CHARLOTTE – On Tampa Bay's touchdown pass in the final seconds of regulation, the Panthers had three defenders in close proximity to Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson.
It didn't matter. Quarterback Josh Freeman fired a perfectly-placed pass to his No. 1 wide receiver to bring the Bucs to within two points.
"That was a laser," Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano said. "There wasn't a lot of room for that to get in there, and the catch was something else."
Jackson, who was lined up in the slot left, ran directly down the seam. Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly chased him in coverage downfield.
As the ball was thrown, safeties Charles Godfrey and Sherrod Martin tried to converge on the ball but didn't get there in time.
Freeman's pass soared over Kuechly's outstretched hands and into the grasp of the 6-foot-5 inch wide receiver. Kuechly then tried to force the ball out to no avail.
"Luke played it about as good as you can ask him to," head coach Ron Rivera said.
Kuechly, though, believes he should have somehow done more to prevent the 24-yard touchdown completion.
"I need to get my hand up there quicker. When his eyes flash you have to get your hand in there," Kuechly said. "I have to make the play. That's what it comes down to. In order to win games you have to make plays, and I didn't."
The rookie had his back turned to Freeman and said he was playing Jackson's eyes during the play.
"I got my hand in there a little late," Kuechly said. "They were able to make the catch."
GOING BACKWARDS: As the Panthers tried to close the game out on the ground in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, they often failed to get back to the line of scrimmage.
"The bottom line is when you are in four minutes, you can't take a negative play," Rivera said. "That's what we did."
During the Panthers' final offensive possession, two runs were stopped behind the line of scrimmage. Two others were stopped for no gain.
Carolina did convert one third-and-long thanks to Cam Newton's 12-yard completion to Louis Murphy on third-and-11. But they came up a yard short on the third-and-12 that followed.
"We put ourselves in a third-and-long situation. Cam made a nice run and almost got the first down, but we can't do that," Rivera said. "If we don't take negative plays on that, we go forward and have a chance."
OVERTIME WOES: The Panthers participated in their 15th overtime contest in team history, including the postseason, and first since 2008 at the New York Giants.
After Sunday's loss to the Buccaneers, Carolina has a 5-10 all-time record in overtime.
The Panthers have never won an overtime game at home and are 0-4 in overtime games at Bank of America Stadium. The last overtime loss at home came against the San Francisco 49ers on the exact same date 11 years ago.