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Offensive line rebounds from a long day for big finish

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Based on the number of times Josh Freeman had to pick himself up off the cold, hard turf at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, it was apparent the Bucs' offensive line was not having a memorable performance.

The Panthers' defensive front – among the best the Bucs have seen this season, according to players – applied consistent pressure to the fourth-year quarterback, linemen unable to hold them off long enough for deep pass routes to fully develop.

But when the game was on the line and Freeman most needed it, the offensive line came roaring to life, giving him the protection he needed to engineer the ninth fourth-quarter comeback of his career.

"We knew we were going to get a shot to win it and when we got a shot in overtime, we knew we were going to go down there and win it," LT Donald Penn said. "My hat is off to Josh. Josh took a beating out there. We didn't help him that much. But he hung in there and trusted in us and believed in us and kept slinging it with people in his face and everything. He played his butt off. For him to hang in there like that and then pick it up in the fourth quarter and trust the protection, hat's off to that guy. He played his butt off. The numbers might not show, but his toughness showed."

Freeman was sacked just once, but he was under constant duress, a factor in the interception he threw that was returned by Captain Munnerlyn for a 74-yard touchdown. But the line kept the defense off Freeman on the final drive of regulation time, also paving running lanes for RB Doug Martin, who had 48 yards on the game-winning 80-yard drive.

Among the players bouncing back was RG Jamon Meredith, who was questionable but played in spite of severely-sprained ankle.

"When that thing happened at practice the other day, a lot of bad things went through my mind," Meredith said. "I thought it was over with for me. But it's like the Lord had His hands around my whole leg and it was amazing. Even the trainers were saying they've never seen anybody come back that fast."

Coach Greg Schiano echoed that.

"You look at Jamon Meredith, when you watch the video clip of what happened in practice, this guy, it's a miracle he's playing. He's a special guy to do that."