TAMPA, Fla. – It was fluky. It was bizarre. It was unbelievable.
And tight end Ed Dickson's 57-yard fumble return for a touchdown happened to be the game-winning score in Carolina's 37-23 victory over the Buccaneers.
"In my ten-plus years playing football, I don't think I've scored a weirder touchdown," Dickson said.
It was early in the third quarter and the Panthers had already lost a fumble on the first play of the second half. Ball security was easier said than done on a day when rain came down sporadically.
After Tampa Bay rookie kicker Kyle Brindza missed a 43-yard attempt, Carolina took over at its own 33-yard line, and running back Jonathan Stewart took a handoff up the middle. Stewart collided with safety Chris Conte eight yards downfield, and the ball popped out.
"I just saw a ball pop up like a greased pig," quarterback Cam Newton said.
Said Stewart: "I was thinking, 'Oh, no. Hopefully someone recovers it.'"
Dickson came to the rescue.
"I blocked my guy and then I went to go get another block, so I was just around the ball," Dickson recalled. "They say it all the time: When you are around the ball, good things happen.
"I was just in the right spot at the right time."
Dickson snatched the fluttering ball out of the air midstride and started making his way toward the end zone.
"It was pretty unbelievable," right tackle Mike Remmers said. "All of a sudden Ed is running with the ball. I don't even know who it was, but someone got a great block."
That someone was wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr., who followed the play and took out two Buccaneers.
"I turned around and saw Ed with the ball in his hands," Ginn said. "My guy had already made a beeline for Ed, so I just tried to get in his way the best way I know how."
Thanks to Ginn's block, there was no one between Dickson and the end zone. His touchdown gave the Panthers a 24-10 lead.
"We just have to work on him taking that car out of neutral when he's running," Newton joked.
As teammates rushed downfield to celebrate, Stewart dropped to his knees, shook his head and brought his hands together for a brief prayer.
"I was thankful," Stewart said with a smile.
View game action photos from Carolina's 37-23 win over Tampa Bay.