The effort was there, as was the emotion needed for the Colts to win their first game in 2011. Problem was, they forgot to stop the run at the most critical point of the night.
The Colts turned to Curtis Painter to start under center in place of an injured Kerry Collins, who was signed into a starting role in late August after it became apparent that Peyton Manning had not been fully recovered from offseason neck surgery. Collins was knocked out of last week’s game against Pittsburgh due to a concussion.
Painter was effective in his first start as he threw for 281 yards and two touchdowns, but he was just 13-for-30 and did lose a fumble as the Colts matched their worst start since Manning’s rookie season in 1998.
“He looked good out there all in all, but we didn’t give him the protection he needed out there on some of those plays,” said Indianapolis head coach Jim Caldwell.
The Buccaneers (3-1), meanwhile, have won three straight games after opening the season with a loss to Detroit thanks to a 25-carry, 127-yard game from Blount along with a rushing and passing touchdown from Josh Freeman. He finished the game 25-for-39 with 287 yards along with six carries for 27 yards.
“Good win, good start to the season,” said Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris. “Some of the things we can control we’ll clean up, the rest we don’t need to worry about right now.”
Trailing, 17-10, after a Pierre Garcon 59-yard TD catch, Tampa Bay came right back with a 13-play, 80-yard drive to tie the game with 14 seconds left in the third. On 3rd-and-7 at the Colts 13, Freeman hit Preston Parker over the middle and he was able to stretch the ball inside the left pylon for his first career touchdown.
The Colts then moved 52 yards over 14 plays and lined up for a 43-yard field goal, but the normally reliable Adam Vinatieri missed the kick to the left and Tampa Bay took over at its own 33.
After an exchange of punts, the Buccaneers started the winning drive at their own 40 and were quickly at midfield thanks to a 10-yard run from Blount. Freeman later gained a first down on a 3rd-and-6 when he scrambled for seven yards. Two plays later, Blount took a handoff to the right, cut to the hole in the middle then bounced out to the right and was able to hold the ball over the right pylon before being forced out for the go-ahead score.
The Colts were unable to get a first down on their next touch and the Bucs converted a 4th-and-1 with a Freeman sneak to seal the win.
“I think we’re close. We’re scratching for a win here,” Painter said about his team’s start to the season. “We’re going to continue to battle and hopefully get over that hump next week.”
The Colts started the game with the ball and Painter took the team on a drive that saw them get a 45-yard field goal from Vinatieri 4 1/2 minutes in. Painter passed for 36 yards on the drive and converted two third downs before seeing a 3rd-and-8 pass fall short.
Tampa Bay had to punt on its first possession, but got a turnover when Michael Bennett swiped Painter’s hand, forcing a fumble and recovering it at the Indianapolis 32.
However, the Colts limited the Bucs to just four yards and a Connor Barth 46- yard field goal attempt bounced off the right upright.
On the final play of the first quarter, Arrelious Benn caught a pass and took it 62 yards into the end zone, but he was ruled to have been out of bounds before catching the ball. Tampa Bay challenged the call, but it was upheld.
Their second possession of the second quarter saw the Colts pinned at their own two after a good punt from Michael Koenen. A defensive holding penalty and seven-yard pass got the team out of the shadow of their own end zone. Painter then lined a pass to the right sideline that Garcon caught near his own 30. After breaking free of the nearest defender, he raced into the end zone untouched on an 87-yard score and a 10-0 lead with 8:47 left in the second.
Tampa Bay, though, answered with a successful march as the team went 81 yards in eight plays with Freeman keeping the ball himself on a one-yard sneak into the end zone with 3:54 left in the half. The big play of the drive was a 43- yard catch from Benn that got the ball past midfield.
Following a three-and-out from the Colts, the Bucs had plenty of time left on the clock and got into scoring position. But on 3rd-and-1 with 20 seconds left, Freeman was sacked. The Bucs got a successful Barth field goal off before the clock expired, but there was still a player running off the field and they were whistled for too many men, ending the first half.
“It really wasn’t pretty at all times but that’s kind of us,” Freeman said about the game. “You want to go in every week and play a spot free football game but that’s rarely how it goes.”
During that drive, the Colts lost defensive tackle Eric Foster to a gruesome right ankle injury after he got it twisted under defensive end Tyler Brayton and it was visibly broken.
He was taken off the field on a cart with an air cast around his leg, but seemed to be in good spirits as he was pumping his arm and talking to players on the field.
The Bucs started the second half with the ball and went 54 yards over 10 plays, but stalled at the Indianapolis 28 and went to Barth, who nailed the 46-yard field goal to tie the game.
Following an exchange of punts, the Colts took a 17-10 lead when Painter threw a quick screen out to the right for Garcon, who used good open-field running and nice blocks from Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne for a 59-yard score with 7:10 left in the third.