Baby Bucs get breakthrough win over Bengals
The baby Bucs are growing up.
Want evidence? Check out the NFC South standings, where Tampa Bay is firmly in second place at 3-1, ahead of Super Bowl champion New Orleans.
Better yet, check out the last 2 minutes, 18 seconds of their latest win.
Second-year quarterback Josh Freeman led Tampa Bay on two late scoring drives Sunday, the last one culminating in Connor Barth's 32-yard field goal with only a second left for a 24-21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. It was a breakthrough win for the young Buccaneers, who beat the defending AFC North champs on their own field.
With everything on the line, it was Tampa Bay that kept its poise.
''A lot of people go into the two-minute drive and are just afraid to lose the game,'' said Williams, who was 20 of 33 for 280 yards. ''I want to make the play to win the game. I love to win more than I hate to lose.''
The Bengals (2-3) gave one away.
Cincinnati appeared to be in control with 2:28 to play and a 21-14 lead. Facing a third-and-13, coach Marvin Lewis decided to throw the ball rather than let Cedric Benson - who finished with 144 yards - run it one more time to take the clock down to the 2-minute warning.
Tampa Bay was out of timeouts and feeling a little helpless.
''I wanted to be aggressive,'' Lewis said. ''I wanted to win the football game there at the end. I will take responsibility for that.''
Carson Palmer threw a pass to Terrell Owens, but Aqib Talib wrestled it away for his third interception in the last three games. The Buccaneers had their chance.
Freeman threw a 15-yard pass to Mike Williams, then perfectly lofted a 20-yarder to Williams in the end zone. He out-jumped Johnathan Joseph for the tying score with 1:26 to go.
Plenty of time for an amazing comeback.
The Bengals tried to get into position for a field goal, but Palmer's pass to Chad Ochocinco went off the receiver's fingertips and landed in the arms of safety Sabby Piscitelli, who returned it to the Bengals 34-yard line with 14 seconds left.
Everyone knew what the Bucs would do - try to throw a sideline pass. The Bengals let Micheal Spurlock find an opening along the sideline at the 13-yard line. His falling-down catch was upheld on review, and Barth came on to kick the field goal that started a hip-bumping in celebration.
''Just exuberance,'' second-year coach Raheem Morris said. ''It's a young football team. There's nothing better than that.''
Or, from Cincinnati's perspective, nothing worse.
The Bengals expected to contend for a second straight division title, but their season already is in jeopardy heading into their bye week. The Bengals repeatedly put themselves in tough spots with penalties, repeatedly dropped third-down passes that would have extended drives, and couldn't overcome Palmer's three interceptions.
Palmer also threw a pass toward Terrell Owens that rookie safety Cody Grimm - making only his second start - picked off and returned 11 yards for a touchdown in the first half. His two interceptions in the closing minutes decided it.
''We felt like we had the game in control, and those two plays sealed our fate in this one,'' Palmer said. ''We were a little bit off on the last couple of plays, and that summed up the game for us.''
And, maybe, the season.
''As a team, we just fell apart,'' safety Chris Crocker said. ''Yes, it's stunning. As I look at it right now, we have to win out. It's as simple as that. We're in desperation mode.''