The surging Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been an offensive pace car for the past month, but Sunday's 27-21 overtime win over the Carolina Panthers revealed another side of Greg Schiano's young team: They can win ugly.
This one felt like a letdown in the making for the Bucs. The Panthers held quarterback Josh Freeman and rookie backfield sensation Doug Martin in check for much of regulation. The Bucs' pass defense -- one of the worst in football -- allowed Panthers quarterback Cam Newton too many opportunities to extend drives.
The Bucs' offense woke from its slumber just in time. Freeman's 15-yard strike to Dallas Clark in overtime capped an 80-yard march that looked eerily similar to the drive that tied the score with seconds remaining in regulation. The Panthers had no answer once Freeman flipped the switch.
These 6-4 Bucs share little DNA with last season's version -- and Freeman has become a new man. The fourth-year pro is developing before our eyes on a weekly basis. Burying the Bucs has become a tall order.
The Panthers had the young quarterback everyone couldn't stop talking about in 2011. The Bucs have that guy in 2012. The NFC has been warned.
Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.