Bucs' gunner and runner get it done in end
The quarterback, 24, and the running back, 23, slapped hands in the winning locker room, the gunner and the runner – only that wasn't enough, not Sunday.
Josh Freeman and Doug Martin hugged. There was a lot of that going around. How the Bucs constructed this great, gutsy 27-21 overtime win against Carolina is one for franchise annals. These two might go there one day, too, Captain Comeback and Mr. 1,000. "He's a fighter," Doug Martin said about Josh Freeman.
Freeman said, "It shows Doug is not going to be a great player just when we're winning, when we're doing well."
After a brisk start, the Bucs self destructed, and Freeman and Martin did a lot of the destructing. Freeman had two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown that changed this game. Then there was Martin, the shining rookie, with a fumble as he ran into the end zone with the potential go-ahead score, though I thought he and the ball made it in.
Carolina recovered, the ruling was upheld, and the Panthers went and scored a touchdown to make it 21-10 with 6 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Doug Martin buried his head in his hands. He'd been on top of the world this past month or so, just like Freeman. Now that seemed over.
But it wasn't, and there they both were, putting everything behind them, Freeman leading another comeback, bringing his team on a long, amazing drive to a touchdown and two-point conversion to Vincent Jackson with only 12 seconds left. And there was Martin, ripping off big yardage to begin overtime, no doubt about it, leading to Freeman's 15-yard game winner to Dallas Clark.
And Freeman had his 14th, 15th and 16th touchdowns over his past six games. And Martin had 138 yards rushing, 1,000 for the season, on the button, only the eighth player in Bucs history to hit 1,000 – and it took him just 10 games. The gunner and the runner were studies in resiliency Sunday.
Coming in, they were two of the hottest offensive players in the game. Martin had jumped into the national spotlight, those huge games at Minnesota and Oakland, all those yards. Freeman owned 13 touchdowns and just one interception in his previous five games.
Then they hit the wall. Things went very wrong. Then they punched through that wall. "That's the belief in their self and their belief in each other," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said.
There was No. 5, driving the Bucs to 11 points in those final six minutes, including the whopper, 80 yards in just seven plays and 50 seconds, before that laser to Jackson for the score, an amazing grab, and, just as hard, the two-pointer to Jackson that made it 21-21. These were wonderful Freeman moments, the kind that can turn good into great. "My teammates picked me up," Martin said. His fumble didn't matter.
So, the rookie ran for 48 yards during the only drive of overtime, beginning with the first two plays, when he raced for 11 yards from his 20-yard line, then 27 yards to get the Bucs good and beyond rolling.
The quarterback and the runner got it done.
"I think any great competitor believes in himself," Schiano said. "And just because something happened that wasn't what you wanted, doesn't mean that that's what's going to happen the next time you're going to do it."
"We needed both those guys to win this game," Bucs safety Ronde Barber said. "The fact that Josh threw a couple of interceptions and Doug had that fumble in the end zone, it didn't stop them from going out and making plays later. I just love that about this team."
They keep fighting. The gunner and the runner did just that on Sunday. "You're going to make some mistakes," Freeman said. "Today, I made way too many. At the same time, as a team, nobody lost faith."
"It's pretty cool," Martin said about hitting 1,000. Then the runner went and found the gunner for that hug.
|About the writer|
Martin Fennelly has been The Tampa Tribune's leading sports columnist for many years and is always on hand with a topical and witty opinion on any Florida sporting event. He was named the Bucs UK's Writer of the Year four consecutive years from 2001 to 2004.