Monday, December 18, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Colts hand painful experience to Bucs

INDIANAPOLIS

Some age-old problems showed up to beat the Bucs on Sunday, and Colts quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was just one of them.

The 40-year-old Hasselbeck threw two touchdown passes to T.Y. Hilton in the second half as the Colts came from behind to beat the Bucs 25-12 at Lucas Oil Field.

But if you're looking for reasons why the good vibe the Bucs built before Thanksgiving didn't last as long as the holiday turkey, start with a return of old, familiar mistakes: a hailstorm of penalties, poor pass coverage, missed kicks and a certain star receiver dropping another game-altering pass.

In watching their modest two-game winning streak disappear, the Bucs (5-6) led 12-6 in the first half but were outscored by the Colts 19-0 in the second half.

"There's still a good vibe. (Sunday) we didn't play well," Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. "But everything we have, our goals are still in front of us. There's no room for error now, you could say. Six losses. But we'll come back against Atlanta next week, and it's going to be a distant memory."

The game was billed as a battle for the ages: Hasselbeck, the oldest quarterback in the league, against the 21-year-old Winston, the youngest.

The Bucs took the lead when Winston hit tight end Cameron Brate for a 20-yard touchdown pass with less than two minutes left in the first half.

There were even signs that running back Doug Martin — coming off a 235-yard rushing performance against the Eagles — might enjoy another huge day. He exploded for a 56-yard run late in the second quarter to set up Winston's scoring pass to Brate. Martin's 2-yard touchdown run in the second quarter was erased by a holding penalty on Kevin Pamphile, forcing the Bucs to settle for a 30-yard field goal that tied the score at 6.

But inexplicably, despite the Bucs not trailing by more than one score until just under six minutes were left, Martin had only three touches after his long run.

"Right now, of course, we'd say we wish we had run the ball more," Smith said of the infrequent use of Martin, who finished with 97 yards on only 14 carries. "I wish we had completed plays we had called in the passing game. That could've done things for us, too. … We had opportunities. It just wasn't our day."

The Bucs had 12 penalties for 95 yards, and they helped the Colts take the game over in the third quarter, helping force back-to-back three and outs. A holding penalty on receiver Vincent Jackson killed the first drive. A sack of Winston — one of five on the day for a Colts team that had entered the game with only 14 — ended the second possession.

The good field position helped Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, who kicked four field goals, cut the Bucs' lead to 12-9 with a 26-yarder. That's when Hasselbeck, who improved to 4-0 in relief of injured Andrew Luck, started dicing the Bucs' secondary. He completed consecutive passes of 31 and 19 yards on the next drive, the second to Hilton for a touchdown and a 16-12 lead. Hasselbeck finished 26-of-42 for 315 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

"That's Matt for you," said Bucs tackle Gosder Cherilus, a former teammate of his with the Colts. "He's one of the best pros I've ever been around. I'm talking about a locker-room guy, quarterback. What is he? Forty-six?"

The Bucs had a chance to retake the lead on the next series when receiver Mike Evans, who has been plagued by drops this season, let a deep pass slip through his hands inside the Colts' 10-yard line. The drive ended when kicker Connor Barth missed from 54 yards.

Vinatieri, no spring chicken at 42, made it 19-12 with a 44-yarder near the end of the third quarter. Tampa Bay's defense appeared to have held again on the Colts' first drive of the fourth, but as Vinatieri made another field goal, safety Chris Conte was flagged for leaping over the long snapper. Hasselbeck fired to Hilton in the corner of the end zone for the final touchdown.

"I told the guy there is no way in hell I touched the center," Conte said. "He told me afterwards my foot grazed the center. … You're not allowed to touch the guy when you jump over him. … I don't know how you call that there."

Winston vowed that the Bucs would find a way to bounce back Sunday against Atlanta. "When I talk to the guys, we have been here before," Winston said. "The season is not over. We've got to keep playing."

     
         
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