Pewter Report's Dory LeBlanc offers up her analysis on how Tampa Bay's offense played against Carolina in the Bucs' come from behind 27-21 overtime victory over the division rivals, and hands out the offensive grades for each offensive unit.
The Bucs initially went three-and-out on their first possession, but a fumble recovery by Tampa Bay on the punt return found the Buccaneers back in business. Josh Freeman found blocking tight end Nate Byham in the back of the end zone to take the 7-0 lead.
Freeman and Co. came away on the next possession with a field goal but the offensive fireworks would be put on hiatus until late in the fourth quarter.
The fourth-year signal caller had thrown one interception in the past five games, but found himself throwing two against the Panthers. On the first pick, TE Dallas Clark was the intended receiver, but the throw was nowhere near the 10-year veteran and the ball was intercepted by Captain Munnerlyn and returned 74 yards for the score in the first quarter. Freeman was 11-of-20 for 87 yards, one touchdown and one interception entering the second half.
Freeman returned in the third quarter and his inaccurate passing continued. The former first-round draft pick threw another interception, which head coach Greg Schiano classified as “miscommunication or misunderstanding” with the intended receiver, Jackson. Freeman did not complete a pass in the third quarter until 16 seconds remained in the period.
The fourth quarter looked just as bleak until with just over a minute in the game, Freeman orchestrated an 80-yard drive, capped off with two lasers to Vincent Jackson – the first a 24-yarder through two defenders which was reviewed by replay officials and the second a short pass to Jackson on the two-point conversion to tie the game.
In the overtime period, Freeman again marched the Bucs 80-yards downfield and found Clark on a 15-yarder to win the game. The Kansas State product went 13-of-21 passing for 152 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and overtime, after being 12-of-25 passes for 96 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions through three quarters.
Outside of the two scoring drives in the first and the final two scoring drives to tie and then win the game, Freeman was shaky through much of the game with errant passes and ill-timing.
Although Freeman’s heroics are respectable, the Bucs wouldn’t have been in the situation that required them to score 14 points in five minutes of action had he made better decisions earlier in the game. At times, the balls were clearly poorly thrown and on the second pick, it was obvious when the ball left Freeman’s hand that it was heading to be intercepted. Freeman had been playing exceptional football since the bye week and hopefully this was just an off-day for the quarterback.
Grade = C+
Like Freeman, Doug Martin didn’t wow anyone through most of the game until the fourth quarter. Through three quarters the rookie running back had 59 yards on 14 attempts rushing the ball and three catches for 17 yards. Martin opened the final period of play with a 21-yard run to the right and looked to have a two-yard TD run, but the play was ruled a fumble and upheld on the replay. Watching the big screen at the stadium, it appeared that just as Martin was crossing the goal line, a body stepped in the way of the camera view, so it could not be overturned with conclusive evidence. Martin was visibly disappointed in himself, but bounced back in overtime with a 27-yard breakout run and was responsible for 48 of the Buccaneers’ 80 yards on the drive. Martin now has 1,000 yards rushing on the season with six games remaining after gaining 139 yards against the Panthers.
D.J. Ware only had one carry for two yards rushing the ball and three catches for 23 yards, but one of those catches was a short pass he broke tackles and turned into a 15 yard play on a third-and-six with two minutes remaining in the opening quarter.
Grade = B+
Freeman’s play affects no one more so than the wide receivers. Jackson, Mike Williams and Tiquan Underwood were targeted 22 times, but mustered up only 11 catches combined.
Jackson did have one drop as the ball bounced right off his chest and Williams couldn’t hang on to a deep pass after it was deflected by the defender, but most of the misses should be charged to Freeman.
The eight-year veteran wideout finished the contest with six receptions for 94 yards, a touchdown and two-point conversion.
Not a great game for any of the receivers until the late rally as two of Freeman’s TD passes went to tight ends.
Grade + B-
The O-Line entered the game with 13 sacks allowed, tied for third fewest in the league. The play of the offensive line was crucial to a Bucs victory as the Panthers were tied for ninth in the NFL with 25 total sacks, with defensive ends Charles Johnson (8.5) and Greg Hardy (6.5) combining for 15 of them. Hardy registered a half-sack to bring his total up to seven.
Allowing only one sack to a team as pass rush-happy as Carolina is a positive, but the negative is that Freeman was hit five times and had nine passes defensed.
It looked like the patchwork offensive line was finally started to fall apart, until just like the rest of the offense, the O-Line came back string in the fourth quarter and overtime, allowing Freeman the proper time needed and blocking well for Martin.
Grade = C+
When asked to be a contributor in the offense, Clark really has stepped up for the Bucs and did so against the Panthers leading the team with seven receptions for 58 yards and the game winner in OT.
Byham turned some heads with his own touchdown grab in the back of the end zone to open up the scoring for Tampa Bay, his only catch of the day.
Luke Stocker was targeted twice, but couldn’t make either of his catches, but blocked well for Martin.
Grade = A-