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Shane Steichen triples down on fourth down as Colts beat Buccaneers 27-20

For the Colts first-year head coach, the horseshoe logo is four-down territory.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Indianapolis Colts
Indianapolis Colts tight end Mo Alie-Cox #81 and linebacker Zaire Franklin #44 react after converting a fourth down in the fourth quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lucas Oil Stadium — November 26, 2023 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The Indianapolis Colts attacked the ground to score three rushing touchdowns, including two scores from running back Jonathan Taylor to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27-20 at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Shane Steichen was brilliant fresh off the bye week, gambling when fit to increase Indianapolis’ win streak to three games, placing the Colts (6-5) in the seventh spot of the AFC playoff race. For the Colts first-year head coach, the horseshoe logo is aggressive four-down territory. The Colts finished 3-for-4 on fourth down, which led to two touchdown drives. Indianapolis has converted 11-of-22 fourth down opportunities this season, tied for the NFL’s sixth-most conversions.

Steichen revealed his lethal playbook facing fourth-&-1 near midfield on the third drive as Minshew pulled the run-pass-option and found Michael Pittman Jr. wide open in the flat to race deep inside Bucs territory. Minshew continued to thrive using play action and delivered a dart to Pittman, who led the Colts with 10 catches for 107 receiving yards, then connected with Josh Downs to set up goal-to-go. Three plays later on third-&-goal, Minshew scrambled right and cut inside to plunge into the end zone.

Facing fourth-&-1 near midfield with 9:11 left in the fourth quarter, Steichen deployed linebacker Zaire Franklin onto the gridiron disguised at fullback to use play action and allow Minshew to connect with Mo Ali-Cox open beyond the Bucs secondary for a 30-yard gain.

Tampa Bay used half of the first quarter to drive downfield to the one-yard line as receiver Mike Evans elevated to snag a 19-yard reception. The Buccaneers (4-6) ultimately retreated to the four-yard line and settled to kick a 21-yard chip shot to take a 3-0 lead.

Colts quarterback Gardner Minshew fed Josh Downs, Alec Pierce and Pittman on short routes to move the sticks on the Colts first drive. Taylor positioned the offense inside the red zone on his first touch with a carry for nine yards to ultimately set up a 46-yard field goal for kicker Matt Gay to tie the game 3-3.

Indianapolis’ recent call-up Ronnie Harrison picked off Bucs QB Baker Mayfield at midfield just two plays into the Bucs second drive. The Colts signed Harrison from the practice squad Tuesday with the open roster spot and made an immediate impact on his fourth snap. The Colts cashed in off the takeaway after Minshew used play action to find Pittman wide open across the middle for a 17-yard gain, then Jonathan Taylor forced missed tackles for a 17-yard run to set up first-&-goal. On the next play, Taylor spinned his way into the blue turf to give the Colts a 10-3 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Taylor led the Colts with 91 rushing yards on 15 carries and scored his second touchdown midway through the fourth quarter to extend the lead to 27-17.

Indianapolis’ defensive line made its presence felt on the Bucs third drive as defensive tackle DeForest Buckner corralled White in the backfield for a tackle for loss. The edge rushers swarmed the pocket as Dayo Odeyingbo batted away Mayfield’s first pass attempt of the second quarter, then Samson Ebukam rushed wide to drive Tristian Wirfs backwards, knocking down Mayfield and forcing a three-and-out.

After the turnover, Tampa Bay followed with consecutive three-&-outs as the three drives lasted less than five minutes, but cornerback Carlton Davis III picked off Minshew to give the Bucs possession inside the red zone. The Bucs scored three plays later as Mayfield floated a pass to Mike Evans wide open in the corner of the end zone to cut the deficit to 17-10.

Minshew continued to execute the RPO to start the second half, connecting with rookie tight end Will Mallory on consecutive plays to drive inside of Bucs territory. Indianapolis’ ground-and-pound combo pushed the drive inside the red zone to allow Gay to redeem himself and strike a 36-yard FG to extend the lead to 20-10.

Indianapolis’ rotating front line continued to thrive as Tyquan Lewis and Adetomiwa Adebawore combined to wrap up Mayfield at midfield. Facing fourth-&-10 early in the fourth quarter, Mayfield hit Chris Godwin on a corner route to keep the Bucs drive alive. Two plays later, Mayfield threw a 23-yard touchdown to Evans open on a corner route near the front left pylon to cut the deficit to 20-17.

The Colts defense was required to make one final stop as Tampa Bay took possession at its own 35-yard line with 2:21 left to play. Ebukam rushed off the edge to beat Wirfs for the second time and recorded Indianapolis’ NFL-best seventh strip-sack, while Odeyingbo recovered Mayfield’s fumble to seal the victory.

Indianapolis begins its December schedule Sunday in Tennessee for a pivotal Week 13 AFC South game versus the Titans.