The Indianapolis Colts were supposed to be vulnerable to the run entering Sunday's game against Tampa Bay.
That vulnerability never materialized. In fact, the Colts run defense had its best game of the season in their 33-14 victory over the Buccaneers at the RCA Dome.
The Colts run defense — which entered the game ranked No. 22 in the NFL — allowed just 17 rushing yards to the Buccaneers at the RCA Dome. Earnest Graham led the Bucs with 11 yards on 6 carries.
The Colts had allowed 127.5 yards per game on the ground entering the game. Before Sunday the Colts' best game against the run came against Houston two weeks ago, when the Colts gave up only 40 yards.
Indianapolis lost middle linebacker Rob Morris for the season last week against Denver. Safety Bob Sanders — considered one of the Colts' top run defenders — sat out the game with a chest injury.
Sanders' absence could have been a key aspect of the game. Since Sanders became a starter three years ago, the Colts have allowed an average of 125 rushing yards per game with Sanders and 176 rushing yards per game without Sanders. His return from injury late last year was a key reason the Colts run defense played so well during their postseason run to the Super Bowl.
But Tampa Bay's rushing game — without starting running back Carnell Williams and left tackle Luke Petitgout — disappeared. The Bucs entered the game after two straight games in which the Bucs rushed for at least 180 yards, allowing them to rise to No. 8 in rushing offense in the NFL, averaging 137 yards per game.
The Buccaneers also lost starter Michael Pittman to an ankle injury, the severity of which was not immediately known.
Tampa Bay's inability to run the football had a serious impact on the Buccaneers offense. Along with the anemic rushing yardage, the Colts won the time of possession battle, 38:15 to 21:45.
GAME SUMMARY: Tampa Bay fell behind 13-0 after the Colts' opening two possessions of the game and never seemed to get in sync offensively, despite cutting the Colts' lead to 13-7 midway through the second quarter.
CFL émigré Kenton Keith had an incredible day in his first NFL start, finishing with 158 total yards and two touchdowns. Colts quarterback Peyton Manning threw for two touchdown passes, as the Colts compensated for the loss of six starters to injury.
The Buccaneers only committed one turnover, but were unable to sustain anything offensively. The Bucs went three-and-out on five drives, and backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski threw an interception late in the game.
COLTS WERE IN DRIVE: The Bucs wanted to be the team that dominated time of possession on Sunday.
Instead it was the Colts.
Indianapolis scored six times on Sunday. Five times the Colts drove the football for at least 10 plays, going 12-of-16 on third-down conversions.
HILLIARD LEADS THE WAY: For the second straight week Bucs wide receiver Ike Hilliard led the team in receiving, catching eight passes for 58 yards.
SMITH'S BIG DAY: The only stat that mattered for Bucs tight end Alex Smith were his two touchdowns. He caught two passes for six yards, but both were for scores.
It was the second multi-touchdown game of his career, and the first since his NFL debut against Minnesota in 2005.
DUNGY'S BUCS: There are only four Buccaneers remaining from the Tony Dungy era in Tampa Bay, which ended in 2001 — defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, linebacker Derrick Brooks, cornerback Ronde Barber and cornerback Brian Kelly.
Fullback Mike Alstott, on injured reserve, also played for Dungy.
JUNE'S HARD CHOICE: During the ESPN pregame show Chris Berman told viewers that Bucs linebacker Cato June benched Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning on his fantasy team and started Vince Young instead.
June told ESPN he couldn't stand the conflict of being Manning's former teammate.
He also told ESPN he thought the Buccaneers defense could shut down Manning.
That didn't work out so well, as Manning went 29-of-37 for 253 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
FIRSTS: In the second quarter Colts running back Kenton Keith — a former Canadian Football League player — scored his first NFL touchdown, a 1-yarder, to make it 13-0 Colts. He scored again in the third quarter.
Keith made his first NFL start on Sunday and he finished with 121 rushing yards in place of the injured Joseph Addai. He also caught five passes for 37 yards.
Later in the second quarter Bucs safety Tanard Jackson picked off Colts quarterback Peyton Manning for his first NFL interception. It was only Manning's second interception this season.
CLOSING IN ON JOHNNY U: Manning needs three touchdown passes to tie Johnny Unitas for the Colts' all-time franchise mark for touchdown passes of 288.
5-0 STARTS: The Indianapolis Colts started the season 5-0 for the third straight year, joining the Green Bay Packers (1929-31), the Minnesota Vikings (1973-75) and the St. Louis Rams (1999-01) as the only NFL teams to accomplish the feat.
INJURIES: For the Colts, TE Dallas Clark left the game in the second quarter after taking a vicious hit from Bucs S Tanard Jackson. He returned on the following possession.
For the Bucs, DE Greg White left the game in the first quarter due to injury. RB Michael Pittman was carted off the field in the second quarter after an apparent ankle injury.
INACTIVES: For Indianapolis, RB Joseph Addai, WR Marvin Harrison, LB Freddy Keiaho, DT Dan Klecko, WR Aaron Moorehead, DB T.J. Rushing, DB Bob Sanders and TE Ben Utecht were inactive. For Tampa Bay, G Dan Buenning, CB Sammy Davis, LB Adam Hayward, QB Luke McCown (3rd QB), T Dennis Roland, QB Chris Simms, DT Ryan Sims and LB Jeremiah Trotter were inactive.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association and has won national awards for his Buccaneers coverage from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors. He is also a contributor to the Scot Brantley Show from 4-7 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1490-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.