The Buccaneers scored on each of their final three drives on Sunday to complete a stunning comeback against the Panthers in Charlotte, taking the 27-21 decision in overtime. There was a marked difference in the team’s approach between the last two of those three drives, however.
The reason is obvious: Josh Freeman’s two magnificent crunch time drives allowed the Bucs to tie the game in regulation, as he led a 58-yard field goal march and an 80-yard touchdown drive in the final six minutes of the fourth quarter. After tying the game with a two-point conversion, the Bucs won the coin toss to start overtime and suddenly had all the time in the world to conduct the next drive.
And that meant one thing: It was time for the Panthers to get a heavy dose of Doug Martin.
Martin ran for 11 yards on the first play of the drive, which started at Tampa Bay’s 20. He added 27 more on the next snap, breaking through the first wave of defenders after starting out over right guard. Now in Carolina territory, the Bucs gave it to Martin again but this time he was stopped after a gain of one. That prompted a Freeman-to-Mike Williams pass to move the chains again, then it was two more Martin runs to get nine more yards down to the 19. Two plays later, Freeman won the game with a 15-yard touchdown pass to TE Dallas Clark.
Five carries for 48 yards on that 80-yard drive for Martin. Panther defenders were impressed, though obviously unhappy after the game.
“He’s got a low base, that helps,” said Carolina LB Luke Kuechly, a fellow rookie standout. “Every time you get a running back that’s low with a stocky build, he’s tough to bring down. He’s tough to see behind linemen and he’ll pop out on you. In a hole you won’t be able to see him come out. He’s powerful, he moves well and he’s quick.”
Not only were those late yards just what the Buccaneers required at the time, they were also what Martin needed in order to make a significant move up the NFL’s chart of stat leaders. Specifically, with Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson and Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch both enjoying their bye weeks and Martin thus catching them with his 10th game played, it was time for the spectacular Buc rookie to ascend on the lists for yards from scrimmage and rushing yards.
Here’s where Martin ranks in the NFL in each of those categories:
MOST YARDS FROM SCRIMMAGE, NFL
|1. Doug Martin, TB||1,319|
|2. Adrian Peterson, MIN||1,283|
|3. Marshawn Lynch, SEA||1,142|
|4. Calvin Johnson, DET||1,117|
|5. C.J. Spiller, BUF||1,059|
MOST RUSHING YARDS, NFL
|1. Adrian Peterson, MIN||1,128|
|2. Marshawn Lynch, SEA||1,005|
|3. Doug Martin, TB||1,000|
|4. Arian Foster, HOU||949|
|5. Alfred Morris, WAS||869|
Those tables are for the entire NFL, as is clear with the inclusions of Spiller and Foster. However, the top three in both categories all happen to be from the NFC, which is making for a crowded race for both the statistical championships at the end of the year and, of course, the available Pro Bowl spots.
It should be an enormously entertaining race down the stretch for Martin, Peterson and Lynch. All three backs appear to be getting a very similar amount of playing time. In fact, they have nearly identical totals of touches (carries plus receptions); Lynch has 226 while both Martin and Peterson have 224.