Playing without five injured starters, including two key players in their high-scoring offense, the Colts dominated the clock and their improving defense never gave Tampa Bay a chance in a 33-14 blowout.
“I have been proud of our team on many, many occasions, but this is one of the best,” Colts coach Tony Dungy said after beating his former team. “I thought the backup guys didn’t try to do too much. Everybody just did their job.”
Conventional wisdom suggested that without Harrison, the eight-time Pro Bowl receiver, and Addai, the Colts’ feature back, the offense might be susceptible against Tampa Bay’s usually strong defense.
It was no contest.
Manning finished 27-of-39 for 253 yards and simply used other players to replace the missing parts. Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne, tight end Dallas Clark and first-round draft pick Anthony Gonzalez each caught seven passes. Gonzalez entered the game with only six catches all season.
The magnitude of the rout wasn’t even reflected by the score.
Indianapolis held the ball for an astounding 38:15, including all but 90 seconds in the third quarter when the Bucs ran three plays. Tampa Bay (3-2) finished with 17 yards rushing after losing Carnell “Cadillac” Williams for the season last week and then losing backup Michael Pittman in the second quarter Sunday with a sprained right ankle. It was the lowest rushing total allowed by a Colts team since 1971.
After three quarters Tampa Bay had 74 yards of offense—56 coming on its only meaningful scoring drive in the second quarter—and was outgained by the Colts 400-177.
The 40 offensive plays run by Tampa was the third-fewest ever allowed by a Colts team. The New York Jets had 34 in November 2003 and San Francisco had 39 in September 1963.
“You do the math there,” Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. “You’re not able to do a lot when you don’t have the ball.”
The bad news for the rest of the NFL is the Colts now have two weeks for most of their injuries to heal.
It’s the third straight year Indianapolis has gone into the bye week with an unbeaten record, and the Colts believe Addai (shoulder), Harrison (knee), linebacker Freddy Keiaho (concussion) and safety Bob Sanders (ribs) will all be healthy when they start their toughest stretch of the season at Jacksonville in two weeks.
Linebacker Rob Morris, the other starter missing Sunday’s game, will miss the rest of the season with a torn tendon in his knee.
But on Sunday, the Bucs were hurt more by their injuries.
Without Williams and Pittman, the Tampa Bay ground game went nowhere, and with first-time starter Donald Penn replacing left tackle Luke Petitgout, quarterback Jeff Garcia was under constant pressure from three-time Pro Bowler Dwight Freeney and defensive tackle Raheem Brock.
“He was playing somebody who has great speed on the edge,” Garcia said. “He did the best he could do. It was a great challenge for him. He’ll just get better from here.”
Manning took care of the rest himself.
He connected with Clark on a 10-yard TD pass on the Colts’ first possession, then got a 1-yard run from Keith—his first NFL score—on the next. That gave Indianapolis a 13-0 lead before Tampa Bay recorded a first down.
Then the Colts took control.
Adam Vinatieri kicked a 27-yard field goal to close the first half, and Keith opened the second half with a 7-yard touchdown run to make it 23-7.
If the outcome wasn’t already settled by then, Manning made sure of it by finding Wayne for a 9-yard TD pass to make it 30-7.
Garcia finished 18-of-23 for 143 yards and two touchdowns, both 3-yarders to Smith.
“Some guys knew they were going to play all week, some found out about 1 1/2 hours before the game,” Manning said. “You certainly don’t like to be missing some of your main players, but when it happens that old cliche is true. Other guys have to step up and a lot of guys did that today.”
Indianapolis broke the franchise record for consecutive home victories Sunday. The Colts have now won 12 in a row at the RCA Dome. … Rookie Gaines Adams blocked Vinatieri’s second extra-point attempt, giving the Bucs their first blocked extra point since 1986. … Manning’s two touchdown passes now give him 285 for his career, two behind John Unitas’ franchise record.