The Tampa Bay Buccaneers trail the Indianapolis Colts 10-7 at halftime of their first home Monday Night Football game in eight years, and their unfortunate collection of nine yellow flags tells part of the story. Still, two very strong drives to end the second quarter led to 235 total yards of offense and the promise of more fireworks in the second half.
QB Josh Freeman completed 17 of 24 passes for 187 yards and also scored on a one-yard run to keep the Bucs within striking distance of the Colts, who turned in the game's biggest play with Curtis Painter's 87-yard touchdown pass to WR Pierre Garcon. Painter was making his first career NFL start in replace of the injured Kerry Collins, who in turn filled the void left by Pro Bowl QB Peyton Manning's neck injury.
The Bucs missed out on several strong scoring opportunities. A sack and forced fumble by DE Michael Bennett set up a 46-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter but Connor Barth hit his attempt off the right upright. Barth made a 37-yarder as time expired in the half but the play was nullified because the Bucs had 12 men on the field, with the offense frantically trying to get off the field as the clock ran out. In addition, WR Arrelious Benn had a 62-yard touchdown catch erased because he had stepped slightly out of bounds just before hauling in Freeman's pass.
The Colts won the toss and elected to receive. Michael Koenen's opening kickoff sailed out of the back of the end zone for a touchback. Painter dropped back to pass on first down but his first throw was in and out of the hands of Garcon. The Bucs jumped offside before the next snap, and RB Joseph Addai's two-yard run made it third-and-three. Working in a hurry-up offense, Painter just slipped the ball past CB Ronde Barber to TE Dallas Clark for a first down at the 33. Two more Addai runs made it third-and-three at the 40 but a quick slant to Reggie Wayne moved the sticks and put the ball at midfield. A well-designed weakside out to Clark hit for 21 yards down to the Bucs 29, but LB Geno Hayes, blitzing, knocked down the next pass at the line of scrimmage. Two plays later, on third-and-eight, the Bucs brought a heavy blitz and Painter's attempted out to Wayne was off-target. K Adam Vinatieri gave the Colts a 3-0 lead with a 45-yard field goal.
The Bucs' first drive also started with a touchback. LeGarrette Blount got the carry on first down and powered left for two yards. One more run made it third-and-six, and Freeman overthrew Earnest Graham on third down to bring on a punt. Rookie S Devin Holland's perfect coverage on Koenen's kick led to a 58-yard net on the punt.
From the 17, Addai burst for five yards on first down then danced into a seam on the left side for another nine yards on the next snap. An errant Painter pass was nearly intercepted by CB Aqib Talib but a nice run around the left end got six yards for Addai. On third down, the Bucs once again brought the pressure and Bennett got to Painter almost immediately, knocking the ball from his grasp and recovering it at the Indy 32. A quick out to rookie TE Luke Stocker picked up four, but WR Mike Williams dropped the third-down pass and K Connor Barth banged his 46-yard field goal off the right upright.
The missed field goal gave the ball back to Indy at their own 36 and rookie RB Delone Carter immediately ripped off a 13-yard run over left guard. A blitz on the next snap forced an errant throw by Painter and Carter's second-down run got just three yards. An offsides call cost the Bucs five yards, but Clayborn's ridiculously fast rush on third down didn't allow Painter to throw the ball anywhere near the intended target. The ensuing punt was fair caught at the Bucs' 10.
Blount's tackle-breaking run up the middle picked up 13 yards to start the next drive and Freeman managed to make a seven-yard pass to TE Kellen Winslow on a dropped snap on the next play. A holding penalty pushed the Bucs back 10 yards, and a tight end screen to Stocker got five of them back. On third-and-eight, RB Kregg Lumpkin made a nice move to elude two tacklers on a short pass and moved the chains with a 10-yard gain. An end-around to Williams was good for three yards, and the Bucs appeared to score on the next play. Freeman rolled right and hit Benn on the sideline, and the receiver side-stepped a tackle and ran all the way to the end zone. However, Benn's left foot had touched the sideline before the catch so the play came back. As the second quarter started, the Bucs threw the challenge flag to get the refs to review whether Benn's foot was definitely out of bounds, but the call was upheld. A quick pass over the middle to Winslow made it third-and-three from the Bucs' 42, but Freeman's scrambling throw to Williams on third down was off target. Blair White hauled in a fair catch at the Colts' 16 on the Bucs' second punt.
Painter's deep pass on first down wasn't anywhere near a receiver, as there appeared to be some miscommunication, and the Buc defense was all over an Addai run to the right on second down. On third-and-eight, Tampa Bay continued its blitzing ways and Painter's throw to Collie was off-line. Pat McAfee blasted a 59-yard punt but a horse-collar tackle by Indy's Stevie Brown moved the ball 15 yards in the Bucs' favor.
A trademark refuse-to-go down run by Blount got six yards on first down, making it second-and-four at the Bucs' 44. Williams' quick buttonhook route on second down resulted in a 12-yard completion to the opposite 44, and a sidearm fling under pressure netted Freeman a seven-yard completion to Winslow. Two plays later, Freeman looked to Graham on a quick out but the first down was denied when S Antoine Bethea knocked the ball out of the back's grasp at the last second. Koenen's punt was downed at the Indy two by LB Adam Hayward.
Addai's first-down carry ran into a gang of Bucs on the right and lost a yard, but a defensive holding call on Talib gave the Colts a first down at the six. Two plays later, Garcon got open down the right sideline, caught Painter's pass in stride and slipped past Talib to break into the open. Garcon didn't stop until he had completed an 87-yard scoring pass to make it 10-0 in the Colts' favor with nine minutes left in the half.
Freeman's 21-yard completion to Winslow came back on a holding call but he followed up with a 43-yard strike to Benn to get the ball into Indy territory. Blount burrowed for eight yards to the Indy 39 then turned a short pass into another 14 to the 25. A quick-hitter down the line to Williams was good for 10 more when the receiver side-stepped one tackle. An attempted pass to Stocker in the end zone was nearly picked off, and Blount got just two yards on second down. WR Preston Parker ran an underneath route on third down and turned it into an 11-yard gain to the one, making it first and goal. Freeman finished the drive on the next snap with a simple sneak off left guard for the score.
The Colts started at their own 17 and got nothing on first down when a wall of Buc defenders strung Carter out to the right sideline. Carter found even less room to run on second down, stopped four yards deep in the backfield by DT Gerald McCoy. The Colts were forced to take a timeout as the clock ran down before third down, and after the break a screen pass to Addai came up seven yards short, forcing an Indianapolis punt.
A holding call on the kick forced the Bucs to start at their own 25, and three plays later Graham took a delayed handoff into the open field for a 31-yard gain. A penalty on a downfield block by Parker erased 15 of those yards, but it was still first down at the Bucs' 37. Over-the-middle passes to Lumpkin and Winslow moved the chains and set up another first down at the 49. A disturbing leg injury to DT Eric Foster stopped the action with 52 seconds left and brought a hush over the crowd, as players on both teams reacted strongly to the sight, frantically calling on the Colts' medical staff.
After Foster was carted off, the Colts committed an offsides penalty to put the ball at the Colts' 44 and stopped the clock again with 46 seconds left. Parker broke several tackles to turn a quick buttonhook into 14 yards to the 30 as the Bucs called a timeout with 39 seconds left. After the pause, Graham caught another pass over the middle and dived forward for 11 yards, with Freeman spiking the ball to kill the clock at the 20-yard line. Yet another middle pass to Graham got nine more and forced the Bucs to use their last timeout at the 20-second mark. Facing a third-and-one, Freeman held the ball a bit too long and was sacked by Robert Mathis for a loss of eight yards. The Bucs' field goal team got a successful kick off, but one of the offensive players wasn't quite to the sideline at the snap and the resulting 12-men-on-the-field penalty erased the three points.