Bucs 27 – Panthers 21 (Overtime)
What did I say…what did I say last week about looking past Carolina? Ever since the NFC South Division was formed and Tampa and Carolina were thrown together as rivals, the Panthers–regardless of their record or whatever troubles they may be suffering–have always, always played the Bucs tough. Forget their 2-7 record coming into today’s game; Carolina showed up to play, and damn-near stole the win right off the deck of the old Tampa pirate ship.
Despite an early 10-0 lead which made it look like Tampa was in the driver’s seat for the duration, Carolina’s defense snapped in and proceeded to make life very frustrating for Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman, who seemed unable to find a receiver down the field and tossed a couple of interceptions. On the other side of things, the Panthers scored 21 unanswered points before Freeman and the Bucs finally woke up and went hunting. An absolutely beautiful, 24-yard pinpoint pass from Freeman to receiver Vince Jackson resulted in a touchdown to pull the Bucs to within 2 points, so Tampa went for the tie with 12 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime.
After winning the coin toss, the Bucs took the ball and thanks to Freeman–going 10 for 10 on the opening overtime drive–who found Dallas Clark on a nice 15-yard slant pass to pay dirt. Game over.
The win is Tampa’s fourth in a row, bringing their record to 6-4 and planting them very solidly into the playoff race, despite some tie-breaker voodoo which currently doesn’t work in their favor. That’s okay, though as there’s still six games to go. There definitely are some issues to address, though, on both sides of the ball, and damned quick considering their next game is against current division leader Atlanta, who pulled off their own win today to maintain a 3-game lead in the NFC South. The New Orleans Saints, after thumping the Oakland Raiders, improve to 5-5 and continue to breathe down Tampa’s neck. Next week’s game is a big one, not just for improving the Bucs’ playoff chances but also in helping to close that gap with Atlanta. This one very well could be a good, old-fashioned shoot-out down in Tampa.