CINCINNATI – Resilient. Gritty. Gutsy. Improbable, nay, Impossible. Use which ever superlative you like, this one goes down as one of the most remarkable games in recent Buccaneer history. Tampa Bay, one of the worst teams in the league last season will come home an incredible 3-1 and sitting atop the NFC South division. In just week 5 they have matched their win total from 2009 and defied all the preseason expectations.
How on earth did this happen?
When Josh Freeman threw an interception into triple coverage, and when Mike Williams fumbled inside the five yard line you groaned, knowing that the Buccaneers twice cost themselves valuable points. It was starting to look a lot like last year’s Bucs.
When Michael Spurlock later fumbled a kick return, immediately setting up the go ahead Bengal score you began to wonder if Peter King might be right after all. Might this team not win another game all season?
When Cincinnati was driving up seven, with less than four minutes to play, the Buccaneer defense looking tired, you knew it was over. Surely the Carson Palmer would run the four minute drill, handing off to Cedric Benson whom already had dominated the Bucs defensive line for three quarters until the clock ran out.
Then, inexplicably, there was Palmer, lofting a pass on third down into the waiting arms of Aqib Talib.
When the Bengals got the ball back tied, you thought there was too much time on the clock. Palmer thrives in the two minute drill, something he’d already shown at the end of the first half, and field goal range was in sight. Surely the Bengals would win it at the buzzer.
Then, inexcusably, there was Terrell Owens’ offensive pass interference penalty followed by Palmer again finding a Buccaneer defender with an errant pass, this time Sabby Piscatelli (surprisingly) with 44 seconds remaining in the game.
Only when Connor Barth drilled a 31 yard field goal with 1 second left did it actually seem possible; The Buccaneers kicker had capped a truly remarkable comeback and with it ushered in the new era of Buccaneer football; Laughing-stock no more.
Sloppy at times, and downright ugly at others, no one will accuse the Buccaneers of dominating this one. But in the NFL the ‘W’ is the only thing that matters and for the third time this year this team found a way to win when the situation looked most dire.
Josh Freeman, knocked out for a series early in the game, was poised and strong late. In the fourth quarter after Talib intercepted Palmer with less than four minutes to play, Freeman picked up a third down with his feet extending the drive. Freeman then found Mike Williams in the back of the end zone for the tying score, a brilliant catch by Williams who had his coming out party catching 7 balls for 99 yards and a score. Freeman would again get a chance with 14 seconds on the clock following Piscatelli’s pick and threw a bullet down the sideline that Michael Spurlock was somehow able to catch inbounds to set up the winning field goal.
Freeman finished with 280 yards, 1 touchdown and a pick on 20 of 33 attempts.
The defense struggled at times, giving up a blown coverage touchdown to Terrell Owens for the games first points and often giving up big chunks of yards. Cedric Benson ran all over the Buccaneers for 144 yards on 23 carries and Owens hauled in 7 passes for 102 yards and a score. But when it counted the most, the Bucs defense was there to make the big play. Palmer was intercepted twice in the last four minutes allowing the Bucs to tie and subsequently win the game.
The running game would struggle again, with the exception of one massive 61 yard run from Earnest Graham; the first run all season greater than 10 yards by a Buccaneer running back. After much talk during the Bye week about increased roles, LeGarrette Blount and Kareem Huggins only received 5 carries and gained only 7 yards combined. Cadillac Williams gained 33 yards on 11 carries.
The Buccaneers now head home to host the Super Bowl Champion Saints next week at Raymond James stadium in what may be a battle for first place in the NFC South. While the team will certainly enjoy this one, they will have to quickly move their focus to the Saints and try to remain humble despite the fast start.
3-1, isn’t that something?