This one hurt. In more ways than one.
Not only did the Indianapolis Colts fall to 0-4 with their 24-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium, the team also incurred injuries to several difference-making players — one such injury among the ugliest the sport has seen.
The Colts were competitive, but they still have a long way to go in terms of closing the deal, especially if some of the injured players are out for any extended time.
In many respects, the Colts played a good ball game.
Curtis Painter, who made his debut as a NFL starting quarterbakc, wasn’t spectacular (he gave up what has become nearly a routine sack-fumble in the first quarter), but he made enough plays to keep Indy in the game (and himself in the starting spot).
Pierre Garcon sure helped Painter’s cause. The receiver broke away on two receptions — the first a record 87-yard score and the second a valiant team blocking effort downfield in the third — to score touchdowns. Garcon finished with 146 yards on those two receptions.
However, the Buccaneers (3-1) showed exactly why they are going to be a force to be reckoned with for a good while: their toughness.
In many ways this Tampa Bay team reminds me of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Quarterback Josh Freeman extended so many plays either on third down or in long-yardage situations, negating favorable position for the Colts defense and the seemingly countless penalties distributed by referee Ron Winter and his crew. Freeman finished 25-0f-39 for 287 yards and a touchdown.
Freeman and running back LeGarrette Blount, who finished with 127 yards rushing and the game-clinching touchdown late in the fourth quarter, not only rallied their team back but sealed it for them late. After the Colts failed to match Blount’s score and punted with three minutes to go, the Bucs’ two offensive stalwarts gassed the Indy stop unit on the ground. Such was evident on the penultimate rush in which Blount was caught after about five yards but couldn’t be brought down until he came inches short of the dagger first down.
Freeman would sneak for that first and seal the win.
If that hurt the Colts in the short term, all the injuries the team suffered during this game could be the long-term ache.
The worst of those injuries came just before halftime when defensive tackle Eric Foster’s foot got trapped underneath the body of teammate Tyler Brayton, dislocating Foster’s ankle. He was on the ground for a good while in pain, and the moment brought out the most genuine of emotions of players on either team. He was finally carted off, remarkably trying to pump up the Colts after they had watched him go down. Foster was hospitalized overnight.
The Colts also lost rookie defensive tackle Drake Nevis to a back injury, severely depleting the team along the defensive line down the stretch. If that weren’t enough, Indy lost each of its top two left tackle options. Starter Anthony Castonzo, the team’s first-round pikc this year, left early with an ankle injury and was replaced with fellow rookie Ben Ijalana. Late in the game, though, Ijalana himself sustained what appeared to be a knee injury and did not return. That prompted the Colts to shift right tackle Jeff Linkenbach over to the left side and insert Mike Tepper, who just recently was a practice-squad player, at right tackle.
So what does an 0-4 start for the first time in more than a decade and a slew of injuries with uncertain timetables add up to for the Colts?