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NFL Classic Rewind: Manning Leads Colts to Miracle Comeback Win Over Bucs

Posted on September 29, 2011 by A.J. Foss

During the 2003 season, the week 5 meeting with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was an emotional game for Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy as it marked the first time he returned to Tampa Bay since his removal as the Buccaneers’ head coach.

Dungy was hired as the Buccaneers head coach before the 1996 season and in his second season lead Tampa Bay to its first winning season in 15 years.

Combining his efforts with defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, Dungy created the “Tampa 2” defense to lead Tampa Bay a 56-46 record in six seasons and four playoff appearances, including a trip to the 1999 NFC Championship Game.

But back-to-back playoff losses to the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2000 and 2001 NFC Wild Card Game plus the inability to produce a more explosive offense, Dungy was fired after the 2001 season.

Dungy’s replacement, former Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, took over the reins in Tampa Bay and took the Bucs to the Super Bowl in his first season, which they won 48-21 over the Oakland Raiders.

Meanwhile, Dungy moved to Indianapolis to become the Colts’ head coach and join forces with quarterback Peyton Manning, an All-Pro quarterback who unfortunately had a reputation of not winning the big game as he was 0-2 in his postseason career before Dungy’s arrival.

In their first season together, Manning and Dungy helped the Colts a 10-6 record and a playoff berth, only to be humiliated by the New York Jets 41-0 in the AFC Wild Card round.

While it was not a playoff game, the stakes of the game were high for Manning and Dungy to see if they could lead their team to a win over the defending Super Bowl champions on the road on Monday Night Football.

But for most of the game, it looked like another big game loss for Manning and Dungy.

On the first play of the Bucs’ second possession of the game, quarterback Brad Johnson fired a pass for Keenan McCardell, who made the catch at the Indianapolis 30, and then outran the Colts defenders for a 74-yard touchdown that gave Tampa Bay a 7-0 lead.

McCardell would score another touchdown on the Bucs’ next drive on would have been the strangest play of the game if not for the finish.

On a first-and-ten from the Tampa 33, Johnson made a poor throw that was picked off by Colts safety Mike Doss at his own 41-yard-line.

Doss returned it 16 yards to the Bucs’ 43-yard-line until he was hit and fumbled the ball, which McCardell recovered on a bounce and ran 57 yards for the touchdown to increase the Tampa lead to 14-0 in the first quarter.

Then after forcing a third straight Colts punt, the Bucs went 71 yards in 11 plays, culminating with a three-yard-touchdown pass from Johnson to tight end Reggie Barlow to give the Bucs a 21-0 lead with 10:16 left in the first half.

Warren Sapp hugs Keenan McCardell after one of the wide receiver's three touchdowns against the Colts.

The Bucs’ defense held Manning in check for the first half as the Colts only made three first downs and gained only 75 yards of total offense to go into the halftime break with a 21-0 lead.

Getting the ball to start the second half, the Colts put together their best drive of the game, a 5-play, 85-yard drive in just 1:55, with the last play being a 37-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Marvin Harrison to put Indianapolis on the board, but behind 21-7.

After both teams traded punts on their next offensive possessions, the Bucs put together a 12-play, 85-yard drive that took 7:22 off the clock, and ended with McCardell’s third touchdown of the game, a 15-yard reception from Johnson to give Tampa a three touchdown lead again, at 28-7 with 1:14 left in the third quarter.

The Colts responded with a 8-play, 75-yard drive where Manning completed went 5-of-5 for 77 yards on the drive, with Ricky Williams( the running back from Texas Tech, not Texas) punching it in from the one-yard-line to trim the Bucs’ lead to 28-14 with 12:01 left in the fourth quarter.

But it seemed that any hope for a Colts comeback was extinguished on their next drive when Ronde Barber stepped in front of a Manning pass and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown that put the Bucs ahead 35-14 with 5:09 left in the game.

At this point, most fans at Raymond James Stadium and fans watching the Monday Night telecast on ABC, turned away from the game thinking the Buccaneers had the game in hand and on their way to victory.

But that is where the Colts started one of the more improbable comebacks in NFL history.

The Colts’ rally started on the ensuing kickoff when reserve wide receiver Brad Pyatt returned the kick 90 yards to the Bucs’ 12-yard-line.

Three plays later on fourth-and-one, James Mungro ran it for a three-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 35-21 with 3:37 left.

After the touchdown, the Colts lined up for an onside kick, which was recovered by defensive back Idrees Bashir to give Indy the ball at their own 42-yard-line.

Manning completed four straight passes for 30 yards until he threw an incomplete pass to force a fourth-and-six at the Buccaneers’ 28-yard-line.

Needing a first down to continue their comeback, Manning found Harrison for a 28-yard touchdown to put the Colts within a touchdown at 35-28 with 2:29 remaining in regulation.

The Colts tried for a second straight onside kick recovery, but Aaron Stecker recovered it for Tampa at the Indianapolis 45-yard-line.

However, the Bucs could not get a first down and had to punt the ball back to Indianapolis, who took over at their own 15-yard-line with 1:41 on the clock and no timeouts.

Marvin Harrison caught 11 passes for 176 yards and scored two touchdowns in the Colts' remarkable 4th quarter comeback victory.

Manning’s first pass was incomplete, but a 12-yard pass to Troy Walters and a roughing-the-passer penalty on Warren Sapp put the Colts at their own 42-yard-line.

On the next play, Manning and Harrison connected again, this time for a 52-yard play that put Indianapolis at the Bucs’ six-yard-line.

Then, Williams carried the ball twice for the last six yards, the last carry a one-yard touchdown and after Mike Vanderjagt made the extra point, the game was tied at 35-35 with 35 seconds left in regulation.

The Bucs made a last ditch effort to win the game before the end of regulation as Martin Gramatica attempted a 62-yard field goal but the kick was tipped at the line of scrimmage and the game went into overtime.

Tampa Bay got the ball first in the overtime period and drove to the Colts’ 41-yard-line until the drive stalled and the Bucs were forced to punt.

The Colts took over at their own 13-yard-line and were able to drive to the Bucs’ 47-yard-line, thanks to three straight 3rd down completions by Manning.

Then on second-and-ten from the 47, Manning hit Reggie Wayne for 16 yards to put the Colts into field goal range.

After three straight runs by Mungro for nine yards, Vanderjagt come on to attempt the game-winning 40-yard field goal to complete the unbelievable comeback

The snap was good, the hold was good, but the kick was not as Vanderjagt’s kick missed to the right.

But as the Bucs and their fans were celebrating Vanderjagt’s apparent miss, a penalty flag was found to be on the field.

Referee Johnny Greer turned on his microphone and called an unsportsmanlike penalty on the Buccaneers as Simeon Rice was penalized for “leaping” on the field goal attempt.

According to the NFL rulebook, a player cannot land on another player if he jumps to block the kick.

And in the eyes of umpire Ed Coukart, Rice landed on one of his teammates to draw the penalty, which was 15 yards but in this case was half the distance to the goal since the Colts were at the 22-yard-line when they attempted the kick.

The controversial penalty gave Vanderjagt another chance to win the game, this time from 29 yards out, a relative chip shot.

But once again Vanderjagt’s kick was sailing wide right until it hit the upright and through for a successful field goal to give the Colts a remarkable 38-35 overtime victory.

Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy embrace after their incredible comeback win over the Buccaneers.

The results of the game sent the two teams into opposite directions as the Colts rose to the top while the Buccaneers’ fortunes turned for the worse.

Tampa Bay lost seven of its last 11 games to finish the season at 7-9, their first losing season since 1996 and out of the playoffs after four consecutive postseason appearances.

The Bucs would win two NFC South division titles under Gruden’s reign as head coach but were one-and-done both times and after a late-season collapse in 2008, Gruden was fired.

As for the Colts, they went 12-4 in the 2003 season to win the AFC South and win the first two postseason games for Manning in his career as Indianapolis advanced to the AFC Championship Game, only to lose to the New England Patriots.

Three years later, Manning, Dungy and the Colts would defeat the Chicago Bears 29-17 in Super Bowl XLI to become world champions.

Dungy would coach the Colts for two more seasons before retiring and taking a job as an analyst with NBC’s Sunday Night Football.


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