Huge rally lifts Bucs over Panthers in OT
Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune, published 19 November 2012|
Bryan Glazer walked out of the locker room late Sunday and offered up three simple words to describe his team's 27-21 overtime victory against the Carolina Panthers. "That was incredible,'' Glazer said.
Even that may have been understating things a bit. After all, during a 40-minute stretch between the end of the first quarter and midway through the fourth, the Bucs admittedly played as poorly as they have all season. Against a struggling Panthers team, they turned the ball over three times, including once at the goal line. Even when they weren't giving the ball away, they weren't moving it very well.
As if flipping a switch, though, everything changed. During the course of the final 10 minutes, Tampa Bay scored 17 points to rally for one of their most improbable victories ever.
"I told the guys in the locker room afterward that you can play a long time and never get a game like that,'' said safety Ronde Barber, who is in his 16th season. "That was amazing.''
It was a day when almost any adjective applied. Even historic fit the moment. It did at least for tight end Dallas Clark, whose 15-yard touchdown catch was the first overtime winner of his career.
"No, I've never done that before — anywhere,'' said Clark, who signed as a free agent after nine seasons in Indianapolis. "And it was kind of weird, because looking at the sideline afterward, everyone was rushing onto the field, which was really fun. It was like at the end of a basketball game.''
Not everyone was rushing the field at the end. The first thing Bucs receivers coach P.J. Fleck did was wrap ultra-stoic head coach Greg Schiano into a bear hug and lift him up off the ground.
"I told P.J., 'You're going to hurt yourself doing that,' " Schiano said.
A few minutes earlier, the team's burgeoning playoff hopes were in danger. Instead, Tampa Bay (6-4) won its fourth straight game for the first time since 2008 and are tied with Minnesota and Seattle in the race for the NFC's final wild card.
Funny, but that spot in the standings seemed almost certain as the first quarter came to a close. The Bucs dominated early, turning a Panthers' giveaway on a fumbled punt return into a touchdown and adding a 51-yard Connor Barth field goal for a 10-0 lead. Then, the lights went out.
Four plays into the Bucs' next series, quarterback Josh Freeman floated a pass under pressure toward Clark that wound up in the hands of cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who returned it 74 yards for a touchdown. The play snapped Freeman's career-long streak of 161 pass attempts without an interception.
The momentum shift only grew stronger a few minutes later when Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart scored from 1 yard out to give the Panthers a 14-10 lead with 8:53 left in the half.
The Bucs had two chances to turn the game around before the midway point of the fourth quarter, but wasted both by turning the ball over, something they had done only eight times all year prior to Sunday.
The first giveaway belonged to Freeman, whose deep throw for wideout Vincent Jackson after the Bucs stuffed a fake punt attempt at the Tampa Bay 37-yard line was picked off by Haruki Nakamura.
The second turnover belonged to Doug Martin, who had not fumbled the ball away all year until he was hit by linebacker Thomas Davis as he crossed the goal line with what would have been a go-ahead touchdown with 10:34 left in the fourth quarter.
The Panthers took full advantage, driving 80 yards in seven plays to take a 21-10 lead on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton to Brandon LaFell with exactly six minutes left. It was at that point someone seemingly pulled the switch that turned Tampa Bay's offense back on. After a drive that resulted in a 40-yard Barth field goal cut the Panthers' lead to 21-13, the real fun began.
A defensive stand in which the Bucs registered four run stuffs in seven plays set the stage for Freeman's 10th comeback victory in the fourth quarter or overtime. This one, however, started out on a bad note, as Jackson dropped what appeared to be a 12-yard reception. It ended on a much better note, with Jackson hauling in a 24-yard pass for a touchdown and a 2-yard pass for the 2-point conversion to tie the game with 12 seconds left.
"We never had a doubt we'd score there and tie the game,'' wideout Mike Williams said. "Down eight points, last two minutes, we prepare for that stuff all the time. We just practiced it the other day.''
They practice running the ball every day, too, but it didn't look like it until Martin finally got on track in overtime, running five times for 48 yards to reach the 1,000-yard mark on the season and set the stage for Clark's score.
"For a while there, all the things that we really needed to happen weren't happening for us,'' Schiano said. "But our guys kept fighting and that's a good lesson for us.
"You just have to keep going, keep trusting your training, because it's not always going to turn out the way you want it to every time. But if you don't keep going, it's definitely not going to turn out the way you want it to.''