The Buccaneers last played a game at Raymond James Stadium on Nov. 17, and it wasn’t a pretty one. Tampa Bay was completely outclassed in a 34-17 loss to New Orleans, sending its record to 3-7 on the year. At the time, things looked and felt pretty bleak for a team that was once 2-2, especially considering it was going to spend the next two Sundays away from home.
But things came together pretty nicely on those two Sundays (albeit against bad teams), which got the Bucs to 5-7 and kept them mathematically alive in hunt for an NFC Wild Card spot. All things considered, they came into Sunday’s game against the Colts trending in the right direction. If they could get a third consecutive victory, it would give them their longest winning streak since 2016, when they won five straight games before eventually finishing 9-7. Plus, a win would be Bruce Arians’ second against one of his former teams in as many chances this season (the other being a 30-27 win over the Cardinals).
Indianapolis arrived in Tampa at 6-6, having lost four of its last five games. And with top receiver T.Y. Hilton and cornerback Kenny Moore sidelined, the Colts had plenty stacked against them. As a result, the Bucs came in as three-point favorites, with ESPN’s FPI giving them a 59.1% chance to win.
It turns out that Vegas knows its stuff, as Tampa Bay did win by three. But how the Bucs got there was quite the roller coaster. They overcame a 35-21 second-half deficit to win 38-35 in what was quite literally a perfect encapsulation of Jameis Winston’s career. He set a franchise record for passing yards in a home game, totaled five touchdowns and threw three interceptions. But the Bucs came through late and got their third consecutive victory.
The Bucs won the coin toss and elected to receive, and with T.J. Logan hitting injured reserve this week, it was Dare Ogunbowale assuming the kick return duties. The kickoff went for a touchback, setting Tampa Bay up at its 25-yard line. Ronald Jones II, starting at running back after being benched last week, picked up 10 yards on the game’s first play. But on the following play, Winston was picked off by Darius Leonard. An illegal blindside block backed Indianapolis up to the 50, but it was still as bad of a start as possible.
The Buccaneer defense quickly got the Colts to a 3rd & 6 and looked to have a stop as Jason Pierre-Paul and Vita Vea broke into the backfield. But neither could get to Jacoby Brissett, who unloaded a 46-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Johnson. After the PAT, it was 7-0 Indianapolis with just 2:15 of game time off the clock.
Ogunbowale returned the ensuing kickoff to the 30, giving the Bucs a chance to get their offense on track. After one first down, an Ogunbowale fumble on a 3rd & 11 checkdown gave the ball right back to the Colts.
Two incompletions with an offsides on Pierre-Paul mixed in between set up a 3rd & 5 for Indianapolis, but the defense couldn’t get off the field yet again as Brissett converted with a nine-yard pass to Jack Doyle. Former USF star Marlon Mack got carries on the next two plays and went nowhere, setting up yet another third down. This time, good coverage by rookie Jamel Dean forced an incompletion. Rookie kicker Chase McLaughlin, stepping in for injured future Hall of Famer Adam Vinatieri, came on and hit a 50-yard field goal to extend the Indianapolis lead to 10-0. It was a seven-play, 16-yard scoring drive.
The Bucs went to Peyton Barber on their next drive, and it paid off early as three straight runs netted a first down. Winston found Chris Godwin for 15 yards a couple of plays later, which set up the drive’s biggest play — a 31-yard pass to Breshad Perriman. After the nice one-handed grab by Perriman, Winston went to Cameron Brate for a gain of 13. On the next play, Tampa Bay got on the board with a a one-yard quarterback sneak by Winston. After Matt Gay’s PAT, the Bucs trailed just 10-7.
The Tampa Bay defense kept the momentum going with a quick three-and-out, highlighted by a nice pass breakup by Carlton Davis on second down. After a 43-yard punt, Justin Watson picked up seven on the return to set the Bucs up with good field position at their own 39.
It didn’t take long for Tampa Bay to strike again. On the first play of the drive, Winston fired a PERFECT pass to Mike Evans for a 61-yard touchdown. On the down side, Evans had to be helped off the field with an apparent injury. But on the positive side, the Bucs had swung things in their favor within just a few minutes, grabbing a 14-10 lead. It took drives of 5:12 and 0:09 to do so.
The Bucs defense kept the pressure on, forcing a 3rd & 11 before the first quarter came to an end.
The second quarter started with another Brissett incompletion, which led to a 51-yard punt. The Bucs got the ball back at their own 21, but it proved to be a bad few minutes for the Bucs. A first-down holding penalty set them back, Evans was ruled out with a hamstring injury and Pinion’s eventual 45-yard punt was returned 19 yards to the Tampa Bay 47. It was the third Colts drive of the game to start at midfield or better.
Indianapolis relied heavily on Mack on its next drive, which reached the 20-yard line pretty quickly. But after Mack was stopped on first down, Davis made a diving pass breakup — which was nearly an interception — to set up a 3rd & 10. Brissett picked up nine yards with a scramble to bring up 4th & 1, which he then converted with another nine-yard run. On the next play, Mack found the end zone to give the Colts a 17-14 lead.
The Bucs started their next drive from the 25, but quickly got to midfield on throws of 18 and seven yards to Godwin. Meanwhile, Donovan Smith exited with an injury. That came into play shortly after, as Josh Wells gave up a sack of Winston to bring up 3rd & 14. Regardless, Winston bounced back by finding Godwin for a gain of 28 yards to Indianapolis’ 23-yard line.
Tampa Bay lost 16 yards on its next play due to an intentional grounding call on Winston, but then got those 16 yards back on a pass to Barber. What followed was Winston’s second big mistake of the day, as he was bested by Leonard again. This time, Leonard picked it off and ran it back 80 yards to extend the Colts’ lead to 24-14.
On the Bucs’ next drive, Donovan Smith returned. Passes of nine and eight yards to Godwin and O.J. Howard, respectively, got them to their 42 by the two-minute warning, needing points to close the gap before halftime. Winston and Ogunbowale followed the two-minute warning by linking up for gains of five and 17 yards, making it to the Indianapolis 35 before Bruce Arians called his first timeout.
After the timeout, Winston found Brate for 11 yards and Watson for another 11 to get to the Colts’ 13. On an eventual 3rd & 10, Winston escaped a sack and rolled out to find Watson for 10 more yards and a first down. He followed that with a three-yard touchdown pass to Brate, which got the Bucs back within 24-21 late in the first half.
The Bucs had to feel good about getting back within three with a 75-yard drive in 1:54, but the good feeling didn’t last long. On the first play of the following drive, Brissett found Johnson for 50 yards and Vea was called for roughing the passer. With the ball at the 13, Indianapolis picked up another first down before McLaughlin connected on a 19-yard field goal to put his team up 27-21 at the half.
The Colts started the second half with possession at their own 25 and quickly got across midfield, but a big combined sack from William Gholston and Shaquil Barrett brought the drive to a halt. The half-sack for Barrett brought his season total to 15, which is 1.5 shy of Warren Sapp’s single-season record.
The Bucs started from their own 23 after a punt, and much to everyone’s surprise, it was Ryan Griffin at quarterback. Winston wasn’t initially seen on the sideline, but made his way back out of the locker room a short while later. The team announced that he had a right hand injury, and his return was questionable.
Griffin, for his part, got out to a decent start. A five-yard pass to Howard and a 13-yarder to Ogunbowale got the Bucs near midfield, but the drive stalled there as he threw wide of Godwin on 3rd & 8.
Tampa Bay gave Indianapolis some help to start its next drive, with Mack getting loose for a 13-yard gain and Andrew Adams getting called for a late hit out of bounds to add 15 more yards. A few plays later, the Colts converted a 3rd & 12 with a 37-yard pass from Brissett to Zach Pascal. A short while later, the Buccaneer defense forced another third-and-long, but it didn’t matter. Brissett found Pascal for a 12-yard touchdown and then hit him again for the two-point conversion to extend the Colts’ lead to 35-21 with 5:59 left in the third.
Winston returned to the field for the Bucs’ next drive, connecting with Jones for a nine-yard gain on his first snap back. He followed with a 33-yard pass to Howard to get Tampa Bay down to Indianapolis’ 33-yard line. A few plays later, Winston found Watson for a 17-yard touchdown. Just like that, the Bucs were back within one score. It was Watson’s first career touchdown catch, and it capped off a five-play, 75-yard drive.
Trailing 35-28 with 3:18 left in the third quarter, the Bucs had plenty of time to come back. But their defense took the field on the ensuing Colts possession needing to show that it could get a stop. The drive started with a couple of nice plays by Davis, including a pass breakup and a stop on a screen, to set up a 3rd & 8. Brissett found Pascal again, but the ball was spotted just short of the first-down marker. Todd Bowles’ unit got the big stop it needed.
After a fair catch call by Watson at the Bucs’ 19-yard line, the offense took the field looking to keep its rhythm going. Winston converted a 3rd & 6 with a 13-yard pass to Godwin up to the Bucs’ 36, bringing us to the end of the third quarter.
Early in the fourth, Winston found Watson near the sideline for another first down before going deep to Howard for a gain of 27 yards. The drive eventually stalled at the Colts’ 26, which brought Matt Gay out for a 44-yard field goal. The kick cut the Indianapolis lead to 35-31 with 13:00 left. It would once again be up to the Tampa Bay defense to get a stop.
Matt is GOOD from 44 yards out pic.twitter.com/XZhdsjXBIz— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 8, 2019
It looked like Tampa Bay wasn’t going to get that stop, with a 45-yard pass interference penalty on Dean giving the Colts possession at the Bucs’ 25. But just a couple of plays later, Devin White forced a fumble that was recovered by fellow rookie Mike Edwards to get the ball back to the Bucs at their own 13.
But of course, the Bucs quickly gave the ball right back. Winston threw behind Perriman, who tipped the pass into Malik Hooker’s hands for another interception. Indianapolis took over, once again at Tampa Bay’s 25.
To the Bucs’ credit, the defense stepped up. The Colts lost four yards on three plays, then McLaughlin missed a 47-yard field goal off the upright. The Bucs took over at their own 37, trailing by four with 8:13 to go.
On the first play of the Tampa Bay drive, Winston linked up with Perriman for a 27-yard gain to the Indianapolis 36. From there, RoJo stepped up for the Bucs. He caught a pass for six yards, ran for six more and later caught another nine-yard pass to set the offense up with a 3rd & 1 at the 15. Vea came on and entered the backfield, but the ball went to Barber. He was stuffed for a loss, which brought up a 4th & 2.
After a timeout, the Bucs converted with a four-yard pass to Ogunbowale. One play later, Tampa Bay took the lead on a fantastic 12-yard touchdown catch by Perriman. With Gay’s extra point, the Bucs led 38-35 with 3:51 to go.
FIRE THEOSE CANNONS!— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 8, 2019
Jameis hits Breshad from 12 yards out for the score. pic.twitter.com/F9z127R6At
A few completions got the Colts to midfield, but they faced a 3rd & 2 when the two-minute warning came. The Bucs brought pressure on the eventual third down play, which led to a quick throw and a drop. Then, on fourth down, Brissett had his pass batted back to him. From there, he tried an illegal forward pass or two (even the head referee had a laugh as he explained it), which gave the ball — and the game — to the Buccaneers.
One first down and a few kneel-downs later, Tampa Bay had its third straight win.
Keep stacking 'em!— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 8, 2019
That's three straight wins for the Buccaneers. pic.twitter.com/kOY6D365f9
- Jameis Winston had perhaps the most Jameis Winston game of his career, completing 33 of his 45 passes for 456 yards (a franchise record for a home game), four touchdowns and three interceptions. He added a rushing score as well, giving him five total touchdowns.
- Chris Godwin finished as the Bucs’ leading receiver, catching seven passes for 91 yards.
- Before leaving with a hamstring injury, Mike Evans’ lone catch was the 61-yard touchdown.
- Breshad Perriman stepped up huge again for the Bucs, hauling in three passes for 70 yards and a touchdown.
- Justin Watson was a huge key as well, especially after Evans’ injury. He caught five passes for 59 yards and his first career touchdown.
- O.J. Howard continued to play well, bringing in four passes for 73 yards.
- Nine different Bucs caught passes in the game.
- Carlton Davis racked up three more passes defended in this game, adding to his team lead.
- Jordan Whitehead finished as the Bucs’ leading tackler, totaling nine (six solo), with one for loss.
- The Bucs were 8-for-15 on third down in the game, while the Colts finished 6-of-16.
- Tampa Bay outgained Indianapolis 317-168 in the first 30 minutes, but still trailed by six thanks to three turnovers. The Bucs finished the game with 542 total yards to the Colts’ 309.
- Time of possession also favored the Bucs in the first half, as they held the ball for 18:26 of the first 30 minutes. Of the full 60 minutes, Tampa Bay had possession for 34:15.
The Buccaneers (6-7) return to the field next Sunday (Dec. 15) in Detroit against the Lions (3-9-1). Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m.