The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost to the Indianapolis Colts, 27-10 on Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium, as the team's offensive reserves once again struggled to find any sort of rhythm. However, most of the Buccaneers' starters played for the first time in the 2022 preseason and the offense produced a field goal on its one drive while the defense forced two punts in two possessions.
"I thought they moved the ball down the field efficiently," said Head Coach Todd Bowles of the Tom Brady-led first-team offense. "Everybody got some touches and made some plays and I thought the line did a good job. They had a good start to the game."
The Buccaneers finished the preseason with an 0-3 record. They will trim the roster to the regular-season limit of 53 players by Tuesday and then open the regular season in Dallas on September 11.
Brady started the game but played just that one series, leading the visitors on a game-opening field goal drive. Working out of a no-huddle attack, Brady completed six of eight passes for 44 yards, including a 20-yard sideline strike to Julio Jones and a fourth-down slant to Tyler Johnson near midfield. The Buccaneers started most of their regulars on offense, though All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs was held out and wideouts Chris Godwin and Russell Gage were not yet available.
Tampa Bay's defensive starters gave up 18 yards and one first down during their two possessions. ILB Lavonte David's sack of QB Matt Ryan killed the first one and CB Sean Murphy-Bunting's third-down blitz led to an incompletion and another kick. The Bucs did hold a few defenders out due to minor injuries, with Anthony Nelson replacing Joe Tryon-Shoyinka at one edge spot and undrafted rookie Nolan Turner getting a lot of action with safeties Logan Ryan and Keanu Neal out.
Bowles was impressed with the work of David in his limited time on the field.
"He's been healthy, he's taking care of his body this summer," said Bowles. "He comes out there, he's our leader – he's one of our leaders, him and Devin [White] both and he flies around. He understands the game."
With the starters taking the early snaps, Bowles had his attention on how the younger roster hopefuls would fare on special teams, which can be the deciding factor in the looming cutdown to 53 players for the regular season.
"I wanted to see if the young guys could play [special] teams without playing defense or offense first and understand the game and situational football when they didn't have to be in there the whole game," said Bowles. "It was a good learning experience. I thought the guys on the second unit played well; I thought the younger guys in certain situations didn't play smart football."
Second-year offensive lineman Robert Hainsey started the game at center and then stayed in to get additional action after most of the starters departed. On a touchdown drive led by Blaine Gabbert and finished by third-year RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn on a one-yard run, Hainsey went down with an ankle injury and did not return to the game, though he walked off on his own power. Hainsey was already replacing injured Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen in the lineup, and the Buccaneers also lost potential starting guard Aaron Stinnie to a knee injury in last weekend's game at Tennessee. To make matters worse, Hainsey's immediate replacement, Nick Leverett, also left the game with a shoulder injury, leaving the snaps at center to first-year man John Molchon.
Bowles said Hainsey and Leverett would get X-ray examinations in the next two days but that it was too early to know how severe their injuries were. Brady noted how quickly situations can change in the NFL due to injury but expressed confidence in Hainsey.
"Tough position – that's a big position for an offense, the center position," said Brady. "Obviously, we all hated to lose Ryan, and the extent of that we're still trying to figure out. But it's going to be a while. Hainsey's stepped in and done a good job. He worked really hard to gain the confidence of his teammates last year and the trust of the whole organization. He's going to have to do a great job. Hopefully he can get over what happened tonight and be ready to go. That remains to be seen."
Vaughn was one of the Buccaneers' top standouts on offense, coming in after Leonard Fournette took part in one drive and rookie Rachaad White got a handful of carries. Vaughn carried nine times for 36 yards and a touchdown; mid-August addition Patrick Laird played much of the second half and contributed 54 yards on 12 carries and three catches.
The Colts used four different quarterbacks and the Buccaneers used three, and the results were typical of a preseason finale with about 150 players getting into the mix and neither team opening up its playbook. The two teams combined for 536 yards of offense and 26 first downs, and each team committed multiple offensive holding penalties. Tampa Bay converted just one of its 11 third-down tries on offense. There were, it's worth noting, no turnovers in the game.
RB Leonard Fournette got the opening drive started off on a good note by slicing over left guard for a game of 13, breaking a tackle to get past the first-down sticks. A pass-interference call on Colts CB Stephon Gilmore led to another first down at the Bucs' 44 but the Bucs faced a fourth-and-three just across midfield after a seven-yard catch by TE Cam Brate. Brady hurried the offense up to the line and threw a quick slant to WR Tyler Johnson to keep the drive alive. Jones ran a deep comebacker on the right sideline on the next play for 20 yards to get the ball into the red zone. The drive stalled at the 12, however, and the Bucs settled for a 30-yard Ryan Succop field goal.
The Colts' first drive got off to a good start when the impressively spry Ryan took off on an 11-yard run on second down. S Mike Edwards and ILB Devin White then combined to stop RB Deon Jackson for no gain up the middle and David's well-time blitz on second down led to a seven-yard sack of Ryan and essentially killed the drive.
The Bucs brought in Gabbert and a lineup of mostly offensive reserves on the next possession and went nowhere on a trio of Rachaad White runs. Rookie punter Jake Camarda had to kick it away with his heels on the back line of the end zone but he blasted a 63-yard punt that at least forced the Colts to start fresh on their side of the field, at the 44.
View the top photos of Tampa Bay's Week 3 Preseason matchup vs. the Indianapolis Colts.
The Colts elected to keep their starting offense in and the Bucs' front-line defense also got another series. That 'D' prevailed again, forcing another punt after the blitzing Murphy-Bunting forced Ryan into a scrambling third-down incompletion. After another punt that was fair caught inside the 10, the Bucs' second-string offense once again struggled to move the ball and had to boot it back. Atlanta immediately got within scoring range on the next drive with a well-set up screen to Jackson that sprung him for a gain of 26 yards to the Bucs' 22. WR Michael Pittman made it first and goal with a post down to the one-yard line and Jackson pushed it over the line two plays later. Rookie ILB Olakunle Fatukasi made an impressive stop on first-and-goal, which survived a Colts challenge, but Atlanta took the lead on the next play.
The Bucs faced a second-and-seven as the second quarter began and rookie TE Cade Otton got wide open down the right seam for a gain of 30 yards on a sharp pass from Gabbert. Two shifty White runs moved the chains again and made it first-and-10 at the Colts' 34. Vaughn got his first shot two plays later and broke through the line for a 14-yard jaunt down to the 13. Vaughn nearly scored on the next snap as he once again dashed up the gut and was just tripped up at the one-yard line. Vaughn pounded it over right guard for the go-ahead touchdown two plays later.
The Colts went to offensive reserves on the next drive, with Nick Foles taking over under center. Tampa Bay's defense forced a three-and-out, with Fatukasi ending Foles' third-down scramble well short of the line to gain. The Bucs took over at their own 15 after the punt but had their own three-and-out when Gabbert's third-down pass to WR Scotty Miller got on him too fast. A 17-yard return by Keke Coutee on Camarda's next punt let the Colts start their next drive on Tampa Bay's side of the field.
Keeping it mostly on the ground, the Colts methodically pounded out a 10-play, 43-yard touchdown drive to take the lead back shortly before halftime, converting two short third downs along the way. DL Deadrin Senat bottled up RB Phillip Lindsay on first-and-goal from the three but Lindsay was able to get the left edge on second down and just swiped the ball over the pylon before sliding out of bounds.
Trask came in for the resulting two-minute drill and quickly faced a fourth-and-one at the Bucs' 34 after a third-down completion over the middle to Johnson. The Bucs lined up to go for it on fourth down but then called a timeout and elected to kick it away.
The Colts got the ball to start the second half and immediately mounted a scoring threat thanks to a 53-yard kickoff return by CB Dallas Flowers out to the midfield stripe. Sam Ehlinger came in at quarterback for the Colts and on his second snap was able to dart out of the midfield and race 45 yards for a touchdown.
The Bucs fell into a third-and-14 hole to start the next drive but Trask kept the Bucs on the field with a deep dig to Johnson for 21 yards to the Tampa Bay 41. The Bucs got across midfield on a pair of Patrick Laird runs but faced another very long third down moments later. A nine-yard pass over the middle made it fourth-and-six at the Indy 40 and the Bucs elected to go for it. However, a false start before the ensuing snap forced the Bucs to switch to a punt.
The Colts followed with a 10-play, 56-yard field goal drive, much of it coming on a 38-yard ramble by WR Dezmon Patton, who turned a short pass into a long gain down to the 14. The Bucs' defense held there in part due to a great second-down tackle by ILB Grant Stuard. The Colts settled for Rodrigo Blankenship's 39-yard kick and a 24-10 lead with three minutes left in the third quarter.
A scrambling 46-yard strike by Trask down the right numbers to rookie TE JJ Howland got the Buccaneers into Colts territory on the next possession, and Trask hit Laird for another first down at the 27. However, a holding penalty and a five-yard sack by DE Ben Banogu short-circuited the drive and the Bucs eventually settled for a 52-yard field goal attempt by first-year kicker Jose Borregales. Borregales gave it plenty of distance but sailed it about a yard wide of the right upright.
The two teams exchanged three-and-outs, the end result a new drive for the Colts at their own 47 with 10 minutes left in regulation. Rookie Jack Coan came in at quarterback and led a seven-play field goal drive, the longest play a 12-yard completion to WR DeMichael Harris on third-and-six. Blankenship finished it with a 46-yard field goal to push the Colts' lead to 27-19 with a little less than half of the fourth quarter to play.