CINCINNATI – Second-year quarterback Josh Freeman led the baby Bucs to a signature win.
Freeman threw a tying touchdown pass with 1:26 to go, then moved Tampa Bay in range for a winning field goal after Carson Palmer threw his third interception of the game Sunday, sending the Buccaneers to a 24-21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Connor Barth's 31-yard field goal with 1 second left sent the upstart Buccaneers (3-1) into hip-bumping celebrations on the field. Tampa Bay's two previous wins came against struggling teams.
This time, they knocked off the defending AFC North champs, who are suddenly in deep trouble.
The Bengals (2-3) were in position to close it out before Palmer essentially decided it with a pair of interceptions, finishing off a dreadful game. Palmer was 21 of 36 for 209 yards, including an interception that Cody Grimm returned 11 yards for a touchdown in the first half.
Up by a touchdown, Cincinnati was trying to drain the clock when Palmer's pass was intercepted at midfield by Aqib Talib with 2:18 to go. Freeman was poised in the hectic closing minutes, with no timeouts to use and 63,888 fans on their feet screaming.
Freeman scrambled 9 yards for a first down, threw a 15-yard pass to Mike Williams, then lofted a 20-yard pass into the end zone, where Williams outjumped Johnathan Joseph for the on-target toss. It was tied at 21 with 1:26 to go.
Stunningly, Tampa Bay got another chance.
The Bengals were at midfield when Terrell Owens got called for pushing off before a catch. On the next play, Palmer's pass was deflected to Sabby Piscitelli, who returned it to the 34-yard line with 14 seconds left.
With only one chance to get in range, Freeman was perfect.
His sideline pass to Micheal Spurlock set up the Bucs at the 13. Spurlock got both toes down as he fell, a catch upheld upon review. Barth then kicked it through, and the Buccaneers streamed on the field in celebration.
One second premature.
Cincinnati's multilateral return on the kickoff ended with one more turnover. And now the Bengals have a lot of trouble heading into their bye week.
The high-tech passing game had very few good moments again. Owens ran past the secondary on a quick-snap play for a 43-yard touchdown, but there were a lot of dropped passes and off-target throws. Cincinnati's offense didn't get moving until it went back to the basics, turning to the run-first philosophy that got it to the playoffs last year.
Cedric Benson carried 23 times for 144 yards, his first 100-yard game of the season. He set a club record with six last season.
It wasn't enough to overcome those two last-minute mistakes.