The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost a tough game to the Indianapolis Colts 25-12, as Matt Hasselbeck consistently marched his team down the field against a struggling Tampa Bay secondary, and the Bucs offensive line failed to protect Jameis Winston in the face of relentless blitzes.
Winston started off hot and looked to be having a very good game in the first half, but struggled as the second half went on and the constant pressure started to get to him. The Bucs have been compensating for the Bucs offensive line for weeks but this time, they could not and Winston was sacked five times and forced to leave the pocket many more times. He completed 18 of 34 passes for 221 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the game, with the pick coming on a last-minute desperation drive. After putting up 90 yards on 12 carries in the first half, Doug Martin was a non-factor in the second half with just two more carries for seven yards.
Meanwhile, the Bucs defense struggled to stop veteran Matt Hasselbeck, who consistently found holes in the Bucs' coverage. For the first time since week 10 of the 2014 season, Tampa Bay's defense did not record a turnover -- the one fumble they forced and recovered negated by a very dubious defensive holding penalty on Alterraun Verner. That penalty was not a fluke: the Bucs faced constant dubious calls on both sides of the ball in what was one of the worst refereeing performances I've seen.
A loss to the Colts hurts the Bucs' playoff chances, but it was also the least relevant game remaining on the schedule as Indianapolis is an AFC opponent. The Bucs are still fully in the playoff hunt, though they need to be near-perfect the rest of the way to keep it that way.
First quarter notes
The Colts drove down the field but stalled inside field goal range, settling for a 49-yard field goal to open the game and take a 3-0 lead. Matt Hasselbeck managed to consistently take the short throws that are always open against a Lovie Smith defense, but it's hard for quarterbacks to do that over a full game.
Meanwhile, the Bucs offense did what it does: run Doug Martin, then hit Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans for solid gains. A beautiful third-and-11 Vincent Jackson toe-tapping catch kept the drive going, though the Bucs were also forced to settle for a field goal after Jameis Winston barely overthrew Mike Evans in the end zone.
The Bucs struggled to get to Hasselbeck on the Colts' second drive of the game, and he managed to find his receivers for several big plays down the field to get the Colts to the red zone. Once there, though, the Colts again stalled, thanks to strong play by Jacquies Smith and Jude Adjei-Barimah and were forced to settle for just a 6-3 lead at the start of the second quarter.
Second quarter notes
As the game went on, the Colts started to blitz more and more both to stop Doug Martin and to get to Jameis Winston. They had a lot of success doing both early in the second quarter, but Winston adjusted well with a few big plays outside the pocket to Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. The Bucs got six plays in the red zone as a result, but could not convert -- in part because Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans got no targets on that drive.
The Bucs forced the game's first punt on the ensuing drive, as Kwon Alexander got his hands on the ball to break up a third-down pass. That's when the Bucs came alive, with a couple of key throws by Jameis WInston sustaining a drive that was capped off by a beautiful seam touchdown to Cameron Brate. Connor Barth produced the first missed extra point in his career to keep the lead to just 12-6, but the Bucs defense held in the two-minute warning to get the Bucs to the half with that score.
Third quarter notes
The Bucs took the field looking to extend their lead, but a phantom holding call on Vincent Jackson stifled their opening drive. Instead, Matt Hasselbeck found T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief down the field to get the Colts into the red zone, with the Colts keeping in extra blockers to give Hasselbeck time on a 31-yard Hilton catch. Once again, the Bucs held in the red zone to keep them to a field goal.
But the Bucs offense continued to struggle and produced their second three-and-out of the game, giving Hasselbeck and company a very short field for their second drive of the second half. Two T.Y. Hilton catches later, the Colts took a 16-12 lead with their first touchdown of the game.
Fourth quarter notes
The Bucs offensive line continued to implode, with Jameis Winston starting to overreact to pressure after getting hit all game long. Meanwhile, Matt Hasselbeck targeted Donte Moncrief on Jude Adjei-Barimah over and over again -- and the undrafted rookie came up short consistently. A weird call on a would-be field goal then gave the Colts a second chance to score a touchdown, as did the refs making the close but defensible ruling that Ahmad Bradshaw did not fumble the football. A Donte Moncrief touchdown and a 25-12 Colts lead after a missed extra point was the result.
The Bucs then had just under six minutes to make up a two-touchdown deficit, but Winston and company stalled in the red zone as he could not connect with Cameron Brate on fourth-and-one. The Bucs got the ball back with a little more than two minutes left, but Winston threw a desperation interception to end what little hopes the Bucs had left.
Defensive end Jacquies Smith left the game with a hamstring injury in the fourth quarter and did not return.
Bruce Carter had to be evaluated for a concussion and did not return.
The Buccaneers host the Atlanta Falcons, looking to sweep their division rivals. A win would put them right back in the playoff race.