At 5-3 the Bucs still owned a winning record, but their disappointing loss to the Atlanta Falcons hurt, especially so because they came so close to winning that game. But the Bucs had to move on and win the next game. Good thing, then, that they could finish off the 1-7 Carolina Panthers in Week 10. They'd already beaten the Panthers on the road in Week 2, so this Week 10 matchup at home shouldn't prove to be a big problem. The Panthers were a battered and bruised team, and the only thing they could do better than the Bucs was rush the passer. Good thing, then, that Freeman excelled at evading pass rushers.
And for once, the Bucs got off to a fast start. Gerald McCoy forced a fumble on the Panthers' first drive, which was recovered by Sean Jones. The offense got to work quickly, taking four plays to traverse 47 yards and score a touchdown. The drive included a 29-yard pass to John Gilmore, which isn't something we see every day, and Arrelious Benn finished off the drive with his second touchdown catch of the season.
The Panthers coudln't do much against that, but they did manage to get to field goal range before Barrett Ruud and Roy Miller combined to sack Jimmy Clausen on an all-out blitz, dragging the Panthers back out again. That's not something you see every day by the way: Ruud and Miller are usually non-factors on passing downs. Of course, the Bucs offense then couldn't get anything done, gave the Panthers a short field after a pretty poor Robert Malone punt and they converted that into a field goal.
And then, Legarrette Blount took over. The Bucs got the ball at their own 13-yard-line, but Blount got the ball down to the goalline in just 5 plays, helped by a 14-yard Josh Johnson run. With runs for 12 yards, 24 yards, 17 yards and 17 yards again this drive showed us Legarrette Blount at his best: consistent, punishing, physical, and impossible to bring down. This drive also gave the Bucs a 14-3 lead, but the terrible Panthers weren't ready to give up yet. In fact, they managed to get a touchdown when they were gifted a short field when Elbert Mack was pulled into the ball when he had no business being near it.
The game was now 14-10, but the Bucs didn't take long to make it a two-score game again. Freeman capped off a short drive with a gorgeous 20-yard touchdown pass to Kellen Winslow toward the end of the first half. Pay attention to that play, because that's one hell of a throw. There was a tiny, tiny window for Freeman to fit in the ball and he threw it to the only spot where Kellen Winslow could catch it. For that matter, Winslow makes a terrific catch as well. But despite those heroics, this game certainly didn't look like a safe win for the Bucs - not yet anyway.
And when the second half started the Bucs again got off to a slow start. First, Legarrette Blount fumbled the ball away as he couldn't secure the handoff (somehow the play-by-play counts this as an aborted snap, and says Freeman fumbled the ball). The Bucs were in Panthers, territory, and this surely counts as a missed opportunity, even though the Panthers couldn't do anything with that field position. Then the very next drive the Bucs got to midfield again - and were forced to punt. Jimmy Clausen then managed to find Steve Smith on a 34-yard pass play,where Aqib Talib let him run by (again) and Cody Grimm was just a little bit late getting over there.
That led to a Panthers field goal to make it a 13-21 game, and on their next drive the Panthers added another field goal to make it 16-21. That last field goal was made possible by a special teams failure, as Captain Munnerlyn returned a punt 37 yards deep into Bucs territory. The Bucs then added a field goal of their own, but it remained a one-score game. It was now the fourth quarter, and an unlucky bounce could actually decide this game in the Panthers' favor.
So when the Bucs got the ball back with 6:40 remaining in the half, they tried to run out the clock. They only passed once: on 3rd-and-15, when Josh Freeman completed a screen pass to Mike Williams who miraculously managed to get the first down. And as if that effort wasn't good enough for Caddy, he came right back and finally decided the game in the Bucs' favor. On 3rd-and-11 the Bucs were in shotgun, with Cadillac next to Josh Freeman. The young quarterback took the snap and handed it off to Cadillac Williams on a draw. Michel Spurlock actually functioned as a first blocker through the hole, while Ted Larsen followed him as a pulling guard. Cadillac used their blocks to good effect and managed to go 45 yards to the endzone without even being touched. That run sealed the Bucs victory, and was the deciding swing point of the game.