<
>

Bucs outlast Panthers in defensive battle

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Jon Gruden glanced down the sideline at
his kicker, wondering how confident Martin Gramatica was feeling.
Gramatica gave him a knowing nod, an assurance that he could
accomplish anything asked of him.

Question on the Bucs: Can they make a run at the Super Bowl with this offense?
The Bucs need to get different personnel -- start with the quarterback and work their way through the receiving corps. It's just not the kind of offense coach Jon Gruden is accustomed to. He's accustomed to a quick tempo. Right now, the Bucs don't have anything near a quick tempo ... they're more slow motion than anything.

Question on the Panthers: How does a team handle coming up short in this type of game every week?
Defensively, the Panthers play tremendous football. I thought they would steal this one. DE Julius Peppers is doing a fantastic job. But again, mistakes continue to bite them. Today it was a mistake on special teams. There's really no "win" you can take from a loss -- you only get 16 games, and the Panthers have fallen behind the eight-ball again. Becoming a good team is a learning process. You need to beat the teams you're supposed to beat and not beat yourself with mistakes. But the Panthers have made too many mistakes, and they're just not good enough right now.

Eric Allen played cornerback for 14 NFL seasons with the Eagles, Saints and Raiders.

Gramatica kicked a 53-yard field goal to tie the game, then a
47-yarder with 5 seconds remaining to lift the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
to a 12-9 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

"He asked me how I felt and I said, 'Good,' because I felt real
good today,'' Gramatica said. "Thank God I made it, otherwise he'd
stop asking.''

Gramatica converted all four of his field-goal attempts to help
the Bucs (6-2) win a defensive struggle. Three of the kicks came in
the fourth quarter, including a 52-yarder.

Asked after the game what his range was, Gramatica just laughed.
"I guess it was 53. I was maxed out,'' he said.

That kick came with 1:55 to play and tied the game at 9-all. The
score was set up by a fumbled punt by Carolina's Steve Smith.
Before that, the Panthers (3-5) appeared poised to win the game by
forcing the Bucs to punt.

Instead, the Bucs got the ball on their 42-yard line and needed
just one play to move into Gramatica's range and tie the game.

"Our margin of error is not great enough where we can afford to
make one mistake,'' said Carolina coach John Fox. "That fumbled
punt proved to be costly, and the difference of winning and losing
for this team.''

Smith was not available for comment after the game. Panthers
officials said he was attending to a family emergency.

After his game-tying kick, Gramatica got in position for the
winner when the Panthers failed to get a first down and had to punt
with 1:20 left.

The Bucs then knew anything in Panthers territory would give
Gramatica a chance.

"I knew he could do it; he said he could,'' Gruden said. "It
was an amazing performance ... and we've struggled with that area
this season. For him to do what he did today, that's the sign of a
real Pro Bowl kicker.''

With injuries to their regular quarterbacks, Rob Johnson made
his first start of the season for the Bucs, and the Panthers went
with rookie Randy Fasani, their third-stringer.

Neither had much success, but that was to be expected. The Bucs
came into the game with the best defense in the league, the
Panthers were ranked fourth.

The Bucs didn't have a first-down in the third quarter, and
Johnson didn't do much until the game-winning drive.

He completed passes of 12 and 9 yards to Keyshawn Johnson, then
after a delay of game backed Tampa Bay up to the Carolina 45, he
scrambled 10 yards and out of bounds to stop the clock and get the
first down.

Johnson was hit hard on the play and Shaun King came in for one
snap, connecting with Karl Williams on a 7-yard pass to set up the
field goal for Gramatica.

Johnson finished 22-for-33 for 179 yards and an interception.

"As a quarterback, you want to score touchdowns,'' Johnson
said. "But that's a great defense, and sometimes field goals are
all you're going to get.''

Fasani went 5-for-18 for 46 yards and three interceptions,
including one on the final play of the game.

"I didn't play that well, and I expect more of myself,'' Fasani
said. "Granted, it was a tough team to play against in my first
start.''

It didn't take Warren Sapp long to introduce himself to Fasani:
He sacked him on Carolina's first offensive play, knocking him back
11 yards to the 1-yard line.

It set the tone for a long day of blitzing and knockdowns of the
24-year-old rookie from Stanford, who failed to lead the Panthers
to a first down until late in the second quarter. They had just 15
yards of offense at the half.

But he earned Sapp's respect.

"My cap is off to this kid; he wasn't flustered even a little
bit,'' Sapp said. ``The kid really wasn't rattled or anything ... I
like him, I like the kid a lot.''

Game notes
Tampa Bay defensive end Anthony McFarland broke his right
wrist when he collided with Fasani on a run. ... The Panthers
managed just nine first downs and 130 yards of offense. ... Bucs
receiver Joe Jurevicius left the game with a sprains to his right
knee and ankle. .... Carolina's Todd Sauerbrun extended his streak
to nine games of at least one punt of 50 or more yards. He kicked a
63-yarder in the second quarter. ... Tampa Bay linebacker Shelton Quarles was called for a personal foul for a helmet-to-helmet hit
on Fasani.