The Indianapolis Colts held strong in their showdown with the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, but in the end, too many self-inflicted wounds put them on the wrong side of a 38-31 outcome.
The Colts (6-6) held a 10-point lead going into the locker room at halftime. However, in what has become a theme throughout the season, they allowed a postseason contender such as the Buccaneers (8-3) to persevere in the scond half and make plays on both sides of the ball.
Here are some of my main observations from the lopsided victory.
—The art of beating yourself. For the fourth time this season, the Colts held a lead in the second half against a playoff team but couldn't hold on and win. The biggest culprits on Sunday were their five turnovers on offense and a handful of costly penalties. Of the Colts' four turnovers that occurred in regulation, the Buccaneers scored three touchdowns and one field goal on the ensuing drives, directly handing them 24 points. As for penalties, Colts safety Andrew Sendejo was called for a boneheaded unnecessary roughness penalty against Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady that allowed Tampa to score on the next play. The Colts later had two defensive pass interference calls on separate drives that the Buccaneers capitalized on, scoring three plays later and one play later, respectively.
—Starting slow. The Colts hit their stride offensively in the second quarter, but both teams had an ugly first quarter, scoring just one field goal overall. The Colts, for example, didn't achieve their first true first down until a few minutes into the second quarter. The Colts confirmed early that it was going to be tough sledding in the run game against Tampa's No. 1 run defense as they totaled just two yards on four carries. It also took stud receiver Michael Pittman Jr. a while to get warmed up. On three of the Colts' first third-down attempts, Pittman slipped while breaking out of a route and then dropped two passes after. He would make up for it later by totaling 53 yards on four receptions.
—Offensive imbalance. One of the biggest storylines from this game is the Colts' offense having 26 straight dropbacks despite leading on the scoreboard. In total, the Colts had 44 pass attempts compared to 20 runs. With the NFL's leading rusher in Jonathan Taylor, putting the ball in his hands is certainly worth entertaining. Colts quarterback Carson Wentz was in the midst of a standout game but it's risky to put him in control of the ball that much with his style of play. Plus, you knew Tampa's pass rush was going to get to him at some point, and they did, as their strip-sack of him coming out of halftime was the true turning point of the game. Something to remember, though, is that this wasn't simply head coach Frank Reich dialing up pass play after pass play. Wentz had influence in that as well, as he dictates what happens with the ball in run-pass options, and he can also check into pass plays at the line of scrimmage. Overall, the Colts felt they were rolling with the passing game and liked the prospect of sticking with it.
—All hands on deck. On Wentz's three touchdown passes, one went to Ashton Dulin, which was the first of his career. Another went to Jack Doyle, who has just 26 receptions on the season, and the last went to T.Y. Hilton, who scored his first of the year.
—Despite takeaways, the defense still has warts. The Colts came into Week 12 leading the NFL in turnover differential (+15) and takeaways (25), but you wouldn't tell that from watching on Sunday. They were -3 in the differential as Tampa outpaced them 5 to 3, and as a result, it prolonged drives for the Buccaneers and helped put points on the board. The Colts' defense actually performed well on third down, holding the Bucs to 2-of-8 conversions (25.0%), but the visitors were also 4-of-4 in the red zone (100.0%). In the second half, Tampa gashed the Colts with the run game to the tune of 87 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries (6.2 avg.), but also with tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate totaling 62 yards on four catches (15.5 avg.) in the third quarter. Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette finished the game with 24 touches for 131 yards (5.5 avg.) and four touchdowns. The Colts did also get to Brady for two sacks but the pass rush was very inconsistent, which allowed him time to find receivers around the sticks
What were your biggest takeaways from Sunday? Drop your thoughts below in the comment section!