What a difference a (bye) week makes.
Taking the field for the first time since a 38-13 loss to Pittsburgh that had more Yakity Sax moments than the opening moments of the Bennie Hill show, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers found themselves ahead at the end of the 3rd quarter 14-13. It had been a bend-but-don't break kind of day for the Bucccaneer defense, as Cedric Benson, who ultimately churned out 144 yards rushing on 23 carries, had a breakthrough game on the season. However, the defense, who cashed in a Cody Grimm pick-6 earlier to level the game after allowing an earlier T.O. touchdown, kept the Bengals out of the end zone and preserved the lead.
Things felt alright. The Buccaneers led and were getting the football back. Suddenly, disaster struck after Micheal Spurlock put the football on the ground by the slimmest of margins, giving Cincy and Carson Palmer new life. They wouldn't waste the opportunity. The Bengals put a US postage stamp on Benson's backside and drove the football down to the 1-yard line, where Palmer found Jermaine Gresham for a TD and a 21-14 lead (following a rushing 2-pt conversion).
It seems things were not going the Buccaneers' way. However, good things come to those who wait.
In the waning moments of the game on a must-stop 3rd and 13 for the defense, Aqib Talib, who was toast on the aforementioned T.O. touchdown, stepped in front of T.O. and snared the ball at midfield, giving Josh Freeman a reasonable distance to work with rather than having to drive the length of the field with less than 2 minutes. Freeman would respond in kind.....hitting Mike Williams for the game-tying 20-yard strike with a little over a minute left to play.
However, Palmer and the Bengals had one minute left to play and a full compliment of timeouts. They drove down to the cusp of FG range before an obvious T.O. offensive pass interference penalty turned what would have been field goal opportunity into a 1st and 20 from the Cincy 47. After a tough overall day, Sabby Pisciteli finally got a chance to impact this game positively, taking a deflected pass up the sidelines for a 31-yard return to the Cincy 34-yard line. Freeman made sure Barth wouldn't miss the winning kick, finding Spurlock for a 21-yard gain that set up Barth's game winner.
Indeed, redemption was the word of the day for the Buccaneers. Freeman threw a tater for a interception into double coverage that killed a drive. Spurlock coughed up the ball that led to the go-ahead Cincy score. Talib was torched by T.O. on a go route for a score. Piscitelli looked silly on the go-ahead score for the Bengals. Mike Williams fumbled the ball away on the Cincy 4 to kill another drive. Yet all of the aforementioned made huge plays that allowed the Buccaneers to escape town with a huge win that puts the team at 3-1 and in 2nd place in the NFC South.......half a game in front of the New Orleans Saints, who come to Ray Jay this weekend. The Buccaneers could be without the services of some key Buccaneers for that game, as Sean Jones and Jeff Faine left with respective back and quad injuries and did not return. Their status for next week's game has not yet been announced. Brian Price also got dinged up.
It was also Josh Freeman's 5th drive of his career to take the lead in the 4th quarter/overtime. His previous drives included Green Bay, Miami, and New Orleans in 2009 and Cleveland in 2010. He's showing the composure, nerves, and tenacity of a seasoned veteran and making a continued fool out of yours' truly and others who doubted the Buccaneers decision to draft him.