Bucs' Weaknesses Exposed In Rout
Joe Henderson, The Tampa Tribune, published 8 October 2007

This was as close as you come to catching the Indianapolis Colts at the right time and the Bucs weren't up to the task. Anything we talk about from here on out about this game will start with that premise. The Bucs left the RCA Dome on the wrong side of a 33-14 score and it seemed like Indy could do pretty much whatever it wanted all day long.

We know about the Bucs' injury problems - which got worse, by the way, when Michael Pittman left the game in the second period with an apparent leg injury - but the Colts were in worse shape. Indianapolis was missing five starters, including offensive mainstays Marvin Harrison and Joseph Addai. At least we think they were. Watching the Colts work the ball almost at will, it was hard to tell anything or anyone was missing on the Indy side of the ball. That doesn't bode well for Bucs.

I'm writing this without the benefit of a trip to the locker room, so I can't yet say how serious Pittman's injury was. It didn't look good, though. He was carted off after collapsing on the field. His teammates, as is becoming their custom, ran out to surround the cart and show Pittman support.

It's a fine thing they're doing but they've got the maneuver down a little too well, if you catch my drift. That's three times now - including on in the exhibition game - and if Pittman is seriously hurt, general manager Bruce Allen needs to go on a shopping trip at once for reinforcements. Maybe he should do that even if Pittman is OK.

Sunday's game should serve as a ding-dong to those who thought the Bucs wouldn't miss Cadillac Williams. With no discernable speed in the backfield, the ground game went nowhere. Through three quarters, while the Colts were putting the game away, Pittman and Earnest Graham had combined for 1 yard on nine carries. We could do a thorough dissection of this game if you want, but let's make it quick: Bleah. Double bleah.

Peyton Manning carved up the defense. Were the Colts' receivers really that open? Sure seemed like it. Losing Addai for this game was supposed to be a big blow to the Colts, but say hello to Kenton Keith. He kept the Bucs honest all day while rushing for two touchdowns. Indy seemed to always have the ball, too. After Keith's touchdown midway through the third period made it 23-7, Indy had kept the ball nearly twice as long as the Bucs for the game - 24:43 to 12:54.

And after the Bucs had closed an early two-touchdown deficit to 13-7, Indy - get this stat - ran off 33 offensive plays to four for the Bucs, stretching over the end of the second and the start of the third period. By the time that carnage was over, Indy led 23-7 and the rout was on. So now what?

Well, the Bucs aren't the only team to get a butt-kickin' in this place. While their 3-game winning streak is over, they're still tied for first in the NFC South and they're 3-2 overall. But a lot of things got exposed in this game. The Bucs' run defense was substandard against a backup running back.

Manning is Manning, sure, but he had it too easy for too much of the afternoon. Those Indy dudes really got open. And the Bucs' running game is really going to be a problem.

Losing to the Super Bowl champs is no disgrace, of course. These Bucs have shown character throughout this season, so you have to assume they'll bounce back next Sunday against Tennessee with a more representative showing.

But this game was the Bucs' first stab at a truly elite team this season and it's obvious that the gap from where they are to where they want to be remains large. Even when that elite team is as depleted as Indy was Sunday.