Monday, October 6, 2003.
It’s a day that has been etched into football history as the day the Tampa Bay Buccaneers squandered a 21-point late 4th quarter lead to Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. But for me, it’s a day of few football memories.
I was in high school at the time. There were papers and tests to worry about—not to mention— 7:30 a.m. classes. So when Ronde Barber’s 29-yard interception return for a touchdown extended the Bucs lead to 35-14 with 5:09 remaining, I fell into a classic blunder. Not the “Princess Bride” kind, but a devastating one none the less. I assumed Tampa Bay was going to win and went to bed. Maybe Bucs players did the same thing.
One thing’s for sure, I didn’t expect to see a giant “L” next to the box score when I looked at the morning’s newspaper. I felt ill; and not just because Tampa lost, but because I had missed out on watching something extraordinary. Amazing feats like that rarely happen, although most Tampa Bay area fans can say they witnessed a comeback of equal proportions Wednesday night with the Tampa Bay Rays. It’s games like these that transform sports into something more – into a religious activity, perhaps. Think about it. Fans congregate to a sporting event to praise and glorify their favorite teams. We pray our team makes a fourth-down stand and we put faith in players to step up and play to their potential. And yes, at times, we even see some lukewarm fans converting from one religion (team) to another.
I pray this Monday night will be different. Indianapolis is without its field general, but that doesn’t mean this team is a cupcake. Defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis have consistently been among the lead leaders in sacks and forced fumbles since 2004. They may be the best defensive end combo in the NFL today. Additionally, Peyton Manning may not be under center, but the offense line that did such a tremendous job protecting him all these years is healthy. Expect the Colts coaching staff to be safe with whomever they decide to start at quarterback – presumably Curtis Painter – but don’t assume Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, and Austin Collie won’t be heavily involved in the offense. We all know what happens when someone assumes. Here are some more matchups to watch in Monday’s game.
Tampa Bay’s first half scoring: Is it too much to ask for a first quarter touchdown? In three games, they have one, and that one occurred on an Aqib Talib interception return for a touchdown. They have looked sluggish early in the game and still haven’t produced a sustained drive in the first quarter. It is also disconcerting that Josh Freeman has looked disconnected from his wide receivers early and often. There have been too many over-thrown or under-thrown passes, and well as a lack of zip on the balls he’s thrown.
How will the loss of safety Cody Grimm impact the Bucs secondary? Grimm was placed on injured reserve after tearing ligaments in his knee during Sunday’s game versus the Falcons. Matt Ryan took full advantage of his absence, throwing for 149 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter alone. Granted, Tampa Bay’s secondary won’t be tested as much this week with Painter under center, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Indianapolis runs a couple deep routes early to test the awareness of free safety plug-in Corey Lynch.
Count on a low-scoring affair in this one. Tampa Bay hasn’t shown the ability on offense to start out strong and I expect a heavy dose of running backs Joseph Addai and rookie Delone Carter from Indianapolis early on. I expect the offensive line to have their hands full all night as they deal with constant pressure from Freeney, Mathis, and timely blitzing from the Colts secondary. Tampa Bay should plan on running screens and draws to counter-act the heavy pass rush. Defensively, forcing Painter into turnovers and hurried throws will be a key to winning the game. Overall, my prediction is a 17-13 Tampa Bay victory. Be sure not a fall asleep until the final whistle blows with this game.