Going into yesterday’s Panthers game, it was easy to be a little overconfident.
The Bucs had a 5-4 record, and had won four of their last five games. Running back Doug Martin was all over national sportscasts, with talking heads who usually seem to forget the Bucs exist (“Wait, you mean that team with the orange uniforms? Vinny Testeverde’s team?”) proclaiming the newbie as a candidate for Rookie of the Year.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Panthers were coming in at 2-7, having blown several leads over the course of the season, and with the national chatter centering on the sophomore slumping Cam Newton and his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad attitude.
You can understand, then, why I entered the game absolutely prepared for a Bucs win, and why I was extremely perturbed by sites (such as this one… ahem) that picked the Panthers to beat the Bucs. I mean, what does a team have to do to get a little respect? Score 28 or more points in five straight games? Lead the NFL in rushing defense?
OH WAIT. They already did that.
So, of course I assumed the Bucs would win, and of course I assumed those who believed otherwise were just really, stupidly jealous.
But, chicks, we all know what happens when you assume.
That’s right. When you assume, Josh Freeman throws two interceptions and the only cornerback on the team whose name you had even heard of before the season injures his ankle. And your team falls apart.
To be fair, things started well enough, with the Bucs taking a 10-point lead over what seemed to be a clearly inferior Panthers team in the first quarter. But then, with roughly 35 seconds remaining in the opening quarter, Josh Freeman threw a pick six to the Panthers’ Captain Munnerlyn. This score resulted in, first, a roughly 10-minute explanation by the announcers of Captain’s unusual name. (It’s his dad’s name. There, was that so hard?) Second, it resulted in the swift demise of the Buccaneers’ winning edge.
To say that the Bucs played a sloppy game would be an understatement. The team allowed 252 passing yards on the day, with a touchdown for the Panthers in both the second and fourth quarters, putting them ahead 21-10 with 6 minutes left in the game.
I was restless during the game, cleaning my apartment, changing shirts. Heck, I even straightened my hair at halftime. Anything to shift the karmic tides that were keeping the young Bucs down. But nothing was working.
After the Panthers’ fourth-quarter touchdown, I sent my father a text. “Game over.”
“Yep,” he replied.
But don’t let this blasé text exchange fool you; I was seriously angry. How could this team that had been playing beyond expectations for the past several weeks allow themselves to lose to an inferior team?
I tried to rationalize it. Josh Freeman is still young, and he’s been rushed all game. The O-line injuries to Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph are finally having an impact. The team has a new coach and a new system, so this type of let-down should be expected on occasion. This game is a learning experience. This season is a learning experience.
Coming to some semblance of peace with the loss, I stopped my anxiety-fueled cleaning, and sat on the couch.
And then, with four minutes left in the game, the Bucs scored a field goal to bring the score to 21-13.
The Bucs then kicked the ball away, and managed to keep the Panthers from scoring. With 1:02 left in the fourth quarter and no timeouts remaining, the Bucs took over at the 20 yard line.
And then, as if the Bucs were the second coming of the Dillon Panthers (seasons 1-3), 50 seconds later, Vincent Jackson had the ball in his hands and both feet down in the endzone.
One play, and one successful two-point conversion, later the Buccaneers had forced overtime.
We all know what happens next. It’s in the title of this blog post, after all. The Bucs got the ball in overtime, charged down the field unfettered against the exhausted Panthers defense, and capped off the game with a touchdown pass to the Bucs’ up-and-coming young tight end Dallas Clark.
This was a win unlike any in recent memory for the Bucs. For over 50 minutes, the team played like the kind of team that they have been in recent years–the kind of team that you are occasionally proud to support, the kind of team that’s really quite likable at times, but that, more often than not, you find yourself making excuses for. Well, they are young. Well, this is a new system. Well, I forgot to change my shirt at halftime.
But in the last 10 minutes and in overtime, when it really counted, this team won the game.
Now let’s see who picks against the Bucs next week.
(Or, ok, they play Atlanta next week. but let’s see who picks against them two weeks from now. Oh, wait, they play Denver two weeks from now. Well, whatever.)
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