Bucs make it a cinch for Colts to clinch
John Luttermoser, The St.Petersburg Times , published 1987

Not much happened Sunday that hadn't happened before. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost their eighth straight game, 24-6 to the Indianapolis Colts. For the second time in 22 days, one of the Bucs' erstwhile fellow have-nots defeated them to clinch a playoff berth. (New Orleans was the first.) Eric Dickerson had another big game against the Bucs, rushing for 196 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries. And Bucs rookie quarterback Vinny Testaverde had another bad game in the Hoosier Dome, completing just 8 of 31 passes for 163 yards. In a preseason game here Sept.5, Testaverde was 6-of-24 for 42 yards.

Testaverde didn't throw any interceptions, though. That was left to seldom-used rookie running back Steve Bartalo, who entered the game late in the third quarter and promptly threw a halfback-option pass into the waiting arms of Indianapolis free safety Mike Prior, a former Buc. So the Bucs finished the season at 4-11, or 2-10 not counting the games played by the non-union replacement team. The B Bucs certainly weren't the same team, since only four of the players who played for them also played for the regular team.

Indianapolis finished at 9-6 (or 7-5 with the regulars) and won the AFC East Division championship for the first time since 1977, when they were the Baltimore Colts. The Miami Dolphins could also wind up at 9-6 if they beat New England tonight, but the Colts would prevail anyway because they split with the Dolphins and have a superior record against division opponents. The Dolphins were eliminated from the playoffs Sunday when the Colts and the Houston Oilers claimed the two remaining AFC berths. The Patriots also were eliminated by the Colts' win.

For the Colts, there's a playoff game in two weeks at either Denver or Cleveland. For the Bucs, there's another one of those depressing off-seasons. ``It takes a winning season next year to forget about it,`` said Tampa Bay offensive tackle Ron Heller, one of 16 Bucs who have been through three straight two-win seasons. ``I told the players that we will win,`` said head coach Ray Perkins. ``I'm excited about our future.``

For a while Sunday, Perkins had some reasons to be excited about the game at hand. Though Indianapolis dominated the first half, outgaining the Bucs 250 yards to 85, the Colts failed to make the most of it and led only 10-3 at the half. Unfortunately for the Bucs, the second half was more of the same. The Colts wound up with a 23-10 advantage in first downs and a 472-232 edge in total yards. ``Today we could have scored 50 on them,`` said Colts quarterback Jack Trudeau, who personally botched one opportunity in the middle of the third quarter by fumbling a snap at the Tampa Bay 30-yard line and allowing Bucs inside linebacker Jeff Davis to recover. That was the only Colts turnover, though a couple of penalties helped to kill other drives.

One of those penalties wiped out a 24-yard run by Dickerson, which would have easily put him over 200 yards. ``He would make any team in football a contender,`` said Perkins, who added that he had no doubt Dickerson is the best running back in the league.

Bucs defensive end Ron Holmes noted that the Colts offensive line deserves a lot of credit too. Center Ray Donaldson, tackle Chris Hinton and guard Ron Solt are all going to the Pro Bowl - Hinton for the fourth straight year, and Donaldson for the second straight. ``He's been blessed,`` Holmes said of Dickerson, who came to the Colts in a midseason trade from the Los Angeles Rams, who are also noted for a fine offensive line. ``He's got a lot of talent, but he's always in a good situation.``

Indianapolis didn't waste much time taking the lead Sunday. The Colts drove 84 yards for a touchdown after the opening kickoff. Dickerson scored the touchdown on a 6-yard run, but the big play was a 55-yard gain on a pass from Trudeau to backup running back Albert Bentley. That came on a third-and-9 from the Indianapolis 17. Bentley got open over the middle between outside linebacker Winston Moss and free safety Paul Tripoli, caught a pass less than 20 yards downfield and ran for the rest of the yardage.

On the next Colts series, head coach Ron Meyer elected to go for it on a fourth-and-3 at the Bucs 34, and Trudeau's pass was deflected by Bucs inside linebacker Ervin Randle. Guard Ben Utt caught it, but was tackled for a 4-yard loss. That triggered a promising Tampa Bay drive, but the Bucs had to settle for a 38-yard Donald Igwebuike field goal after halfback Jeff Smith was smothered for a 1-yard loss on third-and-1 at the Colts 20.

Indianapolis made it 10-3 on a 30-yard Dean Biasucci field goal just before halftime, and pulled away in the third quarter after a 47-yard attempt by Igwebuike was blocked by cornerback Eugene Daniel. The Colts took over at their own 30, and took only two plays on three snaps to score. Dickerson ran left for 21 yards, Holmes roughed Trudeau on an incomplete pass for a 15-yard penalty, and Dickerson ran left again for a 34-yard touchdown. That made it 17-3 with 5:39 left in the third quarter, but the Bucs had two chances to get back into striking distance.

On the next series a 31-yard pass from Testaverde to rookie wide receiver Bruce Hill put the ball on the Colts 20, and then Bartalo trotted in from the sideline. ``I tried to act nonchalant,`` he said. ``I saw the receiver coming across and I just didn't see the defensive back sitting on the goal line waiting,`` Bartalo said of the interception. He's listed as 5 feet 9 on the Bucs roster. ``Maybe we should have let a 6-4 guy throw the ball instead of a 5-7 or a 5-8,`` Perkins said.

Early in the fourth quarter, with the score still 17-3, the Bucs drove to the Indianapolis 20 again. But Testaverde threw three incomplete passes, Igwebuike kicked a 37-yard field goal, and the Colts drove quickly downfield to score the final touchdown on a 2-yard run by Bentley.