TAMPA, Fla. — The Indianapolis Colts lost a hard-fought, entertaining battle to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, but they got another All-Pro performance out of linebacker Darius Leonard in the process.
The second-year superstar finished the game with nine tackles (one for loss) and two interceptions, taking one of them back 80 yards for his first career defensive touchdown.
Stat-sheet stuffing is nothing new to Leonard, and as a result of his first-quarter interception on Sunday, he became the only player since at least 1982 to record 10-plus sacks and five-plus interceptions in his first 25 career games, according to NFL Research.
On just the second play of the game, Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston took the shotgun snap, looked down the left hash and let his pass fly, but it was abruptly interrupted and intercepted by Leonard.
The Colts' offense took advantage of Leonard's gift, scoring the game's first touchdown just three plays later to go up 7-0.
"We know if we get a takeaway early it's very contagious," Leonard told reporters after the game. "We're punching at the ball, playing cover-2 (defense) – all eyes on the quarterback. We know that we have multiple opportunities to make more takeaways."
More takeaways, it turns out, were in the cards for Leonard and the Colts' defense, which also forced and recovered a fumble on Tampa Bay's second offensive drive.
Later in the first half with the Colts trying to hold on to their 17-14 lead, the Buccaneers were driving deep into Indy territory. Winston took the snap from the Colts' 23-yard line and was quickly pressured by defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad and Leonard, who had Winston in his grasp before the gunslinger launched the ball out of bounds, being called for intentional grounding as a result.
Leonard wasn't done making plays on the drive.
After a 16-yard pass completion got Tampa Bay right back to where they were when the intentional grounding penalty was called, Winston again tossed a ball into Leonard's grasp. This time the linebacker charged down the left sideline and returned it for an 80-yard touchdown, the first of his career and the first for the Colts since October 2017, and gave his team a 24-14 lead with 2:32 left in the second quarter.
"It was just a fake blitz – dropping in my zone," Leonard said about what he did before the throw. "He never saw me. That's all it was. He just never saw me.
"I was already in stride that way so I kinda knew that I had a shot to take it to the end zone," Leonard said. "I had some great blocks and kinda took one in."
Leonard's two interceptions were among four total takeaways for the Colts' defense on Sunday, which was able to capitalize against the league's most generous offense when it comes to turnovers.
But Winston and the Buccaneers' offense were also able to overcome those issues, collecting 542 yards of total offense on the day, including 474 through the air to overcome a two-touchdown deficit late in the third quarter, 35-17, to win, 38-35.
"We didn't do enough to win. We needed more takeaways," he said. "If we had three, we need three more."
With his latest performance, Leonard is sure to be in the conversation for AFC Defensive Player of the Week, which is determined by the NFL. However, fans still have time to make their mark in regards to Leonard and the Pro Bowl by voting for him and the rest of his Colts teammates here.