Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Indianapolis Colts game preview
Jameis Winston is the youngest starting quarterback in the NFL and Matt Hasselbeck is the oldest.
Winston has a chance to post his first three-game win streak Sunday with the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who hope to prevent the Indianapolis Colts from improving to 4-0 with Hasselbeck.
The winner will improve to 6-5, and Tampa Bay hasn’t had a winning record this late in the season in three years. The Buccaneers’ first playoff berth since 2007 is within reach amid a resurgence led by Winston, who tied a rookie record with five touchdown passes in last Sunday’s 45-17 rout at Philadelphia.
"Anything is possible," Winston said. "We’ve worked hard since training camp, since OTAs, it’s in our hands."
The 21-year-old needs five TD passes to set a Tampa Bay rookie record with 20, which would surpass the total set by Mike Glennon two years ago. Winston did not have a turnover for the fifth time in six games.
"He’s playing good ball, making all the right decisions, no one works harder than him," coach Lovie Smith said. "Whatever you’re looking for, for the guy that’s out in front, he’s doing and he’s doing it well."
The 40-year-old Hasselbeck helped Indianapolis rally for a 24-21 victory at Atlanta last Sunday and remain tied with Houston atop the AFC South. He engineered a nine-play, 56-yard drive that set up Adam Vinatieri’s winning 46-yard field goal with 52 seconds left.
Hasselbeck is in since Andrew Luck was diagnosed with a lacerated kidney and partially torn abdominal muscle. He is now operating under Rob Chudzinski, who replaced Pep Hamilton – one of Luck’s mentors – as offensive coordinator.
"These are not perfect circumstances, you would love to have your starting quarterback playing," Hasselbeck said. "You would love to have a lot of different things. We have got Chud calling plays now and doing a great job. It’s hard. It’s not how we envisioned this year going, but he is doing a great job."
Hasselbeck’s offensive line, though, will be without Anthony Castonzo. The left tackle sprained an MCL on Sunday, and his streak of 66 consecutive regular-season starts will end.
"You hate to lose anybody, especially your starting left tackle," coach Chuck Pagano said. "Quarterback one week, now your left tackle. You hate it, too, because he don’t miss (games). I think maybe he missed a couple of games his first year, but that’s it."
It’s likely that the Colts will move Joe Reitz from right tackle to Castonzo’s usual spot and shift Jack Mewhort from left guard to right tackle.
Indianapolis will have to find a way to slow down Doug Martin, who rushed for an NFL season-high 235 yards last weekend. That total was two yards shy of Barry Sanders’ record for a player who did not score and was 16 shy of Martin’s career best.
Martin, who is 59 yards shy of 1,000, is averaging 5.0 yards per carry and leads the NFL with 10 rushes of at least 20 yards. Tampa Bay is second in the NFL with 142.2 rushing yards per game.
"I think as an offensive line, when you have a running back having the type of year as Doug, you like blocking for him," Smith said. "You definitely feel like you’re a part of what he’s doing."
Winston’s favorite target is Mike Evans, 12th in the league in that department. Evans has only reached the end zone twice, though his 551 yards receiving over the past five weeks are tied for second-most in the league.
Frank Gore has yet to reach 100 yards for the Colts, ranked 20th in rushing offense at 98.5 per game. Gore is averaging 62.6 yards in the three games Luck has missed.
The Colts have committed a league-high 22 turnovers, though 12 are interceptions by Luck. The Buccaneers have forced 20 turnovers to tie for fourth in the NFL, causing at least one in 17 straight weeks for the longest active streak.
Lavonte David had two interceptions last weekend, returning one for a touchdown, as the Bucs registered four turnovers.
The Colts are 2-3 at home, and the Bucs are seeking to win three straight on the road for the first time since 2012. Tampa Bay won the last meeting, 24-17 in 2011.