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Opportunistic Bucs erase Colts’ (turnover) margin for error

One of the NFL’s top rushing teams had found a rhythm in the air. League rushing leader Jonathan Taylor had been neutralized, but Colts quarterback Carson Wentz seemed revitalized.

“I was not expecting that at all,” said Bucs outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who watched the Colts try 26 consecutive passes at one point Sunday. “I thought for sure they were going to force-feed (Taylor).”

Yet Taylor remained deprived as the third quarter dawned. His team leading by 10, Wentz threw on the first seven plays of the second half, completing five passes for 55 yards. Then came his eighth drop back, when momentum took a seismic shift and the NFL’s leader in turnover margin squandered its stinginess.

On a Colts first down from the Bucs 20-yard line, Barrett beat left tackle Eric Fisher to get his right hand on Wentz’s throwing arm, resulting in a fumble. The edge-rush triple crown — sack, fumble, recovery, all by Barrett — ensued.

The Bucs scored on a short Leonard Fournette touchdown run six plays later.

“That was huge because they were moving it,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. “That strip sack I think changed the whole ballgame.”

Before a Lucas Oil Stadium crowd of 66,140, the Bucs essentially strip sacked the Colts of their badge of armor in their 38-31 triumph. The Colts, who entered with a plus-15 turnover margin, were minus-3 in the game. Tampa Bay converted Indianapolis’ first four turnovers (they finished with five) into 24 points.

“We just knew it was going to be a defensive game for both sides; whoever plays better on defense is going to win,” second-year Bucs safety Antoine Winfield Jr. said. “And we just came out there with the mindset that we’ve got to take the ball away for us to win the game, and we did that.”

Winfield joined Barrett in the splash-play ensemble with an interception that would make any cornerback jealous.

Isolated in single coverage with top Colts receiver Michael Pittman Jr. on a deep ball, Winfield leaped and snagged the Wentz pass over Pittman, whose back was to the ball, returning it 30 yards. It set up the Bucs’ fourth touchdown, giving them a 28-24 lead late in the third quarter.

“That was maybe one of the best plays I’ve ever seen by a defensive back,” tight end Rob Gronkowski said.

Complicit in Wentz’s two interceptions (including cornerback Pierre Desir’s pick of Wentz’s Hail Mary on the final play) was the Bucs’ ability to shut down Taylor early. Aside from the 58 rushing yards Taylor gained on the Colts’ final touchdown drive (when the Bucs were in pass-defense mode), the second-year tailback had 25 yards on eight carries.

As a result, Wentz attempted 44 passes, his second-highest total of the season.

“Nobody runs the ball on us, I don’t care who the hell you are,” Arians said. “You’re going to end up throwing it, because if you’re going to run it all day, you’re not going to get much.”

The only thing the Colts got was a propensity for turnovers.

“We always say we’ve got to protect the football, first and foremost, and against good teams no doubt the room for error is small,” Wentz said. “You’re not going to win many ballgames when you turn it over five times.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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