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Buccaneers at Colts recap: Leonard Fournette, turnovers key in 38-31 win

Tampa Bay’s defense forced timely turnovers and Leonard Fournette scored four touchdowns in a thrilling 38-31 win over Indianapolis.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Indianapolis Colts Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off of a 30-10 victory over the Giants on Monday Night Football in Week 11, the Buccaneers (7-3) had a shorter week of practice ahead of a tough Week 12 road test against the Indianapolis Colts (6-5) on Sunday afternoon.

Looking to close the month of November on a high note, Tampa Bay continued to get a little healthier this week. Scotty Miller (toe) was activated from injured reserve and suited up on Sunday for the first time since Week 3, while Vita Vea (knee) was active after missing last week’s game. Everyone saw last week just how helpful it was to get Rob Gronkowski and Sean Murphy-Bunting back from injury, and they looked to be a big part of things on Sunday as well. Not to mention, having Devin White (quad) and Mike Evans (back) in the lineup after some missed practice time this week was going to be huge given the roles they play for their respective sides of the ball.

Although the team got healthier ahead of Week 12, it was still missing some key pieces in Indianapolis. Carlton Davis (quad) returned to practice this week to begin his road back from injured reserve, but he wasn’t ready to go on Sunday. Antonio Brown (ankle) remained sidelined as well, while Ali Marpet (abdominal) had to miss the game after exiting last Monday’s win early in the first half.

What truly made Sunday such a test for the Bucs was the fact that they were playing one of the hottest teams in the NFL—and they were playing them on the road. The Colts came in as winners of five of their last six games, which had them at 6-5 and on the cusp of a playoff spot in the AFC. Plus, there’s the fact that Tampa Bay has been a completely different team on the road this season, posting a 2-3 record away from home as opposed to a 5-0 mark at Raymond James Stadium. For a team with the No. 1 scoring offense in the league, the Bucs hadn’t scored more than 28 points in any road game heading into Sunday’s matchup.

In a game that featured Indianapolis’ Jonathan Taylor—the NFL’s leading rusher—and Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady—the NFL’s passing touchdowns leader—the visitors entered as 2.5-point favorites. ESPN’s FPI Matchup Predictor gave the Bucs a 60.1% chance at earning their eighth win and widening their lead atop the NFC South to three games with six to play.

Things started slowly for Tampa Bay, which fell behind 24-14 before halftime. The Colts were close to making it a 17-point game early in the third quarter before everything changed. Shaquil Barrett forced and recovered a fumble, allowing the Bucs to get back in the game. The defending Super Bowl champions scored 17 straight points to take a 31-24 lead before the Colts made things interesting late, tying the game with 3:29 to go. But from there, it was Leonard Fournette taking over the game. He fought hard for yard after yard to put the Bucs in field goal range before running away for a 28-yard touchdown with 20 seconds to go. Despite a scare on the ensuing kickoff, Tampa Bay held on the rest of the way to secure a wild 38-31 road victory.

Game Recap

The Colts won the coin toss and elected to defer, meaning Tom Brady and the Buccaneer offense would have a chance to set the tone early like they did in their win over the Giants last Monday. After Jaelon Darden decided to bring the opening kickoff out of the end zone, Tampa Bay’s first possession began at the 22-yard line. Leonard Fournette picked up four yards on first down, but back-to-back incomplete passes meant a quick three-and-out forced by the Indianapolis defense. Not only was it a bad start for the offense, but Bradley Pinion shanked the punt and the Bucs were called for holding, giving the Colts possession at the Tampa Bay 30.

Vita Vea stopped Jonathan Taylor for no gain on first down before Taylor picked up three on second down to set up a 3rd & 7. Tampa Bay’s defense ended up coming up with a massive stop given the field position, as Carson Wentz threw incomplete on third down. Michael Badgley connected on a 45-yard field goal to give the Colts an early 3-0 lead, but it could’ve been much worse after what was a 14-yard punt to give the home team phenomenal field position.

Starting drive No. 2 from the 25-yard line, Brady threw his third straight incompletion on first down. He finally connected on his next pass, though, hitting Rob Gronkowski for a 20-yard gain to the 45. Following up his first completion, Brady then hit Mike Evans for a gain of nine yards to get across midfield. Going up-tempo, the Bucs went back to the ground, with Fournette getting seven yards and a first down at the Indianapolis 39. Brady got away with another bad throw on the next play, with Rock Ya-Sin dropping an interception that very possibly could’ve turned into a pick six. A pass to Fournette got nothing on the next snap, leading to a key 3rd & 10 inside Colts territory. Godwin caught a quick screen, but Darius Leonard knocked the ball loose and the Colts recovered. What looked like a promising drive ended in a turnover, continuing the Bucs’ dreadful start.

Shaquil Barrett started the next drive with a neutral-zone infraction before getting to Wentz for a sack that set Indianapolis back to 2nd & 9. An eight-yard catch by Jack Doyle set up a 3rd & 1, but not before Jamel Dean had to be attended to by the training staff near the sideline. Not to mention, Kevin Minter had to enter the game at inside linebacker for Devin White, who battled a quad injury during the week. After the injury timeout, Michael Pittman Jr. dropped a pass and it nearly became an interception for Minter. Nonetheless, the defense got another stop, forcing a Rigoberto Sanchez punt. After the kick, the Bucs took over at their own 16-yard line.

At the start of the next drive, a wave of injury news came in for Tampa Bay. White was designated as questionable to return with a hip injury, while Dean was also designated as questionable with a shoulder injury. To add to that, Aaron Stinnie—in for the injured Ali Marpet—was also questionable to return with a knee injury.

The disaster continued for the Bucs from there, with a quick three-and-out forcing another Pinion punt. This one was better, as it went 53 yards. With an eight-yard return, the Colts set up for their third drive at the 33-yard line.

Wentz threw to Taylor for four yards to open the next drive for Indianapolis before William Gholston stopped the league’s leading rusher for a loss of two. Pittman then dropped another wide-open third-down pass, forcing another Indianapolis punt. This time, Sanchez dropped a 47-yarder at to the 18, and a loss of one yard on the return by Darden set the Buccaneer offense up with a 1st & 10 at the 17.

Ronald Jones II got his first carry of the game to start the Bucs’ next possession, and he got seven yards. They went back to Jones on the next play but this time it was less successful, as the Colts got to him for a loss of three. A third-down drop by Fournette continued the offense’s dismal performance, bringing Pinion out for another punt. This time, he delivered a 55-yarder, but a solid 13-yard return by Nyheim Hines set the Indianapolis offense up at its own 37-yard line.

Taylor got stopped for absolutely no gain to start the Colts’ next drive, then the Tampa Bay defense stepped up in a big way. Mike Edwards made an excellent play to force a Zach Pascal fumble, which Lavonte David recovered and returned to the Colts’ 34-yard line.

Gifted great field position thanks to the turnover forced by the Buccaneer defense, the offense had to get something going. Brady connected with Gronkowski for 10 yards to the 24 to start the drive, then Fournette caught a pass for eight yards out of the backfield to mark the first red zone trip for either team on the afternoon. Fournette gained another four yards on the next play to move the chains again before a seven-yard pass to Cameron Brate got the Bucs to the 5-yard line as the first quarter came to an end with the Colts clinging to their 3-0 lead.

Fournette got two yards on 2nd & 3 to start the second quarter, setting up a 3rd & 1 at the Indianapolis 3-yard line. He picked up the first down on the next play, then found the end zone from one yard out two plays later. Thanks to the defense, Tampa Bay had its first lead of the day. With Ryan Succop’s PAT, the Bucs had a 7-3 advantage with 13:22 to go before halftime.

Going from their 25-yard line, the Colts went back to their workhorse to start the drive. He caught an eight-yard pass to before forcing his way through a pile for a five-yard gain to pick up Indianapolis’ first first down of the day. And on the next play, Sean Murphy-Bunting got burnt by Ashton Dulin for a 62-yard touchdown. It looked as if Antoine Winfield Jr. was supposed to give Murphy-Bunting some help, but he covered a crossing route and left the deep ball on the table for Wentz. The PAT gave the Colts their three-point lead right back, with it becoming a 10-7 game.

A 30-yard return by Darden gave the Bucs decent field position, then a defensive holding call on first down gave them five more free yards. Jones then got 11 yards up the middle on the next play, but things went from bad to worse again from there as Brady was intercepted by Isaiah Rodgers on a deep pass intended for Scotty Miller.

The Colts found some confidence in their passing game after the 62-yard bomb to Dulin, as Wentz opened the next series with passes of 10 and 14 yards before Murphy-Bunting got called for pass interference for another 24 yards. Two plays later, Taylor finally broke free for his first big run of the day, getting 12 yards down to the Tampa Bay 26. A five-yard run by Taylor and a three-yard catch by Pittman then set up a big 3rd & 2. Taylor was stuffed for just a one-yard gain on that third down, but Wentz kept the ball on fourth down and converted for a big first down. One play later, Wentz found a wide-open Doyle for a 15-yard touchdown. After a nine-play, 90-yard drive that lasted 5:43, the Colts had opened up a 17-7 lead.

Completions of seven and 15 yards to Godwin and Gronkowski, respectively, got the Bucs moving on their next drive. A nine-yard pass to Tyler Johnson and a six-yard run by Fournette moved the chains again and got the ball across midfield as the clock hit 3:36. Forunette got 12 more on his next carry to get a first down at the Indianapolis 35 before Brady connected with Gronkowski for 26 yards to the 9. A short five-yard pass to Fournette got half of what the Bucs needed on 1st & Goal, which brought it to 2nd & Goal at the 4. But first, we hit the two-minute warning.

On the first play after the two-minute warning, Brady hit Fournette for a four-yard touchdown. With Succop’s PAT, the Bucs were within 17-14 with 1:56 to go before halftime.

With 1:56 left in the quarter and three timeouts to work with, the Colts had plenty of time to answer the Bucs’ touchdown before getting the ball again to start the second half. Wentz threw to T.Y. Hilton on back-to-back plays for nine and five yards to start the drive, then Ndamukong Suh dropped Wentz for a sack and a loss of five. The Bucs called a timeout at that point and looked to get the ball back after Wentz overthrew Pascal to bring up a 3rd & 15. Instead, the defense embarrassingly let Wentz scramble for 16 yards and a first down. A three-yard run by Hines and a 12-yard pass to Pittman got the Colts to Tampa Bay’s 35 with just under a minute to go. Two incompletions then forced a 3rd & 10, but the Buccaneer defense’s woes in the passing game continued. Wentz hit a wide-open Doyle for 22 yards to the 13 before a nine-yard catch by Hines two plays later set up a 3rd & 1 at the Bucs’ 4. An incomplete pass set up a 4th & 1 and the Colts lined up to go for it before calling a timeout.

After the timeout, the Colts converted the fourth down with a four-yard touchdown pass from Wentz to Hilton. That made it 24-14 in favor of the Colts after a 14-play, 75-yard drive.

The Bucs only had 18 seconds to work with by the time they got the ball back, so they just took a knee and headed to the locker room down 10 despite Indianapolis being set to receive the kickoff to start the second half.

Starting the second half on defense, the Bucs got Devin White back. It didn’t help initially, as Wentz found Pittman for 23 yards near midfield after an incomplete pass on first down. Lavonte David dropped Taylor for a loss of three on a screen pass one play later before a pass breakup by Murphy-Bunting brought up 3rd & 13. The Colts then converted another third-and-long opportunity as Pittman caught a 15-yard pass over the middle and into Bucs territory. A five-yard pass to Taylor and a 15-yard pass to Kylen Granson got Indianapolis in the red zone with ease, but it was then that the Bucs got what felt like it could be the biggest play of the day. Shaquil Barrett got to Wentz for a sack-fumble and recovered the ball himself to stop the drive. So, instead of the Colts potentially going up 27-14 or 31-14, the Bucs were set to get the ball back with a chance to make it a one-score game.

Fournette got four yards to open the Bucs’ first possession of the second half before Brady was sacked to bring up a 3rd & 8. Gronkowski willed his way to a conversion, catching a pass well short of the sticks before working his way through tacklers first a first down. Scotty Miller was then interfered with by Rock Ya-Sin on a deep ball, and the spot foul gave Tampa Bay a first down at the Indianapolis 15. Brady then found Brate for a gain of 11 to the 4 before Fournette punched it in two plays later for his third touchdown of the day. The key turnover forced by Barrett led to points, and just like that, the Bucs were within 24-21.

The Colts got a quick first down on their next drive before the Bucs forced them into a 3rd & 10 thanks to heavy pressure from Anthony Nelson—who fought through an uncalled hands-to-the-face—and a big hit on a screen by Murphy-Bunting. But another third-and-long conversion moved the chains, keeping the defense on the field. Just when the Colts looked like they were driving again, the Tampa Bay defense came through with another turnover. Antoine Winfield Jr. intercepted Wentz on deep pass to Pittman and after catching it at the 5-yard line, he ran it back to the 35 to set the Buccaneer offense up with solid field position as they looked to take the lead.

Runs of five, eight and eight yards by Jones got the Bucs across midfield to the Indianapolis 44, then Brady hit Gronkowski for a gain of 32 yards to the 12 to get the Bucs really in business. DeForest Buckner got to Brady for a sack and a loss of seven on the next play, putting Tampa Bay behind the sticks. Gronkowski then caught a nine-yard pass—his seventh of the game—to set up a 3rd & 8 at the 10. Brate was interfered with in the end zone on the next play, giving the Bucs a first down at the 1. Jones punched it in from there, giving the Bucs their first lead since early in the second quarter. After Succop nailed the PAT, Tampa Bay went up 28-24 with 1:06 left in the third quarter.

An incomplete pass on first down and a holding penalty on second down pushed things back to a 2nd & 20 for Indianapolis. Mo Alie-Cox caught an eight-yard pass to bring up 3rd & 12, but that third-down attempt would have to wait until the fourth quarter. With a 14-0 run in the third quarter, Tampa Bay took a 28-24 lead into the final 15 minutes.

Indianapolis began the fourth quarter with a false start, backing it up to 3rd & 17. Wentz escaped sacks from Barrett and Suh on third down, but Jason Pierre-Paul brought him down for a gain of just two to force a punt.

After the Colts punt, the Bucs took over at their own 38 with a chance to gain some separation in the fourth quarter. A two-yard run and a two-yard catch by Fournette got Tampa Bay to 3rd & 6, Brady threw short of Brate to bring Pinion out for another punt. A 36-yarder was muffed by Hines and Scotty Miller was there to recover, moving the Buccaneer offense up to the Colts’ 19-yard line.

Brady hit Godwin for a gain of nine on first down, then Brady snuck forward for three yards and a first down to the 7-yard line on the next play. But then a one-yard run and two incomplete passes meant the Bucs could only settle for three points, keeping it a one-score game with 10:06 to go in the fourth quarter.

Jonathan Taylor got five yards on his first carry of the half to start the next drive, then he got 15 more on the next play to move the chains. He got another five on a third straight carry, then the Colts went back to the air with Wentz hitting Hines for seven yards and a first down into Buccaneer territory. Taylor went for another 10 yards to the Tampa Bay 33 on the next play as the clock ticked under seven minutes. The next play? Taylor on the ground again for 15 to the Bucs’ 18. Murphy-Bunting was injured on the play, bringing an injury timeout with 6:11 to go. Runs of one and three yards brought up a 3rd & 6 with under five minutes left. The Colts converted, with Wentz finding Hilton for 10 yards to the Bucs’ 4. On the next play, Taylor found the end zone. With the PAT, the Colts tied the game at 31 with 3:29 to go.

Going from the 25 with 3:29 left, Brady threw to Evans for three yards on first down before finding Godwin for eight to the 36-yard line. A false start on third-string guard Nick Leverett then looked to be costly, setting the Bucs back to 1st & 15. Fournette ran for 11 yards on the next play, though, setting up a manageable 2nd & 4 after the two-minute warning.

After the two-minute warning, Brady connected with Brate for six yards and a first down near midfield. Brady then found Fournette on a short pass out of the backfield and the running back took care of the rest, getting 13 yards to the Indianapolis 39. Fournette then ran for eight more yards to the 31, forcing the Colts to call their second timeout with 1:07 to go. After the timeout, Godwin ran for three yards and a first down inside the 30 as the clock ticked under a minute. One play later, Fournette finished off what was a phenomenal drive—and day. He found the edge and ran away for a 28-yard touchdown to give Tampa Bay a 38-31 lead with 20 seconds to go.

The Colts gave themselves one last chance, with Isaiah Rodgers returning the ensuing kick for 72 yards to the Bucs’ 32-yard line. With 10 seconds to go, Lavonte David knocked a pass away to bring the clock down to five seconds. On the final play, Wentz threw one up and former Colt Pierre Desir came down with the Bucs’ third interception of the day to end the game and seal the team’s 38-31 victory.

Quick Notes & Stats

  • With the win, Tom Brady is now 9-0 against the Colts since 2010.
  • The Buccaneer defense didn’t allow a first down in the first quarter, which was a major help given the slow start by the offense.
  • After a dominant first quarter, the Tampa Bay defense disappeared. Injuries didn’t help, as the unit allowed Carson Wentz to finish the first half with 197 yards and three touchdowns on 16-of-24 passing.
  • The Bucs were just 1-of-5 on third downs in the first half and while the Colts were only 2-of-7, they did go 2-of-2 on fourth downs.
  • The Bucs outscored the Colts 24-7 in the second half.
  • Third-down efficiency was a problem throughout for Tampa Bay, as it went just 2-of-8 while Indianapolis finished 5-of-11.
  • Tampa Bay forced five turnovers in the game, scoring 24 points off of them.
  • Tom Brady finished 25-of-34 for 226 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
  • Leonard Fournette was the star of the day, running for 100 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries while catching seven passes for 31 yards and a touchdown.
  • Fournette’s four touchdowns from scrimmage tied a single-game franchise record. Jimmie Giles (1985) and Doug Martin (2012) are the only other Bucs to score four in one game.
  • Ronald Jones II saw limited action, but was effective with the carries he did get. He ran for 31 yards and a touchdown on seven carries.
  • Rob Gronkowski was the Bucs’ leading receiver, catching seven passes for 123 yards. With his 30th career 100-yard receiving game, he now has the second-most by a tight end in NFL history (Tony Gonzalez, 31).
  • Lavonte David, Shaquil Barrett and Scotty Miller all recovered fumbles in the game. Antoine Winfield Jr. and Pierre Desir both came up with interceptions of Carson Wentz.
  • Barrett totaled two sacks, while Ndamukong Suh notched another.
  • Until the Colts’ game-tying touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, Jonathan Taylor was a non-factor. Even with a big final drive, he failed to reach the 100-yard mark, finishing with 83 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
  • The Bucs now have a three-game lead atop the NFC South with six games left to play.

The Buccaneers (8-3) will look for a third straight win next Sunday when they travel to Atlanta for a matchup against the Falcons (5-6). Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m.