Catanzaro finally kicks one, and Bucs finally win

by Gary Shelton on October 22, 2018 · 2 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Catanzaro lines up for his winning field goal.../JEFFREY S. KING

Monday, 4 a.m.

A hundred times, they lost this game. A hundred and one, they managed to win it.

They fumbled it away a dozen times, and they missed kicks for another dozen, and they threw interceptions for a dozen more. They blew a big lead, and they let a bottom-dweller like Cleveland hang around, and they saw a loss turn into a tie to turn into a win.

Finally, they won it, when a creaky kicker named Chandler Catanzaro squeezed a 59-yard field goal inside the right upright in overtime to give the Bucs a 26-23 victory Sunday afternoon at Raymond James Stadium.

It was a horrible game, unsightly and poorly played, just the sort of game you might expect when the historically dreadful Cleveland Browns played the historically awful Tampa Bay Bucs in a game to measure disappointment. Years from now, a current Bucs' executive will talk to a current  Browns' executive, and they'll try to figure out how one of them eventually won it.

... And he's mobbed after his winning kick./JEFFREY S. KING

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Winston dives into the end zone for a touchdown./JEFFREY S. KING

Bucs exec: "We blew a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter."

Browns exec: "We didn't score on a second and goal from the two."

Bucs: "We threw two interceptions."

Browns: "We had 114 yards worth of penalties."

Bucs: "We missed an extra point and a winning field goal."

Browns: "We had only 215 yards passing against this lousy defense."

Evans makes a catch. He had 107 yards for the Bucs./JEFFREY S. KING

Bucs: "We gave up a safety."

Browns: "We had the Bucs stopped on a touchdown drive and had a hands-to-the-face penalty."

Bucs: "We took a sack when the Bucs ran a play that evidently wasn't called from the bench."

Browns: "We drafted Johnny Manziel."

Bucs: "We drafted Josh Freeman."

And so it goes. The Browns lost because they are the Browns. The Bucs almost lost because they are the Bucs. It figures that the winning points would come from a kicker that seemed to be headed toward the unemployment line.

That said, give Catanzaro some credit for rebounding from a soul-crushing miss in the final seconds of regulation. He was wide right on a 40-yard kick

Cross makes the catch on a crucial fourth-and-one./JEFFREY S. KING

that would have sent the Bucs home as winners. He also had his third miss of an extra point this season.

But he was good enough on his 59-yarder, the second-longest kick in Bucs' history. Redemption is always a good story in sports, particularly when it comes so soon after disaster. As Catanzaro stood by his locker, fighting the emotion in his voice, you were reminded on what this job does to a man's feelings.

"I was very, very upset with how I hit the first one at the end of regulation," Catanzaro said. "I didn't trust it. I've got to get that fixed this week, so I'm looking forward to getting back to work tomorrow.

"I think (resiliency) is part of my DNA. I've always kind of found a way to bounce back. I rarely miss in a row. Even if it's for 59 (yards), I was just looking for a shot. If it was from 66, I would have tried  it. I'm just really thankful for the opportunity.

M.J. Stewart breaks up a pass for Bucs./JEFFREY S. KING

There was some risk to the play. Consider this: If Catanzaro had missed, the Browns would have taken over on the 43 with 1:22 to play.

"Chandler made it from 61 in practice this week, so I knew he had the distance in him," Bucs' coach Dirk Koetter said. "With the timing going to the 10-minute overtime, we weren't going to get the ball back. So if we didn't make that one, we weren't getting it back. You either go for the win or you hope you tie. The way that game was going, we were going for the tie. I knew he could make it if he hit it."

The odd thing is that because of the hook of the ball, Catanzaro has to start over aiming outside the goal posts. This time, he was perfect.

"On those long kicks, I have a little bit of a draw where I have to to put a little extra hook into it," Catanzaro said. "So I kind of played my line. I trusted my

Chris Godwin brings down a catch for Bucs./JEFFREY S. KING

line and, I'll be honest, I hit it really well. I'm glad to come through for the guys."

The guys, as you might imagine, thought it was pretty cool, too.

“That’s a great moment, man," said defensive tackle Beau Allen. "Football’s tough, it’s really tough. I don’t know if people understand how hard it is to be a kicker in situations like that, mentally, psychologically, emotionally and things like that. To hit a 59-yard field goal to get the ‘W’ for us is amazing. That’s amazing for him to bounce back from that. You can’t say enough about that guy and how big that kick was for our team.”

A lot of Bucs could share the feeling of redemption  Sunday. Take Winston, who bolstered every argument that the Bucs could retain him and every argument they should retrain him. He threw two picks -- his Achilles' Heel -- but he also threw for 365 yards and led the team downfield at the end of

Barber gets a lift after scoring./JEFFREY S. KING

regulation. He didn't lead them far in overtime -- seven yards -- but it's better than going backward. Winston also ran for 55 yards.

But Winston evidently ran a different play than the one that was sent in and suffered a sack with two minutes to play.

“I don’t know what happened," Koetter said. "We didn’t run the play that Monk (offensive coordinator Todd Monken) sent in. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but there’s just no excuse for that. You absolutely cannot – we were already in field goal range. We cannot take a sack there. I didn’t have time to get to the bottom of what exactly happened. Was it some kind of confusion or was he looking for something else? But, the play that Monk sent in was not the play that we ran.”

Other slices of redemption? Take the defense, which has been going backwards since the start of the season. Sunday, they gave up just 334 yards (they had been giving up 440) and 21 points (they had been giving up 34.8). Take the pass rush, which hasn't been as impressive as the team hoped. But without Gerald McCoy and Vinny Curry, the Bucs had five sacks. Take Mike Evans, who struggled at the end against Atlanta but came back Sunday with seven catches for 107 yards.

"Compared to last week, we did way better on third down," Koetter said. "We got off the field on third down and we got five sacks. Cleveland, in the second half, Cleveland attacked us a little bit more with the run. With Kwon out of there, that probably makes sense and they hurt us a little bit more with the run. I just thought our defensive players really brought their passion and their pride today. I thought their energy on the sideline and the way they were talking to each other was really good as well.” 

Pierre-Paul had his sixth sack for the Bucs./JEFFREY S. KING

Then there was the offensive line, which started out badly. The Bucs' first possession started at the one. The first running play went nowhere. Then, after a penalty, the second one saw Payton Barber dumped in his own end zone.

Afterward, however, the Bucs played better. In their first seven possessions, the Browns had six punts and lost the ball on downs. For the day, the Bucs forced nine punts and stopped the Browns on downs twice.  Cleveland converted only three of 14 third downs.

The Bucs threatened to run and hide in the first period. After giving up the safety, Catanzaro hit a field goal, DeSean Jackson scored on a 14-yard run reverse (the extra point was missed) and Winston dove in for the score on a 14-yard scramble. The Bucs were in good shape. But their own turnovers gave Cleveland two short fields (they drove 25 yards and 16 yards for two of the scores).

The field goal was a gutsy move by Koetter. So, too, was going for it on fourth-and-one at

Alexander suffered a knee injury./JEFFREY S. KING

the Cleveland 49 with 3:40 to play in the third quarter. Winston hit Alan Cross for six yards on that play, the Bucs went on to score their third touchdown.

In other words, give the Bucs' coaches credit for being a bit more aggressive. And, as shaky as the win was, it did even the Bucs' record at 3-3. That's a mile and a half from 2-4 with a three-game losing streak.

For the week, it all worked. The decision to kick the 59-yarder. The decision to fire Mike Smith and hire Mark Duffner. The decision to stick with waiver wire claimant Carl Nassib (two sacks and a pass defensed).

Hey, no one should buy playoff tickets. Still, it was a better way to end things than in previous weeks. Sometimes, a long shot is better than none at all.

The Bucs play in Cincinnati on Sunday. The game begins at 1 p.m.

After stopping a fourth-and-goal at the one, but Bucs were rowing together./JEFFREY S. KING

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