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Baker Mayfield returned from an early injury to throw for two touchdowns, but an interception and late fumble were too much for the Bucs to overcome in a 27-20 loss to the Colts Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Mayfield threw touchdown passes of 1 yard to Mike Evans in the second quarter and 23 yards in the fourth.
But a first-half interception led to a Jonathan Taylor touchdown run that gave Indianapolis its first lead of the game, and a Mayfield fumble on Tampa Bay’s final possession allowed the Colts to run out the clock.
The loss was the Bucs’ sixth in their past seven games after a 3-1 start. It dropped them to 4-7, one game behind the Falcons (5-6) and Saints (5-6) in the NFC South with six games remaining.
Mayfield appeared to injure his right ankle when it was hit by Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner during a quarterback sneak on Tampa Bay’s opening drive. Mayfield limped off the field and went to the medical tent. He was briefly replaced by Kyle Trask.
Mayfield returned for the start of the next possession but was intercepted by linebacker Ronnie Harrison, who returned the ball to the Tampa Bay 41. Four plays later, Taylor ran 4 yards over left guard to put the Colts ahead 10-3.
Quarterback Gardner Minshew extended Indianapolis’ lead to 14 points on its next possession, scoring on a 2-yard run early in the second quarter.
An interception by Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis at the Colts 16 midway through the second quarter set up Mayfield’s 1-yard scoring pass to Evans, bringing the Bucs within 17-10.
The Bucs’ Chase McLaughlin and Colts’ Matt Gay exchanged field goals in the first quarter, tying the game at 3. McLaughlin kicked a 21-yard field goal on Tampa Bay’s opening drive. Gay answered with a 46-yard kick of his own, tying the game.
Gay hit the left upright on a 58-yard attempt on the final play of the first half but was good from 37 yards early in the third quarter, putting the Colts ahead 20-10.
Still, the Bucs weren’t done.
After converting on fourth and 10 with a 19-yard completion to Chris Godwin early in the fourth quarter, Mayfield hit Evans for 23 yards and a touchdown, making it 20-17 with just under 13 minutes still to play.
The Colts came right back, converting on fourth and inches during a nine-play, 75-yard scoring drive capped by a 1-yard Taylor TD run that restored their two-score lead at 27-17 with 7:30 remaining.
McLaughlin’s 24-yard field goal with 4:10 to play brought the Bucs back to within 27-20.
Tampa Bay had one last chance, getting the ball back at its 35 with just over two minutes remaining. But Mayfield was sacked by Samson Ebukam on the third play of the drive, and Indianapolis’ Dayo Odeyingbo recovered at the 38.
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Mayfield completed 20 of 30 passes for 199 yards, two touchdown and an interception. He was sacked six times. Evans was his top target, with six catches for 70 yards and two scores.
Rachaad White ran for 100 yards on 15 carries, averaging 6.7 yards per carry. His 38-yard run with about seven minutes remaining led to a field goal that brought the Bucs back to within a touchdown.
Defensive backs Carlton Davis and Antoine Winfield Jr. each had 10 tackles, including eight solo stops, to lead the defense. Calijah Kancey and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka had one sack apiece.
Here’s how it happened.
Trailing by a touchdown, the Bucs got the ball back with about 2½ minutes remaining.
After forcing an Indianapolis punt, Tampa Bay started at its 35-yard line. A 7-yard completion from Baker Mayfield to Trey Palmer moved the ball to the 42, but an illegal shift penalty pushed it back to the 37.
Rachaad White ran for 4 yards around right end, making it third and 4 from the 41.
That was as far as the Bucs would get, however, as Mayfield was sacked by Samson Ebukam, and the Colts’ Dayo Odeyingbo recovered at the 38 with 1:29 remaining.
Jonathan Taylor ran twice for 13 yards, including an 8-yard gain around right end that gave the Colts a first down and allowed them to run out the clock.
Giving themselves a chance
An explosive run from Rachaad White run set up a Bucs field goal with just over four minutes remaining.
Indianapolis appeared to have White battled up in the backfield on third and 2 from the Tampa Bay 33, but White got outside and ran for 38 yards to the Colts 29.
Baker Mayfield completions of 8 yards to tight end Cade Otton and 15 to receiver Mike Evans quickly moved the ball to the 6.
After Mayfield was sacked, resulting in a loss of 6 yards, he found Otton for 7 yards to the 5. Mayfield was then dropped for a 1-yard loss, making it fourth and goal from the 6.
Trailing by 10 with just over four minutes remaining, the Bucs opted to go for the field goal. Chase McLaughlin’s 24-yard kick brought Tampa Bay back to within 27-20 with 4:10 still to play.
The Colts attempted a fourth-down conversion for the third time with about nine minutes remaining in the game, and for the second time the gamble paid off.
Gardner Minshew was inches short of a first down on third and 6, scrambling for 5 yards to midfield with 9:27 to play.
Indianapolis went for it on fourth and inches. Minshew faked a handoff to Jonathan Taylor and threw over the middle to wide-open tight end Mo Alie-Cox, resulting in a 30-yard gain to the Bucs 19.
Taylor runs of 8 and 10 yards quickly moved the ball to the 1.
It was working, so the Colts went back to Taylor again, and the back powered through a SirVocea Dennis tackle and surged into the end zone for a touchdown that put Indianapolis ahead 27-17 with 7:30 left.
Change in momentum?
After successfully converting on fourth down earlier in the game, the Colts came up short on fourth and 6 late in the third quarter.
With Dee Delaney in coverage, Gardner Minshew’s pass for Josh Downs was incomplete, giving the Bucs possession at their 40-yard line.
Could it wind up being a turning point in the game?
It appeared Tampa Bay would squander the opportunity when its first two plays netted just 2 yards. But Baker Mayfield scambled up the middle for 14 yards on third and 8, giving the Bucs a first down at the Colts 44.
Tampa Bay later faced fourth and 10 after Trey Palmer was stopped for no gain, and Mayfield threw incomplete for Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
But the Bucs went for the first down, and Mayfield found Godwin near the right sideline for 19 yards and a first down at the 25.
After a 2-yard run by Rachaad White, Mayfield rolled to his left and lofted a 23-yard touchdown pass to Evans, bringing Tampa Bay back to within 20-17 with 12:50 remaining in the game.
A promising drive into Colts territory midway through the third quarter sputtered to a stop, ending with a Bucs punt.
Chris Godwin got things started, catching a short pass from Baker Mayfield, spinning away from a tackler and running to the Tampa Bay 46 to complete a 21-yard reception.
Two plays later, Rachaad White gained 11 yards up the middle for another first down at the Indianapolis 40.
Defensive end Tyquan Lewis sacked Mayfield for a 7-yard loss and Trey Palmer dropped a pass with a lot of running room in front of him, bringing up third and 17 from the 47. Mayfield went back to Palmer for 6 yards, but it was well short of the line to gain, resulting in a Bucs punt.
Something out of nothing
An early third-quarter drive that appeared to be going nowhere wound up giving the Colts a two-score lead.
It seemed Indianapolis might have to punt when it faced third and 6 from its 29. But passes of 12 and 17 yards from Gardner Minshew to tight end Will Mallory moved the ball to the Tampa Bay 42.
The Colts were at the 31 one play later, following Jonathan Taylor’s 11-yard run around right end. Zack Moss’ 8-yard run off right tackle gave Indianapolis another first down at the Tampa Bay 20.
But a Moss run and Minshew pass picked up only 2 yards, and the Colts faced third and 8 from the 18. A pass for Josh Downs was incomplete.
Indianapolis was forced to settle for a 37-yard Matt Gay field goal and 20-10 lead with 10:01 remaining in the third quarter.
Going to ground
The Bucs finally got their run game going late in the second quarter.
Rachaad White got things started with a 13-yard run to the Tampa Bay 35. Not to be outdone, Chase Edmonds picked up 11 yards on the next play, advancing to the 46.
Baker Mayfield then threw incomplete for Chris Godwin deep over the middle, but the play resulted in yet another first down. Cornerback Kenny Moore was penalized for roughing the passer, moving the ball to the Indianapolis 39.
Tampa Bay went right back to the ground game. White carried twice for six yards, setting up third and 4 from the 33 at the two-minute warning.
White burst up the middle for an apparent 8-yard gain, but the play was negated by a holding penalty against Aaron Stinnie. It brought up third and 14 from the 43.
Mayfield threw short for Godwin, who didn’t appear to expect the pass and was unable to make the reception. The Bucs were forced to punt.
Trailing by two touchdowns midway through the second quarter, the Bucs finally got the break they needed.
Cornerback Carlton Davis intercepted a Gardner Minshew pass for receiver Josh Downs, giving Tampa Bay the ball at the Indianapolis 16.
After Rachaad White ran for 3 yards, tight end Payne Durham reached over an Indianapolis defender to make an incredible reception of a Baker Mayfield pass, moving the ball to the 1.
One play later, Mayfield lofted a pass to a wide-open Mike Evans on the left side of the end zone, narrowing the Bucs’ deficit to 17-10 with 5:08 to play in the second quarter.
Worth the risk
The Colts took a big gamble early in the second quarter, and it paid off with a touchdown and two-score lead.
Indianapolis went for a first down on fourth and 1 from its 47-yard line. Gardner Minshew faked a handoff to Jonathan Taylor and threw to a wide-open Michael Pittman in the left flat, resulting in a 24-yard gain to the Bucs 29.
Minshew went back to Pittman two plays later, and it netted a 12-yard gain to the 15. Indianapolis was at the 2 one play later, after Minshew connected with Josh Downs for 13 yards.
After Minshew threw incomplete and Taylor was stopped for no gain, the Colts faced third and goal from the 2.
It only delayed the inevitable.
Minshew rolled to his right, pushed past linebacker Devin White and fell into the end zone for a touchdown to put Indianapolis ahead 17-3 with 9:36 to play in the second quarter.
The Colts wasted no time taking advantage of Ronnie Harrison’s interception, needing only four plays to drive 41 yards and take their first lead of the game.
A 17-yard pass from Gardner Minshew to Michael Pittman quickly moved the ball to the Bucs 21. One play later, Jonathan Taylor burst 17 yards to the 4.
Taylor finished the job on the following play, going 4 yards over left tackle for a touchdown to put the Colts ahead 10-3 with 11 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Back in action
Quarterback Baker Mayfield returned for the Bucs’ second possession, but it ended in a turnover.
Mayfield, who appeared to injure his right ankle during a quarterback sneak on Tampa Bay’s opening drive, completed his first attempt following his return, a 6-yard pass to tight end Cade Otton.
But after an offsides penalty against Indianapolis gave Tampa Bay a first down at its 36, a Mayfield pass for Mike Evans was intercepted by linebacker Ronnie Harrison, giving the Colts the ball at the Bucs 41.
All tied up
The Colts answered the Bucs’ field goal on their opening possession with one of their own.
Methodically working its way down the field, Indianapolis drove 47 yards in 10 plays to tie the game on Matt Gay’s 46-yard field goal with 3:01 remaining in the first quarter.
Quarterback Gardner Minshew completed 5 of 7 passes for 42 yards on the drive. No play went for more than 11 yards. Running back Jonathan Taylor carried once for 9.
The Colts got as close as the Bucs 19-yard line before Joe Tryon-Shoyinka sacked Minshew, forcing Indianapolis to settle for the field goal.
Settling in, limping off
The Bucs made themselves at home from the start of the game, driving 74 yards to the Colts 1 on their opening possession.
Unfortunately, that’s where things went awry.
Baker Mayfield was injured after being stopped on a quarterback sneak. He appeared to take a knee to the right ankle from Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.
Mayfield limped off the field under his own power and went to the medical tent. He was replaced by Kyle Trask.
The Bucs got no closer to the end zone.
After a false start penalty against Aaron Stinnie pushed Tampa Bay back to the 5, Rachaad White carried for 2 yards and Trask threw incomplete for Chris Godwin in the back right corner of the end zone bringing up fourth and 3.
The Bucs sent kicker Chase McLaughlin onto the field, and his 21-yard attempt was good, putting the Bucs ahead 3-0 with 7:28 remaining in the first quarter.
It felt like a letdown.
Starting from the Tampa Bay 25, Mayfield threw to Godwin for 5 yards and Mike Evans for 4, setting up third and 1 from the 34.
Mayfield faked a handoff to White and found Chris Otton for 24 yards and a first down to the Colts 42.
White then carried twice for 11 yards, spinning his way to the Colts 31 for another first down.
After a deep incompletion for Evans, White ran for 7 yards to the 24, making it third and 3. Mayfield threw short to Trey Palmer for a 4-yard gain and a first down to the 20.
Though two more incompletions set up third and 10, Mayfield threw deep over the left side to Evans for 19 yards and a first down at the 1.
Bucs feel growing sense of urgency
There’s a growing sense of urgency for the Bucs to pull out of a six-week tailspin and salvage their season.
While a 27-14 loss to the San Francisco 49ers only dropped the Bucs (4-6) a game behind the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints (5-5) with seven weeks remaining, a sputtering offense and leaky defense have done little lately to instill confidence the team will be able to get back on track.
Last Sunday’s loss was Tampa Bay’s fifth in six games following a 3-1 start.
After today’s game against the Colts in Indianapolis, the Bucs will play four of their remaining six games within the NFL’s weakest division. Still, if they’ve proven anything through nine games it’s that it would be a mistake to assume they can fix what ails them in time to claim a third straight NFC South title.
“We need to find a way to win and have a one-game-at-a-time mentality from here on out,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “Heads down, block out everything else and just see where we can take this thing.”
The loss to San Francisco was Tampa Bay’s third double-digit defeat of the season. The Bucs also lost by a pair of touchdowns to Philadelphia and Detroit, although Bowles doesn’t feel lopsided scores are necessarily an indication Tampa Bay can’t compete with the 49ers, Eagles and Lions.
“We feel like we’re in every game and we have a chance to win every game when we come on the field,” he said. “So, that’s not an issue.”
It hasn’t taken Mayfield long to learn who he can count on to catch the ball in the end zone when the low-scoring Bucs wind up there. Wide receiver Mike Evans (48 receptions, 780 yards) is closing in on his 10th consecutive season with 1,000-plus yards receiving and has caught seven of Mayfield’s 15 touchdown passes.
A usually reliable defense continues to struggle. The Bucs had no answers for the 49ers’ offense, once again digging a deep hole that the Mayfield-led offense was unable to escape. The defense has been especially ineffective against the pass. Bowles said there’s no single reason why, noting the pass rush has been inadequate at times and a leaky secondary is partially to blame, too.
“We’re going to fight and scrap and cut out some mistakes and be a better team because of it,” he said.
Rookie linebacker YaYa Diaby, a third-round draft pick, is making the most of increased playing time. He had two sacks against San Francisco, doubling his season total to four — tied for second on the team with linebacker Shaquil Barrett behind defensive tackle Vita Vea, who has 5½.
The starting secondary has just one interception in nine games. San Francisco’s Brock Purdy posted a perfect passer rating of 158.3 last week, going 21 of 25 for 333 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Two defensive starters — cornerback Jamel Dean (ankle/foot) and linebacker Lavonte David (groin) are out for today’s game. Linebacker Devin White (foot), cornerback Carlton Davis (hip) and running back Rachaad White (knee) are active.
“I still believe in this group,” Mayfield said.
— FRED GOODALL, AP Sports Writer
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