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How the Bucs’ Chandler Catanzaro kicked his way out of infamy and into history

Bucs kicker Chandler Catanzaro (7) greets teammates after his game-winning kick in Tampa Bay's 26-23 overtime win over Cleveland Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. MONICA HERNDON | Times
Published Oct. 21, 2018
Updated Oct. 21, 2018

TAMPA — As much as Chandler Catanzaro could try to brush off a missed 40-yard field goal attempt that would have given the Bucs a regulation win Sunday, it wasn't that easy.

Kickers rarely get noticed when they're splitting the uprights, the spotlight more often finding them when they miss. And Catanzaro had already missed an extra point in the first quarter that could have been the difference. So when Catanzaro sailed his kick wide right as time, his confidence was shaken.

The Bucs have had their share of kicking issues, but Catanzaro would have a chance to redeem himself in overtime, and this time, he nailed a 59-yarder to give the Bucs a 26-23 overtime win over the Browns.

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"I was extremely upset with myself," Catanzaro said. "I told the guys earlier, this team deserved to win this game. They played their tails off the whole game and for me to miss a kick like that is frustrating for me, especially with the prep I've had this week. But I'm very confident in my teammates and I'm very thankful they gave me an opportunity at the end there."

Catanzaro's game-winner —  which came from the right hashmark just like his first — seemed to hook right off his foot but sailed just inside the right upright, giving him the longest overtime field goal in NFL history. The kick was also tied for the fifth longest game-ending field goal in league history.

"Very very proud of Chandler," defensive end Carl Nassib said. "He's one for the drama I guess."

After the game, Catanzaro stood at his locker surrounded by cameras and recorders, moments after he was in the middle of an on-field celebrations. His voice cracked as he replayed the whirlwind of going from goat to hero so quickly.

"As a kicker," Catanzaro said, stopping to gather himself between thoughts, "you never want to go in there and for them to set you up so well. I nail every one of those in practice, and for me to go in there and miss that one, it was tough. I'm just so thankful that it worked out like it did."

After his missed field goal, he received encouragement from Bucs defensive line coach Brentson Buckner. They are bound by their alma mater, Clemson, and their time together when Buckner with the Arizona Cardinals. His teammates also provided support, knowing that given the way the game was playing out, he might get another chance.

"I just told him, 'Man we're going to give it to you again. Just stay in it and do your thing,'" quarterback Jameis Winston said.

Said linebacker Lavonte David: "As a football team, we have to have his back in those situations and we did. We had his back, we patted him on the helmet and told him we'd get him another chance. And when he got his next chance, he knocked it down and made it look easy."

Bucs coach Dirk Koetter, whose team lost last week in Atlanta in part due to a 57-yard field goal by Matt Bryant, said Catanzaro was making kicks from 61 yards this week in practice, so he had faith in giving him a second chance, even though another miss would have given Cleveland possession near midfield with nearly two minutes left in overtimes.

"I don't look at it struggling [earlier in the game] because I see him in practice," Koetter said.

Like most NFL kickers, Catanzaro,  who signed a three-year contract with the Bucs in the offseason, has had his share of adversity. His first year at Clemson, he made just 14 of 22 kicks. He has a big leg — he's just the second kicker to make two career kicks of 59 yards or more and he's consistently hit from 50 — but he hit just 41 of 58 kicks of 40 yards or more entering Sunday's game winner.

"I've always found a way to bounce back," Catanzaro said. "I rarely miss two in a row. Even if it's from 59, I'm just looking for a shot. If it was from 66, I would have tried it. So just really thankful for the opportunity."

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddyintheYard

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