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'Leap' a Giant Step for Colts

A disputed penalty helps them beat the Buccaneers, 38-35, in overtime after epic comeback late in regulation.

October 07, 2003|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

TAMPA, Fla. — One moment, Tampa Bay's Simeon Rice was leaping.

The next, the Indianapolis Colts were.

The undefeated Colts mounted a comeback for the ages Monday night, forcing overtime with three touchdowns in the final 3 minutes 37 seconds of regulation, and then winning with a 29-yard field goal by Mike Vanderjagt -- one made possible by a controversial penalty on defensive end Rice.

Rice was flagged for "leaping," jumping up on an attempted field-goal block and coming down on another player. Vanderjagt missed from 40 yards on the play in question, but he got another chance from 29 yards and ricocheted the ball off the right upright and through with 3:47 remaining in the extra period.

Referee Johnny Grier defended the penalty on Rice: "Leaping is a player starting more than one yard off the line of scrimmage and running forward and landing on players.... He jumped and landed on his own players."

The controversy over the call didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the Colts, believed to be the first team in NFL history to come back from a 21-point deficit with less than four minutes to play.

"I'm proud of my team the way they were able to come back," said Colt Coach Tony Dungy, making his first return to Tampa to face his former team. "It's not very often you're going to score 35 points in a half against that defense."

Tampa Bay (2-2) had such a commanding lead that thousands of fans had already left before Colt quarterback Peyton Manning pulled his team out of its tailspin.

The Colts, who trailed, 21-0, at halftime, got 315 yards passing from Manning in the second half and overtime, and as a result are 5-0 for the first time since 1977 and only the fourth time ever.

"That was a fun game," Manning said. "The first half was not a whole lot of fun, but we've been in games before where you get down 21-0 and just feel like, 'God, we stink and they're really good.' We didn't feel that way in the second half. I mean, they're a good team, but we've really been doing some things that are out of character."

Manning, working against the NFL's top-ranked defense, directed three touchdown drives in five minutes to pull off the most dramatic comeback of his career and save the day for Dungy, who was hoping to celebrate his 48th birthday by beating the team that fired him after the 2001 season.

The loss was devastating to Tampa Bay, which also lost its home opener in overtime to Carolina.

"We didn't make our plays, bottom line," linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "No matter what the score is, when there's an opportunity to make a play, we've got to finish drives off."

It looked as if the Buccaneers were easily on their way to their first home victory of the season when cornerback Ronde Barber returned an interception 29 yards for a touchdown with 5:09 to play, giving Tampa Bay a 35-14 lead.

But the Colts responded when Brad Pyatt returned the kickoff 90 yards to the Buccaneer 12. Four plays later, James Mungro bashed up the middle for a three-yard touchdown with 3:37 left.

A successful onside kick set up the next Colt touchdown, a 28-yard pass from Manning to Marvin Harrison that cut the deficit to 35-28.

As Tampa Bay fans began to rush back into Raymond James Stadium, the Colts tried another onside kick but failed. That's when the Indianapolis defense -- which came into the game with the AFC's fewest points allowed (11.8) -- came alive and forced a three-and-out.

The Colts got the ball back with 1:41 to play, enough time for Manning to direct a five-play, 85-yard drive that ended with Ricky Williams' one-yard touchdown run.

Through three quarters, the Colts were dominated. The Buccaneers scored two touchdowns before the Colts had their second first down.

These were the same Colts who were undefeated through four games and were coming off a 55-21 rout of New Orleans. But eight days after Manning threw for six touchdowns and racked up the highest possible passer rating (158.3), the Indianapolis quarterback found himself in dink-and-dunk purgatory. Seven of his 11 first-half completions were for five yards or fewer. It didn't help that his offense was missing running back Edgerrin James, out with a sore back.

After two quarters, the Colts trailed, 21-0.

Keenan McCardell scored three touchdowns for Tampa Bay, including the first two.The first came on a 74-yard bomb from Brad Johnson. The second was more bizarre. Rookie safety Mike Doss intercepted a Johnson pass, but Buccaneer center John Wade punched the ball loose from Doss and McCardell scooped it up on a waist-high bounce and ran it back for a 57-yard touchdown.

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