O-line pushes back
For three quarters, the offensive line of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had been pushed around Bank of America Stadium – and Donald Penn knew it. Tampa Bay's veteran left tackle had warned all week that the Panthers had one of the better defensive fronts in the NFL, despite Carolina's 2-7 record.
Although Josh Freeman was sacked only once while dropping back to pass 47 times, he faced constant pressure, both up the middle and around the edges.
"Josh hung in there and took a beating today,'' Penn said. "I know one thing, we're going to get that fixed before we play the Falcons Sunday. Josh kept believing in his guys up front and we keep believing in him.''
Carolina's best pass rusher, defensive end Charles Johnson, missed much of the opening half with a head injury, but the Panthers kept applying heat on Freeman – leading to an ill-advised pass that floated into the arms of CB Captain Munnerlyn for a 74-yard interception return for a touchdown that got the crowd into the game.
"This team is resilient … we never quit,'' RT Demar Dotson said. "Things didn't look good for us, down 11 points in the fourth quarter, but we kept fighting up front. We were determined to give Josh enough time to make things happen.''
On their final four possessions, the Bucs racked up 17 first downs and 298 yards as Carolina's defense wilted in crunch time. "We want the game to be the way that it was,'' said Panthers LB Thomas Davis, who had a dynamic effort with 16 tackles and a forced fumble on rookie RB Doug Martin at the Carolina goal line. "Put the game in our hands and allow us to finish it. We didn't get it done today – flat out.''
|About the writer|
Ira Kaufman has long been both a great writer for The Tampa Tribune and friend to the Bucs UK and BUCPOWER.COM. He writes on all sports for the paper but during the NFL season offers his stories on not just the Buccaneers, but also the NFL in general.