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Colts Beat Themselves in Crushing Loss vs. Buccaneers

Whether it was the turnovers or the inability to stop the run, the Colts could not get out of their own way as they fell to the Super Bowl champs.

It was déjà vu all over again, and not in a good way.

The Indianapolis Colts held a 24-14 lead at the end of the first half over the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The offense, after starting slow, began to find a rhythm as Carson Wentz drove the Colts up and down the field. The defense had mostly held Tom Brady and the Bucs offense in check.

But as the Colts came out after half, the turnovers began to mount. After turning over the ball twice in the first half, a strip-sack by Buccaneers’ pass rusher Shaq Barrett and an interception by safety Antoine Winfield Jr. brought the Bucs right back into the game.

Suddenly, the lead was gone by the end of the third, the Bucs were up 28-24, and the Colts would never regain the lead. A 38-31 loss ensued, the Colts’ third such loss of the year when having a lead of more than 10 points. And on a day where a reeling Tennessee Titans team lost their second game in a row, the Colts couldn’t capitalize.

“Too many mistakes in the second half to beat a good football team,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said after the game.

Coming into the game, the Colts were plus-15 in turnover differential on the season, the best in the NFL. They’re a team that prides itself in taking care of the football and capitalizing when their turnover-hungry defense, who generated two more Sunday, gets them the ball back.

© Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

© Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

But the Colts gave the ball away five times, easily their most turnovers in a game this season. When doing that against a team as good as Tampa Bay, it’s hard to overcome that.

“Yeah, turnovers were killers for us, no doubt,” Wentz said. “It was a slow start, not what we wanted, but we kind started to get in a groove and move the ball. I thought at the end of the day, looking at numbers, I felt like we moved the ball alright, just the turnovers absolutely killed us. Like I said, against a good team like that they capitalize on those turnovers.”

While Wentz had two interceptions (the last of which came on a Hail Mary attempt at the end of the game) and a fumble, the other turnovers came from unsuspecting characters. Zach Pascal had the first fumble of his career, failing to fully secure a short throw as he turned upfield. Nyheim Hines, who is normally very sure-handed on catching punts, muffed one after calling for a fair catch deep in Colts’ territory.

On a day where the offense needed to be mistake-free to beat a top team, they had one of their sloppiest performances to date.

The Colts’ defense also was uncharacteristic in that they could not stop the run. Over the last month, teams weren’t able to have much success on the ground against this Colts front. Don’t tell that to Bucs’ running back Leonard Fournette.

Fournette, rather than Brady, seemed to be the one causing the most trouble for Indy. With 131 yards from scrimmage on the day and four touchdowns, including the game-winner with 20 seconds remaining, the performance seemed like a flashback to when Fournette was running over defenders at LSU. The performance is not something this Colts team has been familiar with this season.

© Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

© Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

“Defensively, we got to step up,” Darius Leonard said dejectedly. “We got to step up when the game is on the line, whenever our offense does turn the ball over, we got to at least, get them to three points. I think they scored three out of the four times on takeaways, and we just have to be better there.”

The biggest issue at hand is that one of the main flaws for this Colts team still remains: They’re unable to close out games against quality opponents.

This game was all too familiar. Just like in Baltimore and against Tennessee at home, the Colts possessed a double-digit lead and looked to be in command. And just like in those games, the Buccaneers came back to win and showed why they are a Super Bowl contender, while the Colts are fighting for their playoff lives.

“You got to find a way,” Jonathan Taylor said. “We’ve done a good job at that over the past few weeks of finding a way to kind of put people away when you get a little lead. It’s something that we have to continue to work on and continue to get better because when you’re playing defending world champs, great football teams, you’re going to need to learn how to be able to put people away.”

While the game in Buffalo was a step in the right direction, the Colts took a step back this week in that regard. Many people didn’t expect the Colts to win on Sunday, but when up by 10 at the half and the momentum on their side, this one is going to sting.

As far as the Colts learning to put good teams away, they’ll need to learn fast. Sitting at 6-6 in a crowded AFC playoff picture, the Colts will more than likely need to go 4-1 to secure a playoff berth. With games against the New England Patriots, Arizona Cardinals, and Las Vegas Raiders still to come, closing out good teams is a must.

It very well could be the difference between suiting up in January or sitting on the couch and watching from home.

Have thoughts on the Colts' loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday? Drop a line in the comments and let us know what you think!

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