Vinny Testaverde won the quarterback battle but rookie Chris Chandler won the war.
Chandler passed for 240 yards and a touchdown and also ran for a score Sunday to lead the Indianapolis Colts to a 35-31 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“Everyone will look at the statistics and wonder what happened,” Indianapolis Coach Ron Meyer said after the Colts survived Testaverde’s assault.
“The last half of the third quarter and all of the fourth quarter was a defensive coordinator’s nightmare. We tried everything and couldn’t stop him.”
Testaverde had a career-high 469 yards and 2 touchdown passes while leading Tampa Bay (2-5) back from a 25-point deficit in the final period.
“I guess it was a good attempt at a comeback but we were really not there,” Testaverde said. “We really got our tails licked in the first half, and I think it all came down to that.
“We beat ourselves. If we didn’t make those mistakes, we would have had a much better chance of winning the game.”
The Colts (2-5) built a 35-10 lead but withstood the rally in the fourth quarter, when Testaverde passed for 202 of his 469 yards. Testaverde brought the Buccaneers to the Indianapolis 43 with less than a minute left, but a fourth-down pass was incomplete, and the Colts took over on downs and ran out the clock.
Eric Dickerson rushed for the first 2 Indianapolis touchdowns and Eugene Daniel returned an intercepted pass 41 yards for another touchdown.
Chandler also rushed 8 times for 23 yards and a 2-yard touchdown, keeping alive several drives with his scrambling. He also threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Bill Brooks, who caught 7 passes for 139 yards.
Chandler directed Indianapolis scoring drives on every possession from late in the first quarter until he had a pass intercepted by Ricky Reynolds with 9:35 left in the final period. The Colts, last in the NFL in third-down conversions, were successful on 8 straight third-down attempts over that span.
“Chris played well, you can see his improvement every week,” Meyer said. “He got out of sack situations and made positive yardage. That’s one of the reasons we decided to go with him (instead of veteran Gary Hogeboom). He has that natural knack of doing that.”
Testaverde, who completed 25 of 42 passes, guided the Buccaneers to 3 fourth-quarter touchdowns. Don Smith ran 5 yards for the first touchdown, Testaverde passed 16 yards to Bruce Hill for another and Lars Tate went over from the 1 with 3:19 left.