TAMPA – Fighting against a resilient Curtis Painter-led Indianapolis Colts squad and a steady barrage of yellow flags, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers treated their first sold out crowd in over a year to a record-breaking offensive performance and 24-17 come-from-behind win on Monday Night Football.
With one quarter of the season now in the books, Monday’s victory improves Tampa Bay to 3-1 overall. It’s the fourth time in five years the Bucs have started 3-1, with 2009-10 being the exception.
“Good win, 3-1,” said head coach Raheem Morris. “[We’re] excited about that, obviously a good start to the season. [We’re] going to the second quarter, [it’s a] short week [and we] got to go get ready to play [San Francisco]. We’ve got to go clean some things this week – some of the penalties we can control we’ll clean up – and the other ones we won’t worry about.”
Monday’s game was played under clear skies on an 80-degree night and the official paid attendance was reported as 63,972.
Starting on defense for Tampa Bay was: LE Michael Bennett, DT Gerald McCoy, DT Brian Price, RE Adrian Clayborn, WLB Geno Hayes, MLB Mason Foster, LCB Aqib Talib, RCB Ronde Barber, SS Sean Jones, FS Corey Lynch, DB E.J. Biggers.
The Bucs lined up offensively with: WR Mike Williams, LT Donald Penn, LG Jeremy Zuttah, C Jeff Faine, RG Davin Joseph, RT Jeremy Trueblood, TE Kellen Winslow, WR Arrelious Benn, RB LeGarrette Blount, TE Luke Stocker and QB Josh />Seven Buccaneers were listed as inactive. They were CB Anthony Gaitor, WR Sammie Stroughter, RB Allen Bradford, TE Zack Pianalto, DT Frank Okam, OT Derek Hardman and OT James Lee.
Tampa Bay piled up a season-high 466 yards of total offense and held possession for 39 minutes, but it needed virtually all 60:00 of football to outlast the visiting Colts. The yardage total was the most any Bucs team has ever amassed during a home game and sixth most in team history. The previous mark at home was a 464-yard day against Washington on Dec. 4 1994.
Quarterback Josh Freeman hit eight different receivers while completing 25 of 39 passes for 287 yards and a touchdown. Wide receiver Mike Williams [66 yards] and tight end Kellen Winslow [33 yards] each had five receptions to lead the team and receiver Preston Parker totaled 58 yards on four catches.
Running back LeGarrette Blount topped the 100-yard plateau on the ground for the first time in 2011. Blount went for 127 yards on 25 touches and capped his night with a victory-sealing 35-yard touchdown with 3:26 remaining to put Tampa Bay in front, 24-17.
“I feel like I should've had a 100-yard game by now,” Blount said afterward. “My offensive line has been awesome, so there were a few plays that I left on the field the last few games and could have had a 100-yard game, but I’m happy that we got it out of the way. Hopefully I’m going to send one of those guys [the offensive linemen] to the Pro Bowl.”
A portion of the Bucs’ struggles with Indianapolis on Monday night can be attributed to the 14 penalties racked up for 106 yards, including one for illegal touching that negated a 62-yard Arrelious Benn touchdown reception in the first quarter that would have put Tampa Bay on top, 7-3.
Instead of taking that early advantage, the Bucs were forced to punt three plays later and eventually watched Indianapolis and its inexperienced quarterback go up 10-0 with 9:01 left in the second quarter. Painter hooked up with Pierre Garcon down the right sideline for an 87-yard touchdown strike after the fourth-year receiver beat cornerback Aqib Talib and, according to official reviewers, also managed to stay inbounds.
The Painter-to-Garcon connection proved to be Indianapolis’s most potent weapon Monday night. Garcon hauled in only two of the six passes that came his way, but both went for long touchdowns and totaled 146 of Indianapolis’s 318 total yards. The other was a 59-yard catch-and-run in the third quarter that included another refereeing decision deemed questionable by the nearly 64,000 fans in attendance. As Garcon was cutting across the field on his way to the left side of the end zone, Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber looked to be blocked in the back right as he was attempting to make a play on Garcon. Garcon’s second score gave Indianapolis its second and final lead of the day at 17-10 with 7:22 left in the third quarter.
Other than the Bucs’ troubles with covering or tackling Garcon, the Tampa Bay defense turned in another stout performance. Painter finished with 281 yards on 13 of 30 passing and the Colts’ running game never materialized. It was the second week in a row Tampa Bay has stymied its opponent’s ground attack, limiting running backs Joseph Addai [11 carries for 41 yards] and Delone Carter [seven carries for 21 yards] to only 62 yards on 18 attempts.
In addition to denying the run, the young and upcoming Tampa Bay defensive front continued to impress. The Bucs’ season-long sack total increased to 10 Monday night after Painter was brought down four times. Defensive end Michael Bennett recorded his first two sacks of the year and defensive end Adrian Clayborn and tackle Gerald McCoy both took down Painter once. Clayborn is now up to two total sacks and McCoy’s was his first.
“I’m fired up about those young guys and they're getting better and better,” Morris said of his defensive line. “We go out there each week and I can see improvement. Tonight, again we have four sacks like last week, but the D-line to keep coming like that and keep playing and keep hitting the quarterback and getting after people – we’ll be a better football team because of it.”
Along with the Bucs’ penalty damage, Tampa Bay missed an opportunity to score points deep in Colts territory midway through the opening quarter. Down 3-0 after Adam Vinatieri’s 45-yard field goal on Indianapolis’s opening drive, Bennett recorded his first sack of the night with 7:16 left, stripped the ball and also recovered it. The Bucs took over at the Colts 32 but moved only four yards in three plays. Connor Barth’s 46-yard field goal attempt clanged off the right upright to keep Tampa Bay off the scoreboard.
Although the Tampa Bay offense eventually produced record-setting statistics, it limped out of the gate. The Bucs’ first four possessions ended in three punts and the missed field goal.
Freeman sliced the 10-point deficit to 10-7 with his second rushing touchdown in as many weeks with 4 minutes to go in the first half. The 1-yard sneak up the middle capped Tampa Bay's longest drive of the season in terms of ground covered. It lasted eight plays, spanned 81 yards and ate over 11 minutes of game time.
Another squandered chance for three points came during the last play of the first half. Barth’s 37-yard kick at the whistle was wiped off the board because Tampa Bay offensive players failed to get off the field in time before the rushed kick snap. During halftime, slow-motion replays were made viewable on the Raymond James Stadium JumboTrons that showed Colts defensive end Jamaal Anderson also still not safely on the Indianapolis sideline before the snap. That aspect was not taken into account, though, and Tampa Bay went into the locker room down 10-7.
The third quarter is where the Bucs began to take control. Freeman and the Tampa Bay offense had the ball for 13:05 of the period’s 15 minutes and headed into the fourth tied at 17-17.
Tampa Bay’s first drive of the third lasted 10 plays, went 52 yards and ended with a 46-yard Barth field goal to even the game at 10-10.
After the second of Painter’s touchdown hits to Garcon, coming on the first play of Indianapolis’s second drive of the quarter, Tampa Bay mounted another lengthy march down the field to tie the game again. Freeman went 4-for-6 for 42 yards on the 13-play, 80-yard drive. Parker finished it off by snaring a 13-yard pass in the left flats and diving just inside the pylon with 22 seconds until the fourth quarter.
Painter and the Colts nearly answered right back on the next drive. Indianapolis went 52 yards in 13 plays, but Vinatieri’s 43-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left.
The teams traded punts before Blount’s big 35-yard, game-winning run. The second-year running back’s opportunity was set up two plays earlier by a 7-yard Freeman scramble on third-and-6 that extended the drive.
Tampa Bay stuffed Indianapolis on three plays after Michael Koenen’s ensuing kickoff sailed into the end zone and started the Colts off at their own 20. Indianapolis still had all three timeouts remaining when it punted away to Tampa Bay with 2:46 showing on the clock, but the Bucs executed its late-game offense to perfection. Facing fourth-and-inches at the Indianapolis 43 and 1:14 left, Tampa Bay went for it and Freeman’s sneak up the middle succeeded.
One victory-formation kneel later and the Bucs were celebrating their first Monday Night Football win since a 19-13 victory at Ray Jay against the New York Giants in 2003. Tampa Bay improved its record on the bright, prime-time stage to 10-9 overall, 8-3 at home and 7-2 at Raymond James. The Bucs had lost three straight on Monday night leading up to this game.