16th time in team history Tampa Bay won a game after trailing by 14 or more points. Unfortunately, the Buccaneers were still officially eliminated from playoff contention on Sunday with Minnesota's 20-17 win over Detroit.
Ryan Griffin saw the first regular-season action of his career at the start of the second half as Winston went back inside to get an X-ray on his right thumb. Winston was having difficulty gripping the football after halftime, but the X-ray showed only a small fracture and he was able to come back into the game after one series, in which Griffin completed two of four passes for 18 yards. What followed was the seventh fourth-quarter comeback and 11th game-winning drive of Winston's career, and his second in the last five weeks after the Bucs' 30-27 win over Arizona in Week 10. This one had the added aspect of Winston overcoming the thumb injury.
"It's a very rare quality," said Arians of Winston's resiliency. "It's all year. Same thing in Atlanta. He comes out and has a great game. Guys respect that. He doesn't have to earn anybody's respect in that locker room. They know he's tough."
The Buccaneers improved to 2-4 at home and will finish the season with two more games at Raymond James Stadium (vs. Houston and Atlanta) after next weeks' trip to Detroit. Arians' Bucs have won four of their last five and still have a chance to finish above .500 in his first year at the helm.
"It's huge, because we didn't play our best by any stretch of the imagination," said Arians. "To still get a win, it builds the confidence."
Though the Colts put up 35 points, Tampa Bay's defense was resilient in the face of four drives that began in its half of the field. Jacoby Brissett hit several downfield shots to Marcus Johnson, who had 105 yards on just three catches and also drew a 45-yard pass-interference flag, but the Colts finished with just 309 total yards. Indianapolis brought the league's fourth-best rushing attack into the game and had a healthy Marlon Mack for the first time in three weeks but managed just 66 yards on 22 carries.
Shaquil Barrett had a hand in the Bucs' only sack of the game, splitting it with Will Gholston, and now has 15.0 on the season, tied for the third-most in franchise history. Barrett also had three hits on the quarterback, though Brissett repeatedly escaped pressure to make chain-moving plays. CB Carlton Davis broke up three passes and now has 17 passes defensed on the season.
"It's getting better and better," said Arians of the Bucs' defensive efforts. "The future's so bright for all of us because of them. They're out there – they're not rookies in my opinion. They've played 20 games. It's time for them to show what they're really made of, and they're really showing it."
After the Colts opened up their early 10-0 lead, Winston scored the Bucs' first points himself on a one-yard QB sneak in the first quarter. His one completion to Evans gave the home team a short-lived lead just minutes later. Winston's other touchdown pass was to TE Cam Brate in the final minute of the first half, as the Buccaneers continued to excel in two-minute situations. Winston is just the second player in Buccaneers history to have four touchdown passes and a touchdown run in the same game; Ryan Fitzpatrick blazed that trail in last year's season-opening win over the New Orleans Saints.
The Bucs won the toss and decided to start on offense, but they didn't possess the ball long. Winston's first pass, intended for Evans down the left seam, was intercepted by leaping Leonard, who returned the ball to the Bucs' 35. A penalty on Justin Houston for delivering a blind-side hit on Winston during the return backed the Colts up to the midfield stripe, but they still scored three plays later. Marcus Johnson got behind the defense and though Andrew Adams caught up to the receiver just as the ball arrived he was unable to stop Johnson from making the catch for a 46-yard score.
Tampa Bay's second drive also ended in a turnover in its own end as Ogunbowale, fighting for extra yards on a third-down dump-off, fumbled, with Rock Ya-Sin recovering for Indianapolis at the 48. The Bucs' defense got the stop this time but rookie K Chase McLaughlin, just claimed off waivers on Wednesday, drilled a 50-yard field goal to make it 10-0.
The Bucs' third drive went much better. Winston converted a third-and-six in Colts territory by scrambling right and lobbing a pass to Perriman, who reached up with one hand to make a catch and then ran for a 31-yard gain. TE Cam Brate then turned a short pass into a 13-yard gain, diving down to the one-yard line, and Winston snuck it in himself on the next play.
After a three-and-out for the Colts, the Bucs needed just one play to take the lead, with Winston throwing a perfect strike down the right sideline to Evans. Evans caught it in stride and ran untouched to the end zone. Unfortunately, he also suffered a hamstring injury just before scoring and was lost for the rest of the game.
An exchange of punts worked in the Colts' favor as Nyheim Hines' 19-yard return allowed them to once again start on the Bucs' half of the field, at the 47. The Buccaneers' defense forced a third-and-10 at the 20 when Adams nearly made a diving interception in the end zone, but Brissett scrambled away from trouble on third down and got within inches of the first down. Brissett also kept the ball on fourth down and rushed down to the two, with Mack taking it in on the next play. The Colts reassumed the lead, 17-14, with just under eight minutes left in the half.
The Bucs had a chance to take the lead back on their next drive, as two big third-down catches by Godwin helped get the offense down to the Colts' 23-yard line. However, Winston tried to hit Godwin on one more third down and Leonard jumped the route, picking it off cleanly and running 80 yards untouched down the left sideline for the score.
The home team appeared to cut the lead to three points before halftime with an impressive 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, ending in a three-yard pass to Brate. Winston kept the Bucs' touchdown hopes alive in the red zone with a scramble left and then a throw back across the middle to Watson for 10 yards on third-and-10, down to the Colts' three. Brate lined up in the backfield on the play and then leaked out to the right, where he was wide open at the goal line.
However, the Colts actually took a six-point lead into the break because Brissett opened the next drive with a 50-yard strike down the left sideline to Johnson, who made a leaping catch over Jordan Whitehead. A roughing-the-passer call on Vita Vea on the same play moved the ball down to the Bucs' 12 and a nine-yard catch by Parris Campbell on third-and-10 made it fourth-and-one at the three-yard line. After a Colts timeout, the offense lined up to go for it on fourth down but Brissett tried to call another timeout with the play clock winding down. Since consecutive timeouts by the same time leads to a penalty, the Indianapolis sideline waved Brissett back and he just got off a snap, running down to the one-yard line. The Colts brought on McLaughlin to kick a 19-yard field goal as time expired.
Indianapolis got the ball to start the second half but a sack split between Shaq Barrett and Will Gholston short-circuited the drive near midfield. Griffin came in to start the second half while Winston was under evaluation of his injury, but the Bucs' first drive also ended in a punt. That allowed the Colts to score the first points of the second half, as they drove 76 yards on seven plays for a touchdown. Brissett repeatedly escaped near-sacks to get off unlikely throws for big gains, including the 12-yard touchdown pass to Zach Pascal in the back right corner of the end zone. The Colts went for two and succeeded on another Brissett-Pascal hookup, pushing the lead to 35-21 with six minutes left in the third quarter.
Winston returned to the game for the next drive and the Bucs fired right back with their own 75-yard touchdown drive. It took only five plays, four of them completions on four attempts by Winston for 70 yards. The big play was a 33-yarder down the seam to Howard and the points came when Winston pump-faked and then lobbed a 17-yarder to Watson for the second-year receiver's first career score. Watson had to go low to get the ball right off the turf but he held on as he rolled into the end zone.
The Bucs pulled within four points two minutes into the fourth quarter on Matt Gay's 44-yard field goal. Winston got the team down to the Colts' 26 with a 33-yard misdirection strike down the left sideline to Howard, but three incompletions followed and the Bucs settled for three points.
Brissett tried to go deep to Johnson again to start the next drive, and while the pass was incomplete the play was a success because Jamel Dean dragged the receiver down early and was hit with a 45-yard pass-interference penalty. However, the Bucs avoided falling farther behind when White forced a fumble by Jack and Edwards recovered for the Bucs' defense at the 13-yard line. However, two plays later a pass down the middle came in behind Breshad Perriman and he got only one hand on it, deflecting it to S Malik Hooker for the interception. Hooker got the ball back to the Bucs' 25. Tampa Bay's defense held there, however, and the Colts settled for McLaughlin's 47-yard field goal attempt. That, too, came up empty when the booted ball hit the right upright and fell straight down to the end zone turf.
That gave the Bucs possession at their own 37 and Winston promptly drove them 63 yards for the go-ahead score. Winston began it with a 27-yard downfield throw to Perriman and finished it with the same receiver, hitting him on a 12-yard touchdown pass that had Perriman sprawling near the left edge of the end zone. In between, the Buccaneers went for it on fourth-and-two at the Indy 16 and converted on a short underneath pass to Ogunbowale.
That left the Colts with four minutes to try to swing the tide again and they managed to get to midfield but faced a fourth-and-two after Lavonte David broke up a third-down pass intended for Jack Doyle. Brissett's pass on fourth down was deflected at the line and he appeared to catch the deflection himself and later pitch it to a teammate, but in the end it was simply ruled an incompletion. Payton Barber's 11-yard run two plays later sealed the game and allowed Winston to kneel it out.
View photos of Tampa Bay's Week 14 matchup against Indianapolis.