TAMPA, Fla. — The defense kept the Indianapolis Colts in the game Sunday against Tampa Bay by forcing four turnovers. But when it mattered most, the defense was also the reason the Colts lost to the Buccaneers and blew a chance to move up in the AFC playoff race.
The Colts’ defense gave up a season-high 542 yards and more importantly, gave up the final 17 points of the game in their 38-35 loss to the Buccaneers.
The loss further hurt the Colts’ already-slim chances to make the playoffs because while Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston was picking apart the defense through the air, Denver was nearly 1,000 miles away in Houston beating the Texans. Winston threw for 456 yards and four touchdowns to go with three interceptions.
The defeat keeps the Colts two games behind the Texans for first place in the division and on the outside looking in on the final AFC playoff spot.
The Colts (6-7) have been in a tailspin, losing five of their past six games, including three straight.
This is the second straight week in which the Colts were on the wrong end of scoring streaks in the second half. Tennessee closed the Week 13 game by scoring the final 17 points in its victory in Indianapolis.
The Colts have themselves to blame when it comes to blown scoring chances, as running back Nyheim Hines fumbled in Tampa territory and new kicker Chase McLaughlin missed a 47-yard field goal that would have extended their lead in the fourth quarter.
Buy: Despite missing the kick, McLaughlin was nearly perfect while handling that role for the injured Adam Vinatieri. McLaughlin, claimed off waivers last week once it was revealed that Vinatieri was dealing with a knee injury, was 5-for-6 on kicks, making two field goals and all three extra points. His lone blemish was missing a 47-yard field goal that hit the right upright when the Colts were clinging to a four-point lead. There’s no guarantee that Vinatieri, the NFL’s all-time leading scorer, will return this season, so this period could be looked at as an audition for McLaughlin. Vinatieri will be 47 years old Dec. 28, so the odds of him returning next season aren’t good, especially considering he has missed 14 kicks this season. The Colts are the third team that McLaughlin has played for this season. The rookie has also been with the Chargers and 49ers.
Silver lining: Colts linebacker Darius Leonard had two interceptions, returning one for an 80-yard touchdown. The touchdown off the interception ended a streak of 38 straight games without a defensive touchdown for the Colts. That streak had tied the Cleveland Browns for the longest in the NFL. Leonard is the only player in the NFL with five forced fumbles and five interceptions since the start of last season.