Costly penalties, other struggles return in Bucs 25-12 loss to Colts
Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune, published 30 November 2015

The question that has to be asked now is, just who are the real Buccaneers?

Are they the team that exhilarated their fan base and found ways to overcome adversity in consecutive wins against the Cowboys and Eagles? Or are they the team that for weeks prior to that frustrated their fans by creating a lot of their own adversity and eventually succumbing to it?

The tendency, of course, is to say the real Bucs are the latter, because the team that lost 25-12 to the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday looked an awful lot like the team that fell into holes it couldn’t pull itself out of in losing four of its first six games.

That team was flagged for a lot of penalties, including some that factored heavily into the game’s outcome, failed to make makeable plays and far too often left a bundle of points on the field. And that’s exactly what happened Sunday, when the Bucs committed a dozen penalties, including two that altered scores, dropped a critical pass and left at least eight points on the field.

“Yeah, we definitely took a step back today,’’ center Joe Hawley said. “And that’s tough, because we were really starting to feel good about ourselves after the way we played the last two weeks.’’

There were a few things to feel good about Sunday, including the play of quarterback Jameis Wintson, who threw for 245 yards and a touchdown; the play of running back Doug Martin, who ran 14 times for 97 yards, and the pass rush, which recorded three sacks.

But there was just as much, if not more, to feel bad about, including the play of wide receiver Mike Evans, who dropped what seemed like a sure touchdown pass (again); the play of kicker Connor Barth, who missed a field goal and a point-after attempt, and, of course, those penalties.

The most costly was probably the holding call against tackle/tight end Kevin Pamphile in the second quarter, because it erased a 2-yard touchdown run by Martin and forced the Bucs to settle for a field goal that tied the game at 6-6 with 5:38 left in the half.

Then there was the leaping penalty against safety Chris Conte late in the fourth quarter for making contact with the Colts long snapper while attempting to block a field goal. That one gave the Colts new life and helped turn the field goal into the game’s final touchdown.

“The penalties were a big thing,’’ said Martin, who broke off a 56-yard run and surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the second time in his career. “We definitely took a step backwards there. We just hurt ourselves with that. We have to find a way to cut that out.’’

Either that or they have to overcome them. That’s what the Bucs did in beating the Cowboys and Eagles. On Sunday, though, the ability to overcome adversity was missing. Perhaps that was because the ability to protect Winston was suddenly missing, too.

The Colts went into the game ranked 30th in the 32-team league in sacks with 14. But against an offensive line that had shown signs of growing continuity the past few weeks and allowed only 17 sacks of its rookie quarterback all season, they got to Winston five times.

Four of those sacks came in the fourth quarter, long after what little momentum the Bucs carried through the first half and into the second died during a third quarter in which they went three-and-out on their first two series and missed a field goal to end the third.

“They did a good job (on passing downs) and we didn’t,’’ Bucs left guard Logan Mankins said. “They had quite a few blitzes going against us, but there was nothing too exotic. I think they just did a good job of covering (our receivers).’’

They didn’t cover Evans very well on third-and-6 from Indy’s 36-yard line late in the third quarter, but Evans allowed Winston’s pass to fall through his arms. “I’m not about to make excuses; I have to catch that,’’ said Evans, who has been plagued this season by dropped passes. “That’s us just beating ourselves again.’’

The Bucs, meanwhile, strugged to cover the Colts receivers. An issue that faded in recent weeks after the Tampa Bay turned to rookie Jude Adjei-Barimah and veteran Sterling Moore as the starting cornerbacks became an issue again Sunday.

Moore gave up receptions of 31 yards to Donte Moncrief and 19 yards and a touchdown to T.Y. Hilton on back-to-back plays in allowing the Colts first touchdown for a 16-12 lead with 7:22 to play in the third quarter.

Two series later, Adjei-Barimah allowed receptions of 9 and 16 yards to Moncrief on back-to-back throws, including a third-and-6 play that helped set up the Colts’ final touchdown.

Those receptions were part of a big day for 40-year-old Colts quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who improved to 4-0 starting in place of injured Andrew Luck by completing 26 of 42 passes for 315 yards and two touchdowns.

“If you’re 40 years old and you’re still in the league and leading a team, you’re a pretty good player,” Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. “But some of those passes ... you shouldn’t be giving up passes like that. The first one coming out of the half, we shouldn’t give up that touchdown pass. We were in a coverage that shouldn’t give that up.’’

That’s the kind of day it was, though. The quest, now, is to make sure one bad day doesn’t turn into a string of bad days the likes of which Bucs suffered through earlier this season.

“I don’t want to say we took a step back today,’’ said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who had one of the team’s three sacks. “We just didn’t gain any ground. We’re still a good team. We just didn’t play as well as we’ve been playing today. We didn’t play like the real us today.’’