INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Jonathan Taylor and Zack Moss ran through the usually stingy Tampa Bay defense Sunday.
Gardner Minshew surprised the Buccaneers — with his feet as well as his arm.
Taylor ran for two scores, Minshew added another on the ground and the Indianapolis Colts defense came up with a late turnover Sunday to preserve a crucial 27-20 victory over Tampa Bay that keeps Indy in the playoff hunt heading into December.
“I know we came out throwing it early there, and then settled into the run game,” coach Shane Steichen said. “JT popped a few big ones, Zack popped a few. It was good. That one-two punch back there is awesome.”
The trio of Taylor, Moss and Minshew combined for 155 yards rushing and three TD runs against an opponent that had allowed just four scoring runs all season. Those numbers might have been even higher if Taylor had not slid after picking up a late first down to keep the clock moving.
But it was a fourth-and-1 late play call at the Bucs 49-yard-line that caught everyone off-guard.
Indy (6-5) lined up in a jumbo package with an extra tight end, an extra offensive lineman and linebacker Zaire Franklin playing fullback. Minshew faked a handoff inside, stepped back and found Mo Alie-Cox sprinting wide open between the hashmarks for a 30-yard gain.
“Our tight end coach, Tom (Manning), came to me with the idea and we were doing our short-yardage meeting and I said, ‘That looks pretty good. That looks like a walk-in touchdown. Let’s have that one for sure (this week),’” Steichen said. “They gave us a look and it worked.”
Three plays later, Taylor punched it across the goal line for a 27-17 lead with 7:30 to play. He finished with 15 carries and 91 yards while Moss had eight carries for 55 yards. Indy’s third straight win put it above .500 for the first time since September and begins the final six weeks with momentum and a favorable schedule.
The two-time defending NFC South champion Bucs (4-7) are heading in the opposite direction after losing their fourth straight road games, this one with uncharacteristic defensive breakdowns and two devastating turnovers.
“It’s just not finishing at the end,” linebacker Devin White said. “It’s not like we’re going out there doing our thing and getting demolished by any teams. I think that’s the hardest thing is that we’re in every game and we’re making plays, but we’ve got to kind of limit some other things so we can get over the top and win those games.”
The Colts took control after Baker Mayfield injured his right ankle on the game’s opening series, an injury that forced Tampa Bay to settle for a field goal after having first-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
Indy converted Ronnie Harrison Jr.’s interception into Taylor’s strong 4-yard run to make it 10-3 and Minshew extended the margin by deftly sidestepping White on a 2-yard run for a 17-3 lead.
Mayfield answered with a 1-yard to an uncovered Mike Evans, cutting the halftime deficit to 17-10 and they closed to 20-17 when Evans hauled in a 23-yard TD pass early in the fourth.
But the Colts responded with their nifty fourth down call, Taylor’s score and the strip-sack of Mayfield with 89 seconds to play.
Mayfield was 20 of 30 with 199 yards, two TDs, one interception and a game-sealing fumble that he lost. Evans had six catches for 70 yards and Rachaad White ran 15 times for 100 yards.
Colts receiver Michael Pittman Jr. had 10 receptions for 107 yards against one of his father’s former teams.
Buccaneers: Tampa Bay played without starting LB Lavonte David (groin) and starting, CB Jamal Dean (ankle and foot). Mayfield missed two plays on the Bucs’ first series but returned on the second.
Colts: Steichen said the Colts avoided any key new injuries after C Ryan Kelly (concussion protocol), CB JuJu Brents (quad) both were inactive.
LEONARD STILL AROUND
Three-time All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard no longer plays for the Colts after being waived Tuesday, but he still made it to the stadium so he could watch from a suite. Outside the stadium, the large poster of Leonard now reads “thanks for the memories” while inside the stadium, the crowd roared when Indy played a brief highlight package of Leonard’s top plays.
Indy quarterback Anthony Richardson had already returned to the team complex and on Sunday, he also was back on his home turf. Richardson, the fourth overall draft pick in April, had season-ending shoulder surgery last month in Los Angeles. He initially stayed there to rehab but recently returned to Indy. He was seen on the field during pregame warmups, wearing a protective sling, in his first home appearance since getting hurt Oct. 8 against Tennessee.
Buccaneers: Host Carolina and top overall draft pick Bryce Young next Sunday.
Colts: Visit the Titans next Sunday, seeking a season sweep.