CHARLOTTE, N.C. — No loss is a good one in the NFL. But had the Bucs lost Monday night, it would have been a bad loss. A really bad loss.
It would have been the kind of loss that sits in the pit of your stomach like rotten cottage cheese. It would have been the type of loss that would have made you sick for days and kept you awake for nights.
Think about it. The Bucs were bleeding, having lost three in a row. They were playing a Carolina team without concussed quarterback Cam Newton.
Then you see what happened in the game.
Tampa Bay didn't turn the ball over. It took the ball away from Carolina four times. Its kicker missed two kicks that every NFL kicker has to make.
And this game is the last one before a long break heading into the bye week.
Lose this game and the Bucs would have been kicking itself. Lose this game and the Bucs just might have seen the entire season circle down the drain.
"Man, we just won on Monday Night Football," Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said following Tampa Bay's last-second 17-14 victory. "No one thought that we could, you kidding me?"
He's right. No one did think Tampa Bay would win this game.
But you know what? It absolutely deserved to. It was an ugly game, but give the Bucs credit. It found a way. It should guts. It showed determination. It showed heart.
Bleeding stopped. Season saved.
That's not hyperbole. You get the sense that the season would have been in big-time trouble if it had gone down Monday night. If the Bucs had lost, they would be 1-4 and would have had two weeks to sit and sulk about their lot in the NFC South. Instead, they are 2-3. Not too shabby.
"Especially when you consider that we are 2-0 on the road in the division," Bucs cornerback Brent Grimes said. "This was a big win."
The Bucs have been hit hard by injuries. The defense is missing key stars, including Gerald McCoy and Robert Ayers. The offense is missing running back Doug Martin. Quarterback Jameis Winston has been a turnover machine.
Yet, looked at what happened Monday night.
The depleted defense clamped down, allowing only 14 points. Granted, the Panthers were playing with backup QB Derek Anderson, but still. Tampa Bay's defense forced three turnovers, including a clutch interception by Grimes in the end zone that snuffed out a Carolina scoring drive.
"I just saw the ball," Grimes said, "and then I caught it. Wish I had something more for you, but that's all there was to it."
That's all that was needed.
Meantime, without Martin, the Bucs turned to running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who set career marks with 30 carries and 101 yards.
"Going into the bye week, now we have momentum," Rodgers said. "When we come back, we'll be ready to roll."
And they will roll if their quarterback does what he did Monday, which is not turn over the ball.
"When you win the turnover battle," Winston said, "there's a good chance you are going to win."
It's a win the Bucs desperately needed and, judging by the upbeat music and mood in the locker room after the game, the type of win that adjusts attitudes. That's what one victory can do. It can change everything.
"I believe it should," Winston said. "It just take stress off guys, coming up with a win against a good team and you just have a week to relax on a win, on a W. Hopefully, we are not satisfied. Hopefully, we come back stronger."
This was a good victory all around.
"Spirits are great," Bucs receiver Adam Humphries said.
The quarterback played smart. The head coach called a solid, smart game. The defense was stingy. Even the kicker, who missed those two makeable kicks, rebounded to be the star of the night.
"Great team win," Koetter said.
No loss is a good loss in the NFL. But every victory is a good victory, no matter how you get it.
The Bucs proved that Monday night and might have saved their season in the process.