<
>

Doug Martin misses out on rushing title, isn't ready to talk free agency

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Doug Martin’s push for a rushing title never got off the ground Sunday, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back remained stuck in neutral against a stout Carolina Panthers front.

Martin finished with just 48 yards on 15 carries, 30 of which came on one long third-quarter run. That left Martin 16 yards shy of Adrian Peterson, even before the Vikings tailback took the field Sunday night.

"They out-physicaled us," Martin said. "They shut the run game down a little bit."

With the rushing title out of the way -- Martin finished the season with 1,402 yards -- the next big mystery is whether he'll remain in Tampa Bay.

Both sides have expressed a desire to extend Martin's contract as he approaches free agency, but Martin said he's hoping to avoid the specifics for now.

"It'll be handled on the business side, and I have no idea at this point," Martin said.

Martin, 26, went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie before struggling through two frustrating, injury-plagued seasons. He was among the biggest surprises in the NFL this season, nearly tripling his rushing total from a year ago, while teaming with Charles Sims to form one of the best ground games in the league.

"In the beginning of the season, I had a lot of doubters," Martin said. "It's a good accomplishment. It tells me I've still got it, I'm still that guy."

Whether the Buccaneers want to pay him like "that guy" remains to be seen. Last year's marquee running back to hit the free-agent market, DeMarco Murray, commanded a five-year, $42 million deal from the Eagles. Martin is a year younger than Murray, and while Tampa Bay is clearly focused on building a future, he could be seen as a foundation to build upon.

If not, this might be a low-key finale for the former first-round pick out of Boise State, a possibility Martin said he tried not to consider in the wake of Sunday's loss.

"It's going to be taken care of in the offseason," Martin said of his contract. "I'd love to come back here. It's a young team and there were a lot of positives. I would like to be around when it blossoms."