Imagine the pressure. Imagine the wolverines clawing at the inside of your stomach. Imagine a dry mouth and wet palms. Imagine the noise, the booing and the heckling, and wondering if some of it was coming from you sideline.
Imagine being Roberto Aguayo, and staring down a field goal that meant, well, everything.
In the booth, Jon Gruden was saying that this could be the deciding kick in Aguayo’s career. He had missed, and missed again in a season of misses. His team, down to castoffs and leftovers, had the defending NFC champions on the ropes.
Imagine the angst among Bucs fans. Imagine the loneliness of the field goal kicker.
Imagine a season, and possibly a career, in the balance. When Aguayo missed his second field goal, it almost forced Bucs fans to load torches and pitchforks into their trucks and ride out for Carolina. All at once, Aguayo was Booker Reese and Sabby Piscitelli and Dexter Jackson (the receiver) and Lars Tate and Demetrious Dubose and Melvin Johnson and Brian Price and all those other wasted second-round picks.
Imagine the doubters and the skeptics and the cynics who would have just as soon tried a Hail Mary pass as a kick.
Bucs K Roberto Aguayo – Photo by: Getty Images
And then imagine Roberto Aguayo kicking a 38-yard field goal, straight and true, through the uprights, earning a second look at a season, 17-14. It was a kick that earned new life for both a wayward franchise and a wobbly kicker.
Redemption? Well, not quite. Aguayo is still a 43 percent kicker in an 80 percent league. He dodged the knife this week, but they’ll throw it again after the bye week. You get the feeling that Dirk Koetter’s patience is wearing thin.
For instance, Koetter was asked how close his team had to get before he was comfortable with Aguayo.
“I wasn’t comfortable,” he said. “We couldn’t have got close enough.
“I’m happy he made it. It’s awesome he made it. We can’t miss those field goals. That could have cost us the game. We can’t miss those. I’m happy he made the other one.”
By now, Aguayo has to be feeling his coach’s mistrustful eyes, too. Good for him for making the kick, but his personal comeback isn’t over yet. He is Kyle Brindza. He is Bill Capece. In victory, fans will eventually embrace you.
But with Aguayo, not yet.
Oh, let him enjoy his moment. He’s felt lousy enough often enough, and his fans have felt the same. But he is still a kicker on a banana peel, a long way from the cheers.
“It meant the world,” Aguayo said. “I knew it was coming. That’s what complimentary football is. Jameis (Winston) and his guys get me in field goal range. They’re going out there and we won it – again. Not the game I wanted to have, but at the end of the day we made the one that counted and got the “W,” so that was all.
“Honestly, how the game was turning out I was thinking this could come down to the game- winner. For some reason before the game started I was like this might have a game-winning field goal. You can’t even paint a different story line with how the game went about and everything and missing a couple of kicks then going out there and making the one that counted.”
A cynic might point out that if it weren’t for Aguayo’s earlier misses, his winner wouldn’t have been necessary. Still, winning is winning.
“When y’all talk about struggle all I see is him kicking the game-winning field goal,” said Winston. “Struggling? I don’t hear that. I don’t hear negatives. I just hear Roberto Aguayo kicking the game-winning field goal.”
Aguayo’s kick allowed you to forgive, and to forget, some of the Bucs’ other shortcomings on Monday night.
That ridiculous roughing the punter penalty on Howard Jones? Just a detail. The fact that Panthers tight end Greg Olson kept turning invisible to the Bucs secondary? A footnote, that’s all. The inexcusable play call on third-and-9, when the Bucs ran the ball to set up a missed field goal? An afterthought. The two blown third-and-ones, stopped by pre-snap penalties? An inconvenience.
Then there are the things that Aguayo’s kick underlined.
The sensational running game by Jacquizz Rodgers (101 yards). The fourth game-winning drive of Winston’s career. The defensive line, where the members were introducing each other in the huddle.
How big can a Week 5 game be? This one was as large as you can imagine. There is such a difference in the NFL between 1-4 and 2-3. One, it’s time to start thinking about the draft. Two, it’s time to start thinking about a playoff run.
All in all, it was the Bucs’ most impressive win in years, maybe since a 27-24 win over Pittsburgh in 2014. Tampa Bay simply hasn’t beaten a lot of good teams lately. Thirteen of their last 14 games coming into this year were against teams without winning records.
Granted, Carolina is only 1-4. But the Panthers were 15-1 last year, and they had won twice in a row with backup quarterback Derek Anderson against the Bucs in 2014.
Bucs CB Jude Adjei-Barimah – Photo by: Getty Images
A win like this changes things. Sure, the Bucs have played horribly in San Francisco. But does Blaine Gabbert scare you? The Raiders are good, but they’re in the Bucs’ neighborhood.
There are quality teams ahead – the Seahawks, the Chiefs – but the Bucs may get new consideration after this.
The Bucs won a football game Monday night. But they won something more. They finally beat somebody. Yes, the Panthers were banged up and missing Pro Bowlers, but so were the Bucs.
Tampa Bay finally earned a measure of respect. And perhaps that change of culture that Koetter has talked about can finally start to blossom.
All because of a kicker who, amazingly, did not miss when the game was on the line.
Next game, perhaps he will. Next game, perhaps the Bucs will lose. That’s what keeps us tuning in.
For a day, however, the Bucs won a game that feels as it might start something. This time, the kick was straight. This time, the team was, too.
No one has won more awards, including two national Associated Press Sports Editors Best Columnist awards and eight top 10 finishes, than the legendary Gary Shelton, former sports columnist of the St. Petersburg Times. Shelton returns to PewterReport.com for his second season of providing post-game commentary on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers like no one else can.
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