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.