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Jonathan Taylor (28) of the Indianapolis Colts reaches with the ball for a first down in the fourth quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023, in Indianapolis. (Justin Casterline/Getty Images/TNS)
Jonathan Taylor (28) of the Indianapolis Colts reaches with the ball for a first down in the fourth quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023, in Indianapolis. (Justin Casterline/Getty Images/TNS)

Colts overwhelm Buccaneers, take control of their destiny in AFC playoff picture

Jonathan Taylor scored twice in the 27-20 win

Sitting next to owner Jim Irsay and general manager Chris Ballard in his introductory press conference, head coach Shane Steichen laid out his offensive philosophy for the Colts.

“We’re going to throw to score points in this league and run to win.”

On Sunday, en route to their 27-20 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Steichen was forced to change his philosophy slightly.

Jonathan Taylor, a player that Steichen worried he may never have the chance to coach just weeks ago, scored twice, first from four yards out in the first quarter, and the eventual dagger from a yard out midway into the fourth quarter.

The Colts were forced to change their tactics against a Buccaneers defense that entered Sunday allowing only 90 yards on the ground per game — good for the fifth lowest in the league this season.

“That 1-2 punch back there (Taylor and Zack Moss) is awesome,” Steichen said about his teams’ running attack postgame.

Taylor finished the game notching 15 carries for 91 yards and was helped by Moss who gave the team another 55 yards on the ground. Gardner Minshew continued his suitable offensive play passing for 251 yards on 41 attempts and a rushing score.

Both teams entered the week on the outside looking in for a playoff spot with the Colts — sitting at 5-5 — and coming into the week sitting in the ninth seed in the AFC playoff race while the Buccaneers sat at 4-6 which somehow had them within grasp of a home playoff game in the abysmal NFC South division.

Former Colts kicker Chase McLaughlin started the scoring with his 21-yard field goal which Matt Gay quickly matched from 46 yards out. On the ensuing possession, Ronnie Harrison, who was signed to the active roster following the release of former all-pro linebacker Shaq Leonard, intercepted Baker Mayfield to set the Colts up at midfield.

“It’s been hectic,” Harrison said of his week, one that saw him signed to the active roster Tuesday, informed that he might play Wednesday, and told he would be starting on Saturday. “It was a sigh of relief.”

Minshew took over at midfield and found Michael Pittman Jr. for a 17-yard completion, followed by a Taylor 17-yard burst, his long of the day, and another Taylor run resulting in a touchdown.

Samson Ebukam wrestled Mayfield down on third down on the next possession — Ebukam’s first of two sacks on the day — forcing the Buccaneers to punt again. The Colts quickly found themselves in a short fourth-down scenario in their own territory, but a defensive miscommunication allowed Pittman Jr. to drag across the field making the catch and tacking on 24 yards in the process. The Colts would go on to score six plays later via Minshew’s legs.

“I trust him to go make the plays and he’s been doing it, he had a great day, and excited for him,” Minshew said of Pittman Jr. postgame.

Pittman, who is in the final year of his contract, has been playing the best football of his career this season. Thus far he has pulled in 76 receptions for 784 yards and three touchdowns and has looked like a true No. 1 receiver for the Colts, something that many were skeptical about before the season.

Mike Evans hauled in his second touchdown on the day early in the fourth quarter to put the Buccaneers within three and the momentum within Lucas Oil Stadium had seemed to shift in their favor. The height of this came when the Colts possessed the ball at the Buccaneers 49-yard line staring down a fourth-and-inches.

Zaire Franklin reported into the game in the Colts' heavy formation and it seemed like nothing other than a Taylor dive play was looming. The team had run the ball well all day, but a stop here could change the course of the season. A loss and the Colts drop even lower in the AFC playoff picture, potentially to an unreturnable point. This is when Steichen’s offensive philosophy changed to run to score points and pass to win, which is exactly what they did.

A play-action fake to Taylor opened up tight end Mo Alie-Cox down the right seam where Minshew found him uncontested. A pass in stride may have scored a touchdown, but a 30-yard gain was all that was needed to secure a victory for the Colts.

“Don’t fall, just catch it.” were the thoughts running through Alie-Cox’s head as the ball seemed to hang in the air for what seemed like an eternity.

The offense scored and extended the lead to 10 which gave the defense just enough breathing room to survive the Buccaneers last ditch effort. Ebukam sped off the edge and hit Mayfield resulting in a Dayo Odeyingbo recovery. Ebukam’s two sacks were paramount for a Colts defense that seems to be finding their footing after a rough start to the season.

The Colts now sit at 6-5 and possess the seventh seed in the AFC with a chance to turn a season that at one point seemed lost into their first playoff appearance since the 2020-2021 season.

The Colts were given aid by the potential NFL game of the year where the Eagles stormed back from a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit to stun the Bills in overtime.

The Colts appear to be in an opportune position to make a name for themselves in this playoff race, with the two teams ahead of them struggling to find their way at this point in the season. The Browns are trying to survive with backups Dorian Thompson-Robinson and P.J. Walker at the helm and the Steelers still struggling to develop offensively.

The Colts now go into their final six games of the season against Will Levis, Jake Browning, Kenny Pickett, Desmond Ridder, Aiden O’Connell and C.J. Stroud as the quarterbacks leading their opponents.

This team started the season 3-2 with the hype of Anthony Richardson running almost as fast as he can, and then seemed lost and defeated dropping three in a row and sitting at 3-5 following Richardson’s injury. Indianapolis has now ripped off three straight wins and sits at 6-5 controlling its own destiny in an ever-changing AFC landscape.

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