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Buccaneers rally, beat Panthers in OT

The SportsXchange

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Add walk-off catch to Dallas Clark's accomplishments.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end caught the winning overtime pass as in a 27-21 victory against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday afternoon.

"A lot of guys stepped up and made some huge plays, a log of guys making plays to get us in that situation," said Clark, a 10-year veteran who pointed out it was his first game-ending touchdown catch. "It's weird, I've never done that before. Just looking at the sideline and seeing everyone rush on the field."

It took most of the game for the Buccaneers to get rolling, and they responded just in time behind quarterback Josh Freeman at Bank of American Stadium.

The Buccaneers scored eight points in the waning seconds of regulation and won it on the opening drive of overtime on Freeman's 15-yard pass to Clark.

After the Panthers let their defense control the tempo for most of three-plus quarters, the Buccaneers notched consecutive 80-yard drives. The second of those prevented Carolina from taking a snap in overtime.

The outcome extended Tampa Bay's winning streak to four games and gave it a season sweep of the Panthers, who it also defeated in the season opener. Carolina (2-8) has lost five consecutive home games.

"Defensively, we've been playing well all season," Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis said. "We want the game to be the way it was. Put the game in our hands (on defense) and allow us to finish it and we didn't get it done."

Tampa Bay (6-4) rallied from an 11-point deficit in the last 4 1/2 minutes of regulation.

"We (finally got) some urgency," Clark said. "Looking at the clock and seeing this one is almost over. They were making it hard on us."

Freeman's 24-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson with 12 seconds left set up a critical two-point conversion play. They connected again to tie the score.

Freeman completed 25 of 46 passes for 248 yards with two interceptions. All except 96 of those yards came after the third quarter. He completed all three of his throws in overtime.

"(Freeman) showed a lot of poise and maturity," Clark said.

Running back Doug Martin rushed for 47 yards in overtime. That pushed his total to 138 for the game, giving the rookie out of Boise State 1,000 rushing yards this season.

"The 'W' is more important," Martin said. "I was going to run any play the coach was going to call."

Carolina was on the verge of holding the Buccaneers to three points across the last three quarters until the last drive of regulation. By overtime, coach Ron Rivera said the Panthers looked worn down.

"We had done a nice job stopping the run for the most part for most of the day and to allow that to happen in the overtime was disappointing," Rivera said.

Trailing 14-10, the Buccaneers were poised to go ahead with less than 11 minutes remaining. On fourth-and-1 at the Carolina 2, Martin was hit by Davis at right about the goal line, with the ball popping loose and Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly recovering for what was ruled a touchback.

"It gave me a fire," Martin said of his elevated motivation later in the game.

Carolina took advantage with a seven-play, 80-yard drive, capped by Cam Newton's 29-yard touchdown strike to Brandon LaFell with 6 minutes remaining. Newton threw for all except five of the yards on the drive.

On its next possession, Tampa Bay converted on one fourth-down play and then opted for Connor Barth's 40-yard field goal with 4:03 left, trimming its deficit to 21-13.

The Buccaneers didn't get the ball back until the 1:02 mark with no timeouts. By the 20-second mark, they moved to the Carolina 24 courtesy of three completions and a personal foul penalty on Davis.

"We've been in this situation all the time in practice and we always wonder when it's going to come up," Buccaneers receiver Mike Williams said of the late-game time management. "We practice that situation. How are we going to get down there? We go against those situations every day."

Kuechly was perturbed at himself for not preventing the final touchdown in regulation.

"You've got to make plays," he said. "That's what it comes down to. (Jackson) made a good play, but I didn't make the play. I've got to get a hand in there and get the ball out."

Newton finished 16 of 29 for 252 yards through the air, including a clutch third-down pass to Louis Murphy to maintain possession with about 3 minutes remaining.

Carolina's Captain Munnerlyn atoned for an early miscue by returning an interception 74 yards for a touchdown to put the Panthers on the board after Tampa Bay held a 10-0 lead.

The Panthers scored the next time they had the ball, with Jonathan Stewart's 1-yard touchdown run with 8:53 remaining, leading to a 14-10 edge. It was Stewart's first rushing touchdown of the season, coming one play after a defensive pass interference penalty on Mark Barron in the end zone.

The Panthers missed a chance to extend the margin when Justin Medlock missed a 40-yard field goal late in the second quarter.

The Panthers didn't pay for a botched fake punt at the end of the first series of the second half. That's because Haruki Nakamura intercepted Freeman on the next play.

The Buccaneers scored first on tight end Nate Byham's 3-yard catch of Freeman's pass on a 29-yard drive set up when Munnerlyn fumbled on a punt return.

Barth, returning to his home state, booted a 51-yard field goal in the first quarter as the Buccaneers built a 10-0 lead.

Notes: Munnerlyn's three touchdowns on interceptions in his career are one shy of the franchise record. ... Panthers receiver Steve Smith has caught a pass in 85 consecutive games. ... Tampa Bay cornerback Eric Wright left in the third quarter with an ankle injury. ... Buccaneers defensive end Aaron Morgan didn't return after suffering a second-half shoulder injury. ... Richard Rodgers was in his first game as special teams coordinator for the Panthers after last week's firing of Brian Murphy from that position. ... The Panthers added offensive lineman Jeremy Bridges to the roster during the past week, but he was placed on the inactive list for the game.
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