October 6, 2010

2003: Colts Rally From 21 Points Down in 4th Quarter to Beat Bucs in OT

The defending NFL champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers had started out the 2003 season at 2-1 and were coming off of the bye week as they faced the Indianapolis Colts in a Monday Night Football matchup on October 6. Under Head Coach Jon Gruden, the Bucs had finally made it to the Super Bowl after reaching the postseason in four of the previous five seasons, falling short each time.

The head coach who had built the Buccaneers into a contender after years of futility was Tony Dungy, fired after the 2001 season for his playoff failures and now returning to Tampa for the first time as coach of the Colts. Indianapolis had reached the postseason with a 10-6 record in 2002 and was undefeated after four games in ’03. However, they would be without the services of star RB Edgerrin James for a second week due to a back injury.

Dungy received a polite reception from the 65,647 fans at Raymond James Stadium. For most of the game, it appeared that the former coach’s homecoming would not be a pleasant one.

Tampa Bay scored on its second possession when QB Brad Johnson connected with WR Keenan McCardell on a 74-yard touchdown pass play. Then, later in the first quarter, the Bucs got a huge break. After a badly thrown pass by Johnson was intercepted by safety Mike Doss, Doss returned it 16 yards but fumbled; McCardell picked up the loose ball and ran 57 yards for a TD and 14-0 lead.

It was 21-0 in favor of Tampa Bay at halftime as WR Reggie Barlow scored on a three-yard pass from Johnson. The Buccaneer defense had been the team’s strength, and with the Colts offense stifled and the Bucs up by three touchdowns, there was plenty of reason for the home fans to feel optimistic.

Early in the third quarter, the Colts finally got on the board as QB Peyton Manning (pictured above) hit WR Marvin Harrison on a touchdown pass play that covered 37 yards. However, the Buccaneers methodically drove 85 yards in 12 plays that culminated in a 15-yard Johnson-to-McCardell touchdown pass and Tampa Bay again had a three touchdown lead at 28-7 after three quarters.

Indianapolis scored again early in the fourth quarter on a one-yard run by RB Ricky Williams to cap an eight-play possession. The Bucs were then forced to punt, but it seemed as though any hopes for a comeback by the Colts were snuffed out when CB Rhonde Barber intercepted a pass by Manning and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown. With 5:09 remaining on the clock, the 35-14 lead appeared impregnable.

However, WR Brad Pyatt returned the ensuing kickoff 90 yards to set up a three-yard touchdown run by RB James Mungro. Now with the time remaining down to 3:37, DB Idrees Bashir recovered an onside kick and, six plays later on a fourth-and-six play, Manning tossed a 28-yard TD pass to Harrison.

The Tampa Bay margin had now been cut to 35-28 with 2:29 to play and the Colts again attempted an onside kick. This one was recovered by RB Aaron Stecker of the Buccaneers, but the Colts defense forced the Bucs to punt and took over on their 15 yard line with 1:41 now left on the clock.

A Manning completion had yardage tacked on after the quarterback was roughed by Tampa Bay DT Warren Sapp. From the Indianapolis 42, Manning connected with Harrison on a 52-yard pass play down to the Buccaneer six yard line. Shortly thereafter Williams scored on a one-yard run and, with 35 seconds remaining in regulation, the score was tied at 35-35.

The Buccaneers tried to score in the time remaining, but Martin Gramatica’s 62-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the fourth quarter failed when it was tipped at the line of scrimmage.

The Bucs had the first possession in overtime but had to punt. Taking over on their own 13, the Colts moved downfield with Manning connecting on third down passes of eight yards to Harrison, 16 yards to WR Reggie Wayne, and 9 yards to WR Troy Walters. With less than four minutes remaining in OT, it appeared that the Buccaneers had avoided defeat when Mike Vanderjagt’s 39-yard field goal attempt missed wide to the right. However, Tampa Bay DE Simeon Rice was penalized for leaping onto a teammate to attempt to block the kick and, with a second chance from 29 yards, Vanderjagt was successful and the Colts had capped their astounding comeback with a 38-35 win.

No team in NFL history had ever come from three touchdowns behind so late in the game to come out on top.

Peyton Manning completed 34 of 47 passes for 386 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Marvin Harrison caught 11 passes for 176 yards and two TDs. The Colts, without Edgerrin James, only ran for 74 yards and Ricky Williams was the leading ground gainer with 56 yards on 13 carries with two scores.

For Tampa Bay, Brad Johnson was successful on 26 of 39 passes for 318 yards with three touchdowns and one picked off. While TE Ken Dilger caught 6 passes for 63 yards, Keenan McCardell (pictured at left) was the most productive receiver with 106 yards on four receptions and two touchdowns. RB Michael Pittman gained 106 yards rushing on 16 carries.

Afterward, Coach Gruden said “A lot of those plays, I tip my hat to Manning. He made some miraculous throws, and they made some incredible catches.”

Indianapolis was knocked from the ranks of the undefeated the next week by Carolina but still went on to win the AFC South with a 12-4 record. The Colts made it to the AFC Championship game before losing to the New England Patriots. The Buccaneers, however, moved in a different direction. While they recovered to win at Washington in their next game, they ended up going 4-7 therafter for a disappointing 7-9 tally that placed them third in the NFC South and well out of playoff contention.

Peyton Manning led the NFL in pass completions (379), yards (4267), and completion percentage (67.0) and ranked second in passing (99.0 rating), pass attempts (566), and TD passes (29). He was selected to the Pro Bowl for the fourth time and was a consensus first-team All Pro selection for the first time in his illustrious career and also received MVP honors (Associated Press, NEA, Bert Bell Trophy).

Marvin Harrison (pictured below), at age 31 and after four consecutive 100-catch seasons, dropped off to 94 receptions for 1272 yards with 10 touchdowns – still respectable numbers for sure. He was named to the Pro Bowl for the fifth consecutive year, of an eventual eight straight.

Keenan McCardell remained a bright spot for Tampa Bay, putting together a Pro Bowl season at age 33 with 84 catches for 1174 yards (14.0 avg.) with eight TDs.