#18: Carolina @ Tampa Bay in Madden NFL 12

With one half of the NFC South already represented here at STAT BOX STORIES in a previous entry, the opportunity to finish off the division this week proved too difficult to resist.  Even though the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are already in danger of being eliminated from playoff contention in this year’s NFL season, that doesn’t mean that either team is completely useless in Madden NFL 12.  For Carolina, much of the appeal comes from the Number 1 Overall Pick from this past year’s NFL Draft, Cam Newton.  Even though the former Auburn quarterback and BCS National Champion proves polarizing based on off-field issues from his collegiate days, few can argue the success he has had–against the odds many placed on him as a pro player–so far in his rookie campaign.  In Tampa Bay, young quarterback Josh Freeman was expected to step into the realm of elite quarterbacks this season; though he has regressed compared to his strong season last year, there are teams much worse off than the Buccaneers going into the future.

For the first time here at STAT BOX STORIES, I took control of a last-place team in Madden NFL 12 and tried to lead the Panthers to victory at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.

I continued a run of good fortune as of late in EA SPORTS football games by winning the toss and electing to kick to begin the game and get the first possession of offense to begin the second half.  At first, this strategy seemed sound, as the Buccaneers managed a first down on their first drive but nothing further.  Unfortunately, after the punt my first possession of the game went poorly as Newton threw an interception when a Tampa Bay defender jumped a slant route.  This led to the first touchdown of the game, a 24-yard pass from Josh Freeman to Arrelious Benn to go up 7-0.

With the ball back in hand and no desire to repeat my previous misfortunes, I put together a 3 minute drive which was finished off by a 1-yard touchdown run by DeAngelo Williams to even up the game with just over a minute left in the opening quarter.  With the game tied and the Buccaneers back in control, my defense held tough and forced a three-and-out to get the ball back to begin the second quarter.

Unfortunately for me, a deep throw from Cam Newton to Steve Smith was picked off at Tampa Bay’s own 5-yard-line to simultaneously deny a touchdown attempt and return possession to the Buccaneers.  Over the next 5+ minutes, Tampa Bay ran roughshod over my defense, capping the 95-yard touchdown drive with a 5-yard rush by LeGarrette Blount just after the two-minute warning.  With another 7-point deficit, I knew that my final possession before halftime would be key towards dictating the remainder of the game.

Thankfully, I was able to put together a scoring drive despite facing a 3rd-and-10 situation late in the quarter.  The 36-yard touchdown pass from Newton to Brandon LaFell tied the game again at 14-14, and Tampa Bay elected to play it safe and run the clock out to go into the half at the even score.

In the third quarter, my first drive lasted only three plays on a three-and-out and a subsequent 65-yard rush by Blount set up the Buccaneers with great field possession and a solid opportunity to re-take the lead.  A few plays later, Blount punched the ball in from a yard out and Tampa Bay was once again on top, 21-14, less than two minutes into the second half.  On my next possession, I was forced to settle for a 39-yard field goal when my offense stalled, bringing the score to 21-17.

The tide began to turn on the next Buccaneers possession when Freeman was picked off by the Panthers defense, setting up a 9-yard run by DeAngelo Williams early on in the fourth quarter which gave me my first lead of the game, 24-21.  On the second play after kicking the ball back to Tampa Bay, I was able to force Blount to fumble the ball and recover to take great field position.  Though my efforts only resulted in another Olindo Mare field goal—this one from 21 yards out—the 27-21 lead gave me some comfort in knowing that the Buccaneers would be forced to go for the end zone or bust.

Tampa Bay put together a solid moving drive and were able to get themselves into makeable field goal range as the two-minute warning approached.  With just under two minutes remaining and a fourth down, however, the Buccaneers lined up for a field goal try.  Inexplicably, their left guard took a false start penalty, forcing them out of comfortable field position and necessitating a late punt with three timeouts remaining.  With the ball back in hand, I was determined to seal the game.  Facing 4th-and-1 on my own side of the 50-yard-line, I elected to run up the middle with DeAngelo Williams and he broke through the line, allowing me to run out the rest of the clock and savor the 27-21 divisional victory.

The final stats reveal just how close the game was between these two NFC South rivals.  Total offense stood at 311 for Carolina and 312 for Tampa Bay, probably the closest numbers I’ve ever seen in a sports video game for yards gained.  First Downs were nearly even as well, and each team had two turnovers.  One key stat which had an effect on the game was 3rd Down Conversions; I converted 6 of 10 tries in the game, while Tampa Bay was only 1 for 5.  Combined with my late 4th Down Conversion, I was able to keep my offense on the field when facing tough situations.  Even though the Buccaneers held possession for nearly four minutes more than me, they were unable to convert when they needed to the most.

In terms of individual player statistics, Freeman didn’t throw for nearly as many yards as Newton but he was able to control the ball better and was much more precise for his attempts.  On the ground, LeGarrette Blount was a monster, racking up 161 yards and two scores; though DeAngelo Williams also scored twice, his 80 yards were half of Blount’s production.  In the receiving game, tight end Greg Olsen was Newton’s favorite target, resulting in nearly 100 yards through the air.

Though perhaps an unremarkable game to most, I was pleased with my ability to respond to early deficits in the game and battle back from early turnovers.  It was certainly not the cleanest game of Madden NFL 12 I’ve played, but it’s difficult to argue with wins.  Come back tomorrow as two of the top teams in the NHL’s Eastern Conference—the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins—do battle in NHL 12!

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