Bucs falter on key drive
Dave Scheiber, The St.Petersburg Times, published 8 October 2007

When the Buccaneer defense stepped onto the field to begin the second half Sunday, a Tampa Bay victory was still within reach - until Colts quarterback Peyton Manning worked his usual magic on a drive that would ultimately put the game away.

With Indianapolis leading 16-7 inside the raucous RCA Dome, the Bucs defense needed to find a way to contain the Colt offense as it went to work from its 23. And things started promising enough when linebacker Barrett Ruud stopped tailback Kenton Keith for no gain.

But just as he had done all afternoon, Manning patiently found holes in the defense and produced key first downs - even without the help of two injured stars, tailback Joseph Addai and wide receiver Marvin Harrison. "They didn't have any big plays," said cornerback Brian Kelly of the drive. "They had some third down situations they converted - and they just executed very well.

"But that drive was very important, because if we could have come out and stopped them, that could have taken a lot of momentum away from them and given us a lot of momentum. It was just Manning doing what he does."

A short pass over the middle to Keith produced 14 yards after Ruud's stop, and two plays later Manning connected with backup tight end Bryan Fletcher for 16 yards to put the Colts at Tampa Bay's 46.

Again the Bucs pushed back, when defensive end Kevin Carter nailed Keith for a 1-yard loss. On second and 11, Manning seemed to be in big trouble as he dropped back to pass; defensive end Patrick Chukwurah was closing in fast for what could have been a drive-sapping sack.

But Manning effortlessly spun away from the pressure, moved to his left and found wideout Reggie Wayne for an 8-yard gain by the sideline. "It was a good play on his part," Chukwurah said. "His awareness was up and he just got away from me."

Added cornerback Ronde Barber: "You don't expect him to be able to do that. But it's part of what makes him a great player."

Instead of facing a possible third and 20, the Colts had a third and 3, and Manning immediately capitalized with a 13-yard pass to backup wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez to the Tampa Bay 26.

Six plays later, on third down at the 7, Manning went with a quick snap, catching the defense off guard as Keith burst in for the touchdown - while the Bucs were flagged for offsides, and having 12 players on the field. With 7:24 left in the third, the 13-play drive had the Colts cruising at 23-7 en route to a 33-14 victory. "Manning is very patient," Ruud said. "He doesn't force it if it's not there. He just does a great job managing the game.

"We basically did a pretty good job not giving up big plays, but he just took what the defense gave him. And did he a great job on third downs. We got him into a lot of third-down situations, but he kept picking them up. So you have to give him credit."