Bucs Overmatched In Loss
Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune, published 8 October 2007

You could have sworn it was August. The temperature outside the RCA Dome was pushing past 90 degrees. The Colts lineup had five starters missing and several first-time NFL starters. It didn't matter.

Even without wide receiver Marvin Harrison, running back Joseph Addai and safety/run stopper Bob Sanders, the Colts were still better than the Bucs on Sunday at the RCA Dome. Some will argue that 33-14 says significantly better.

It doesn't diminish what the Bucs (3-2) did in September. It does, however, leave you wondering if everything they achieved last month will unravel in October. The upstart Tennessee Titans (3-1) are up next. Then comes a trip to Detroit, where the Lions are 3-2. Finally, there's a game against fellow AFC upstart Jacksonville, also 3-1.

Now try facing those teams without your starting fullback, your backup tailback and one of your best pass catchers. That's Michael Pittman, three players in one. He was until Sunday, anyway. Like Cadillac Williams and Luke Petitgout a week ago, he went down before halftime. The Bucs are calling it an ankle sprain but Pittman says he heard something pop and it is believed he has a small crack in his fibula. Either way, he figures to miss at least a month, maybe more.

Where does that put the Bucs? Try back on the lookout for a running back, try back on the phone to Corey Dillon, Ricky Williams or the Vikings, who may now get the first-day draft pick they wanted for Mewelde Moore. "We're going to have to make some adjustments,' Bucs coach Jon Gruden said.

Adjustments were on the horizon even before Pittman went down. The reason is on the stat sheet. Against a Colts defense that ranked 22{+n}{+d} against the run and about 122{+n}{+d} without Sanders in the lineup, the Bucs gained 17 yards rushing.

The passing attack wasn't a whole lot better. It produced a pair of touchdowns - quarterback Jeff Garcia throwing to tight end Alex Smith on both occasions - but gained only 143 yards. Dropped passes were part of the problem. Smith dropped one and Joey Galloway dropped two, including one that could have led to points and prevented the Colts from scoring just before halftime.

Of greater concern to Gruden, though, was that the Bucs went three plays and out on each of their first three drives - and five of their first six - against the kind of defense they practice against every day. 'This is going to be one of those weeks when I'll go back and study the film of their defense because they just flat outplayed us today,' Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said.

They outplayed them at their own game. Since Tony Dungy took over as the Colts coach they have been employing the same defensive scheme that Dungy brought to Tampa Bay in 1996. 'They had two deep safeties and they were really deep; and their middle linebacker plays right down the middle; that's the Tampa 2, baby, and their rush is in your face in a hurry,' Gruden said. 'We're trying to come up with some plays to beat that coverage and we did manufacture two good scoring drives today. But other than that, we didn't have many opportunities.'

Then, there's Peyton Manning. It's not like he didn't play a part in all of this. As you might expect, he played a big part in helping the Colts improve their record to 5-0. Manning threw 37 passes, completing 29 of them for 253 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw an interception that the Bucs used to set up one of their two touchdown drives. Other than that, he was near perfect.

Without Harrison to lean on, he instead made equal use of fellow receivers Reggie Wayne, Anthony Gonzalez and Dallas Clark, hitting each seven times, including one each to Clark and Wayne for touchdowns, And on the rare occasion when the Bucs generated a pass rush, Manning neutralized it by getting rid of the ball quickly and throwing underneath the coverage.

The only player who probably irritated Gruden more than Manning was running back Kenton Keith, the former Canadian Football League player who won the job as Addai's backup during camp. In his first start Sunday, he ran 28 times for 121 yards and two touchdowns. Add the success the Colts had converting third downs (12 of 16) and it made for a long day for the Bucs defenders.

'We just weren't able to get them off the field and give our offense the chance they needed,' defensive end Kevin Carter said. 'We wanted to keep the ball in front of us today and we did that,' Barber added. 'Unfortunately, in front of us was 10 or 15 yards downfield.'

The concern now is what's down the road. The Colts are out of the way, but the schedule doesn't get a whole lot easier. If anything, it gets tougher, but the Bucs, now tied with Carolina atop the NFC South, remain confident. 'We just have to go back and look at the film and figure out where we can do better,' linebacker Derrick Brooks said. 'The bottom line is, we know we're better than that. We know we can play better.'