By Max Luckan
It was, for the most part, a gritty game that lacked a whole lot of offense. But then things got interesting. Late in the fourth quarter, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers pulled within eight points of the Carolina Panthers on a Connor Barth field goal with 4:06 left in the game that pushed the score to 21-13. The Bucs were able to get the ball back with about a minute left, and Josh Freeman found Vincent Jackson in the back of the end zone for a touchdown with 12 seconds left. A successful two-point conversion followed, as did a Dallas Clark touchdown reception in overtime that capped off a Bucs’ come-from-behind victory in Carolina, 27-21.
Some questionable calls were made by head coach Greg Schiano and his staff, including the decision to go for it on fourth-and-one deep in Panthers’ territory, which resulted in a fumble by Doug Martin and zero points. That decision almost cost the Bucs the game, because the Panthers stormed back with a touchdown that extended their lead to 11 points with six minutes left in the fourth quarter.
However, there were plenty of good decisions made by the coaching staff as well, including near-perfect clock management at the end of the game that allowed the Bucs to get the ball back with a little time left. Also crucial was the call by offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan on the two-point conversion. Sullivan opted to go with play-action, which freed Vincent Jackson in the back of the end zone.
Yes, some there were some iffy calls, but the brilliant decisions definitely overshadowed the poor ones. Grade: B
It took the Bucs’ offense almost the entire game to get going, but they did at just the right time. Quarterback Josh Freeman overcame two early interceptions, one of which gave the Panthers momentum and led the team to an overtime victory, throwing for 248 yards and three touchdowns, two of them at crucial points.
On the ground, Doug Martin eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing on the season with a 138-yard performance against the Panthers. Martin struggled to get going early, but cranked it up in the fourth quarter, and especially in overtime. Vincent Jackson made two, maybe three, key plays in the game on his way to 94 yards receiving, including the TD catch to tie it and the two-point conversion. Jackson, like Freeman, came through in the clutch on Sunday.
Overall, the offense wasn’t as explosive as in the previous games, but kicked in at the right time. Grade: B-
But the defense was a different story. The Bucs’ defense gave up 252 yards through the air and 101 yards on the ground, the latter stat being uncharacteristically high for the Bucs. While Lavonte David, Gerald McCoy, Michael Bennett, and even Daniel Te’o-Nesheim played well, the secondary was again ineffective and wasn’t even able to cause any turnovers against the Panthers. There was occasional pressure on Panthers’ QB Cam Newton, but big plays down the field were there for the Panthers. Surprising is the fact that the Bucs weren’t able to slow down the Panthers’ running game, and may have even caught a break when Jonathan Stewart, who was having a good game, went down with an injury.
The performance wasn’t great in general, and the defense is lucky that the offense was able to bail them out in the end. Grade: C+
While special teams was again a weakness of the Panthers, the Bucs did alright on Sunday. Kicker Connor Barth was 2-2 on field goals, and punter Michael Koenen helped the Bucs win the field position battle throughout the game.
Also a positive is the fact that the Bucs didn’t allow a kickoff return or a punt return for a TD, which they have done a good job of preventing the whole year.
Punt returner Roscoe Parrish hasn’t been outstanding returning punts, but he has been consistent this year, which has helped the Bucs have relatively good field position for the most part.
Special teams wasn’t outstanding for the Bucs on Sunday, but they didn’t make any crucial mistakes that cost them. Grade: B
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Max Luckan lives in Tampa, FL and is a sports writer covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and NFL. Luckan has been covering the Buccaneers for a few years now. You can find more of his work at Examiner.com.