Over the last five years, teams that commit five turnovers in a game are 2-47-1. The chances you win when turning the ball over five times are about four percent.
And the Colts nearly were that rare team to turn the ball over so much and still win – and against the defending Super Bowl champions, no less.
But in the wake of a 38-31 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, which dropped the Colts to 6-6, “frustrating” was the operative word from a team that believes it could’ve and should’ve emerged with a victory.
“It is frustrating,” quarterback Carson Wentz said. “I don’t know how many times you’re going to turn the ball over against a good team and still score that many points. But we have to be better. We have to be better there.”
The Buccaneers scored 24 points off the Colts’ four turnovers before Wentz was intercepted as time expired. Coupled with some untimely penalties – the Colts were flagged six times for 66 yards – and there were just too many mistakes to beat a team quarterbacked by Tom Brady.
“When we turn it over, it gives them life,” head coach Frank Reich said. “That’s number one. Number two, they have Tom Brady.”
The Colts did a lot of good things in between those turnovers and penalties – which made them all the more frustrating. Darius Leonard had another “Maniac Knockout” – his 14th in 54 games – and Isaiah Rodgers did an impressive job tracking a Brady deep shot for an interception.
And on the other side of the ball, the Buccaneers were geared up to make sure Jonathan Taylor didn’t beat them, with plenty of loaded boxes and run-stuffing mammoth Vita Vea in the middle of it all. But that left Tampa Bay’s defense softer in coverage, and Reich and Wentz went to work picking it apart.
“That’s just the nature of this league,” Wentz said. “If they’re going to stack the box, we have to be able to throw the ball.”
At halftime, with the Colts leading 24-14, Wentz was 16/24 for 197 yards with three touchdowns. And while Taylor didn’t have a rushing attempt between the 6:37 mark in the second quarter and the 10:06 mark in the fourth quarter, the Colts’ offense was moving the ball well through the air – it just had two critical giveaways in that stretch.
The first came right after the Colts entered the red zone on their first drive of the third quarter, with Buccaneers defensive end Shaq Barrett flying off the edge and knocking the ball out of Wentz’s hand as he was winding up to throw to tight end Kylen Granson. The Buccaneers, aided by a 37-yard pass interference penalty on Rock Ya-Sin, turned that strip-sack into a touchdown.
And on the Colts’ next drive, Wentz fired a deep shot to Michael Pittman Jr. that was intercepted by safety Antoine Winfield near the Buccaneers’ goal line. Brady and the Buccaneers turned that turnover into a touchdown, too – with a pass interference penalty on T.J. Carrie turning a third down incompletion into a first-and-goal, which Leonard Fournette ran in for one of his four touchdowns on Sunday.
“We know we can’t turn the ball over, we know we can’t have penalties and that’s what happened,” Leonard said. “You play against a good team, especially with a great quarterback like Tom, they’re going to take full advantage of the takeaways and penalties that we had defensively. We got to make sure that we can’t shoot ourselves in the foot. If you want to win in November and December, you can’t shoot yourselves in the foot.”
And still, despite all that, the Colts had the ball at the Buccaneers’ 32-yard line with 10 seconds left thanks to a remarkable 71-yard kickoff return by Isaiah Rodgers. The Colts were, quite literally, never out of this game.
The Colts are 6-6 and still very much in the thick of the AFC playoff race, but the margin for error is lower after dropping their fourth one-score game of the 2021 season. This is a team that knows it’s not far off – Sunday was only the third time the Buccaneers’ defense allowed 30 or more points, and Brady’s passer rating of 88.6 was his third-lowest of 2021 – but has to clean some things up to get to where they want to go.
“Those guys are the defending champs, so even if they weren’t playing their best, we know that wasn’t enough,” Taylor said. “There’s no consolation prize for going toe-to-toe. We’ve got to find a way to get better to get over that hump because those guys, they’ve got what we want and they did it last year. We know what we have to do.”