TE Alex Smith's two touchdown catches accounted for all of the Bucs' scoring
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came to Indianapolis wanting to gauge their newly-successful squad against the defending league champions. On this day at least, they weren't equal to the test, and the difference was obvious right at the point of contact.
The still-undefeated Colts controlled both lines of scrimmage Sunday in a 33-14 taming of the upstart Buccaneers. Tampa Bay's front line simply got no pressure on QB Peyton Manning, which gave him plenty of time to pick the Bucs' fifth-ranked defense apart. Manning was not sacked and he was pressured on only a small handful of snaps while completing 29 of 37 throws for 253 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
On the flip side, the Colts' defensive line repeatedly penetrated Tampa Bay's front, shutting down the running game and forcing QB Jeff Garcia to try to carry the offense in the face of an unchained pass-rush.
Garcia did his best – his passer rating of 121.6 was actually better than Manning's 101.9 – but the unbalanced attack made it difficult for the Bucs to sustain drives and keep their defense off the field. After two straight games in the 180s, the Bucs had just six rushing yards at halftime and 17 by the end of the game. That marked the fifth-lowest ground-game output in franchise history, its worst since a one-yard outing against Washington in 1989.
TE Alex Smith caught both of Garcia's three-yard touchdown passes, one each in the second and fourth quarters. Garcia finished the game with 18 completions in 23 attempts for 143 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He was relieved for the Bucs' final drive by second-year man Bruce Gradkowski.
The Bucs' rushing game was also dealt another blow that could affect the team well beyond Sunday's game. RB Michael Pittman, starting in place of Cadillac Williams after Williams was placed on injured reserve this week, sustained an ankle injury in the second quarter and did not return. In an uncomfortable replay of Williams' emotional departure the week before, the Bucs' entire team left the sideline to clap for Pittman as he was taken off on a cart.
The Bucs didn't go down without a fight. After the Colts built a 13-0 lead, Garcia led a 56-yard touchdown drive that ended in his first TD toss to TE Alex Smith just after Pittman's injury. However, the home team tacked on a field goal just before halftime and then put the game out of reach with a thoroughly dominant third quarter. Later, Smith's second touchdown catch made it 30-14 with 9:21 left to play, but the Colts methodical offense left no time for a real comeback.
The Indianapolis offense was on the field for all but three snaps in the third quarter, putting together two long drives, the second of which bled one play into the final period. On that snap, the Bucs tried a heavy blitz, desperate for any kind of pressure, and Manning calmly fired a nine-yard slant to WR Reggie Wayne in the back of the end zone. By the end of the game, the Colts had a 38:15 edge in time of possession.
The Bucs answered on their next possession after Wayne's score, driving 81 yards on 12 plays before Smith's second score. Garcia hit WR Joey Galloway on a 27-yard sideline pass to key the drive. However, one last lengthy Colts drive – this one ending in a 35-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal – drained seven more minutes off the clock and ended any thoughts of a rally.
Like the Buccaneers, who were without Williams and left tackle Luke Petitgout, the Colts played the game without several key starters. Strongside LB Rob Morris was placed on injured reserve earlier in the week and weakside LB Freddy Keiaho was inactive due to injury. The Colts were also without starting SS Bob Sanders on defense, while the offense was lacking starting RB Joseph Addai and Pro Bowl WR Marvin Harrison.
But they still had Manning, who didn't seem to feel any shortage of weaponry. Hitting TE Dallas Clark seven times, rookie WR Anthony Gonzalez and old standby Wayne seven times each, Manning repeatedly threw underneath the Bucs' zone coverage for medium-range gains. His longest completion was only 21 yards. Addai's replacement, Kenton Keith, handled most of the rushing load, carrying the ball 28 times for 121 yards and two touchdowns.
The game started poorly for the Buccaneers in every phase. Their opening possession went nowhere as Garcia was sacked by Dwight Freeney and Raheem Brock on third-and-long. The Colts then started in Buccaneers' territory after newly-signed WR Craphonso Thorpe took the ensuing punt 29 yards to Tampa Bay's 42. And Manning used that field position to engineer an immediate touchdown drive, ending in a nifty catch-and-run by Clark.
That marked the first points the Buccaneers had surrendered in the first quarter of a game all season, and it put the visitors into a hole they were never able to overcome. With the noise in the RCA Dome peaking, the Bucs' second series was even less successful than the first. Brock came through the line untouched on first down and dropped Pittman for a loss of four on first down, and Freeney sliced through on second down to get Pittman for a loss of two more. The Bucs punted and the Colts took over again at their own 26.
That just gave Manning more turf to dice up on the way to the end zone. The Bucs did stymie the Colts' rushing attack, but Manning was seven-for-seven for 56 yards on the drive and his one pass that hit the turf resulted in a pass-interference penalty on CB Ronde Barber and a first-and-goal at the one. Keith took it in from there on the next play. DE Gaines Adams blocked the point-after attempt but the Colts still had a 13-0 lead seven seconds into the second quarter.
At that point, the Colts had a 110-2 edge in total yardage. The Bucs went nowhere on their third drive and Indy got the ball back at their own 35. Two plays later, Manning tried to hit Clark on a seam route and rookie S Tanard Jackson absolutely leveled the unsuspecting tight end with a shoulder hit that forced an incompletion.
Jackson made a big play on the next snap, too. Manning tried to hit Wayne deep but Jackson made a leaping interception at the Bucs' 28. The rookie safety even returned the ball to the Colts' 24, but much of the runback was erased by a block-in-the-back penalty against DE Patrick Chukwurah.
The drive thus started at the Bucs' 44, and the offense got into Colts territory on a seven-yard Pittman catch that resulted in Tampa Bay's initial first down of the game. Three plays later, the Bucs got their first third-down conversion when Garcia hit Galloway on a dead run over the middle of the field, gaining 13 yards to the Colts' 30. A scrambling throw to Hilliard gained 16 more, and Pittman picked up four yards on the play that left him injured. Garcia pitched in with his now-traditional hard-nosed scramble to the Colts' three, then executed a nifty play-action pass to wide-open Smith in the right edge of the end zone. The Bucs were back within six with seven minutes to play in the half.
However, Thorpe got around the right corner on the ensuing kickoff return and ripped off a 35-yarder to the Colts' 44. Perhaps grabbing some momentum, the Bucs' defense got its second stop in a row and forced a punt that WR Mark Jones fair caught at the 20. Unfortunately, the Bucs failed to move the chains, too, and that gave Manning the ball back in time for a two-minute drill.
Josh Bidwell's booming, 53-yard punt pushed the ball back to the Colts' 24 but Manning used the first minute to get the ball down to Tampa Bay's 29, thanks largely to a 21-yard strike over the middle to Gonzalez. Another Gonzalez catch got the ball out of bounds at the Bucs' nine, but with only five seconds left the Colts elected to settle for Vinatieri's 27-yard field goal and a 16-7 halftime lead.
Indianapolis got the ball to start the second half and immediately set off downfield. Even a rare bit of pressure on Manning did little to slow down the Colts; Chukwurah broke free towards Manning on a second-and-11 from midfield only to see the quarterback spin away and hit Wayne on the run for an eight-yarder on the sideline. __ plays later, the Colts were in the end zone on a seven-yard Keith run and the lead was 16 points.
After Vinatieri's second field goal made it 33-14 with three minutes to play, the Bucs brought in Gradkowski. Last year's primary starter got the ball over midfield but then was intercepted by S Antoine Bethea to end the game.
The Bucs fall to 3-2 on the season and back into a first-place tie in the NFC South with the Carolina Panthers, who were winners at New Orleans earlier in the day. The Bucs return home next weekend for a Sunday afternoon game against the Tennessee Titans.
Game Notes: Michael Pittman started the game at running back in place of Cadillac Williams, who is now on injured reserve. It was Pittman's 50th start as a Buccaneer since joining the team in 2002. … The extra point blocked by DE Gaines Adams in the second quarter was the first missed PAT by a Buccaneer opponent since Ryan Longwell was wide left on a try at Green Bay on Sept. 25, 2005. The last time the Bucs blocked an extra point was October 12, 1986, when Chris Washington blocked a try by St. Louis Cardinals kicker John Lee . … TE Jerramy Stevens' five-yard catch in the fourth quarter marked his first reception as a Buccaneer. … TE Alex Smith had two touchdowns in a game for the second time in his career with his pair of three-yard scoring receptions. Smith also scored twice in the first game of his NFL career, at Minnesota on September 11, 2005.
Inactives: The Buccaneers declared the following eight players inactive for Sunday's game: QB Chris Simms, CB Sammy Davis, LB Jeremiah Trotter, LB Adam Hayward, G Dan Buenning, T Dennis Roland, DT Ryan Sims and designated third quarterback Luke McCown. None of the deactivations were due to injury.
The Colts declared the following eight players inactive: S Bob Sanders, RB Joseph Addai, DB T.J. Rushing, LB Freddy Keiaho, WR Aaron Moorehead, TE Ben Utecht, WR Marvin Harrison and DT Dan Klecko. Sanders, Addai, Keiaho, Utecht and Harrison were out due to injuries.
Injuries: For the Bucs, DE Greg White sustained a left shoulder injury late in the first quarter and did not return. RB Michael Pittman hurt his left ankle in the second period and did not return.
The Colts did not report an injury from the sideline during the game, though TE Dallas Clark missed some time after a hard hit by rookie S Tanard Jackson.