1. This dang defense.
The Buccaneer defense did what it's done all season on Sunday – it stopped the run and got off the field, while keeping Tampa Bay in the game. The Indianapolis Colts came in with the fourth-best rushing attack this season and were stopped by the league's second-best rushing defense. The Bucs let up just 66 yards on the ground, a far cry from the Colts' 139.0 yard-per-game average. And it wasn't like Indy didn't try. They had 22 attempts in the game for just a 3.0-yard average per play. Marlon Mack, who had the 10th-most rushing yards in the NFL entering the game was held to 38 yards on 13 attempts. It forced quarterback Jacoby Brissett into the air 36 times. He'd complete just 19 of those passes for his second-worst completion percentage this season. That was thanks to a collective effort between pressure up front and passes broken up on the back end. Though Brissett was only sacked once, he was hit eight times. The Bucs also recorded four passes defensed, three of which were by cornerback Carlton Davis, who recorded his third game this season with at least three.
The first couple drives on offense didn't exactly go as planned for the Buccaneers. The Bucs were in a 10-0 hole to start the game, in fact, and it could have been worse. After a fumble on the second drive gave the Colts' great field position in Buccaneer territory, the defense held them to just a field goal. They did the same on the last interception of the game in the fourth quarter and this time, newly signed kicker Chase McLaughlin would miss the attempt, keeping the Bucs within range to take the lead – which they did. The defense also did a great job getting off the field throughout the game. They held the Colts to just a 38% third-down success rate, converting just six of 16 attempts. The Tampa Bay defense even added to their takeaway total by forcing another fumble by the hands of rookie Devin White – his third of the year. It was scooped up by fellow rookie Mike Edwards for his first recovery of his career, stopping Indy in Buccaneer territory.
2. Bucs were 100% in the red zone and capitalized on offensive opportunities.
It took 38 points to do it, but the offense came through when the team needed it, capitalizing on opportunities and converting in clutch moments. For instance, late in the fourth quarter and down four points, quarterback Jameis Winston led a go-ahead touchdown drive that culminated in a 12-yard pass to wide receiver Breshad Perriman in the end zone. It followed a series that saw a pick-six from the Colts' defense, giving them the lead back. But the offense wouldn't be denied and Winston bounced back.
It was a career day for Winston, in fact. He threw for the most yards in a single game ever in his five seasons under center. He completed 33 of 45 pass attempts for 456 yards and four touchdowns. He now has 4,115 passing yards on the year, which is the second-most in the NFL this season and the most in a single season in team history. The Bucs had 542 yards of total offense in the game, which is good for the third-best mark in franchise history. Tampa Bay is averaging 29.1 yards per game which is the third-most of any team this season.
It showed a vast improvement in places like the red zone, where the Bucs were four-for-four in their trips inside the 20. That had been a point of emphasis throughout the year, with the offense settling for field goals, even when getting inside the five-yard line in some cases. Guys in the locker room after the game said in years past, that was a game the Bucs don't win. The fact that they did could mean they've turned a corner, after all.
3. Turnovers still making things a little difficult.
A rollercoaster of a day means there were some valleys with the peaks. And indeed, the Bucs lost the turnover margin 4:1. Usually, when there is that big of a discrepancy, you don't come out with the win. In fact, in games this season, teams are 5-27 when committing four or more turnovers. The Bucs themselves are 1-4, having lost four previous contests with four or more turnovers this year.
But the resiliency is encouraging. The ability to overcome what was at one point a 14-point deficit in the third quarter to holding a three-point lead as time ran out is a sign of a team working together to overcome mistakes. In fact, after a day to mull it over, Head Coach Bruce Arians said he liked the win over the Colts better than the previous week's win over the Jaguars, where the Bucs held the lead for all of the game. He said it was because overcoming that adversity shows the growth in the team and how the culture is changing, which is good news all around with a young team that has a lot to look forward to.