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Bucs-Colts: Tampa Bay will miss the playoffs (again), and other things we learned

Thomas Bassinger: The Bucs rally from a 14-point deficit to win their third straight game, their longest winning streak since 2016.
Bucs receiver Breshad Perriman caught the game-winning touchdown pass Sunday.
Bucs receiver Breshad Perriman caught the game-winning touchdown pass Sunday. [ MARK LOMOGLIO | Associated Press ]
Published Dec. 8, 2019|Updated Dec. 9, 2019

TAMPA — Observations from the Buccaneers’ 38-35 comeback win over the Colts on Sunday:

1. The Jameis Winston Bipolar Express returned to Tampa. Here’s how his day started: His first pass of the game resulted in an interception (it was the fourth time this season he has thrown an interception on the Bucs’ first possession). He rushed for his first touchdown of the season. He dropped a 61-yard dime into the arms of Mike Evans to give Tampa Bay its first lead. He threw a pick-six, his fifth of the season. After the pick-six, he led the Bucs on an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. And that was just the first half!

2. It was a wild game, featuring 73 combined points and three lead changes, but there will be no wild-card game for the Bucs this season. Despite the win, they were eliminated from playoff contention because the Vikings beat the Lions. Tampa Bay has not made the playoffs since the 2007 season. It has not won a playoff game since the 2002 season, the season it won the Super Bowl.

3. Decision of the game: Trailing 35-31 with less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Bucs chose to go for it on fourth and 2 from the Indianapolis 16-yard line. Winston completed a 4-yard pass to Dare Ogunbowale to pick up the first down. On the next play, he hit Breshad Perriman in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown, which turned out to be his last pass of the game.

4. Winston finished with four passing touchdowns, one rushing touchdown, three interceptions and more than 400 passing yards. He’s the only quarterback in NFL history to hit those marks in a single game.

5. His first-half interceptions, however, were almost too much for the Bucs to overcome. Inexcusable for a quarterback in his fifth season. On the second one — the pick-six — Colts linebacker Darius Leonard faked a blitz up the middle and then jumped back into Winston’s throwing lane.

6. When the Bucs and Winston watch the film of that play, it’s going to sting. Tight end Cameron Brate was wide open over the middle as soon as the ball was snapped. Winston never saw him.

7. How many times are we going to say, “This was the most Jameis Winston game ever”? This is every Winston game.

8. So the Bucs fell behind because of Winston but came back because of Winston. He’s the one who starts the fire, and he’s the one who puts it out. When considering whether he is worthy of a contract extension, how does that figure into the calculation?

9. You can’t knock Winston’s competitiveness. He doesn’t fold. Nor does the rest of the team. When the Bucs fall behind by 14 points, you can’t count them out, even when they’re missing Mike Evans, who injured his hamstring while making his touchdown catch. Evans’ season, by the way, might be over.

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10. After the game, Winston said the Bucs willed themselves to a win. “It’s from (the coaches’) confidence,” he said. "It’s from their body language from being on that sideline and giving everybody else around us confidence that, ‘Hey, I messed up, but what am I going to do now?’”

11. The Colts started their first possession at the 50-yard line after a Winston interception and their second possession at the Tampa Bay 48 after an Ogunbowale fumble. In the fourth quarter, they started a possession at the Tampa Bay 25 after Winston’s third interception. Bucs opponents have started at midfield or in Tampa Bay territory after a turnover an NFL-high 16 times this season.

12. The Bucs defense came into today with the third-worst average opponent starting field position. The offense came into today with the highest interception rate. These things are related.

13. With about 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Colts led the Bucs by only four points. That the game was even close was remarkable given that Indianapolis had three more takeaways, a fact that was not lost on Winston. “You don’t win football games in this league losing the turnover battle by three," he said. "But when you have a coach that is persistent and always motivating you (and) teammates that without a doubt will have your back regardless of the situation and when you get a little bit of luck to go your way it happens.”

14. This is the first time in Winston’s career that the Bucs have won a game in regulation despite a minus-3 or worse turnover margin. Including last season’s win against Cleveland overtime, Tampa Bay had been 1-14 in such games since 2015.

15. Neither team was effective running the ball, but the Bucs were far and away the more explosive passing offense, outgaining the Colts by more than 200 yards.

16. Three weeks ago, it felt inevitable that the Bucs would finish in last place for the eighth time in nine seasons. Now, they’re riding a three-game win streak and are alone in second place in the NFC South. Next up: at Detroit, home vs. Houston and home vs. Atlanta; 8-8 is realistic and 9-7 isn’t such a stretch.

17. Since we kicked off the #FixTheBucsUnis campaign three weeks ago, the Bucs are 3-0. Speaking of which, see our mockups here and here.

Statistics in this report are from Football Outsiders and Pro Football Reference. Contact Thomas Bassinger at tbassinger@tampabay.com. Follow @tometrics.

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