Since winning the Super Bowl in 2003, the Tampa Bay Buccaneersâ€™ performance has been on a steady decline. You donâ€™t go from being 12-4 and Super Bowl Champs to being 27-37 over your last four seasons and people not take notice. The only winning season theyâ€™ve had since their appearance in San Diego was in 2005, when the Bucs went 11-5 and won their division.
For years, the Bucs franchise was the joke of the NFL. Those were the days of Creamsicle uniforms and “The Big Sombrero,” with its lousy metal seats that in the Florida sun would cook your backside like a Christmas ham. And who could forget Bucco Bruce? Well Iâ€™d sure like to!
Enter: Malcolm Glazer. Within a few seasons, the Bucs had a new stadium, a new coach, and new uniforms. (There is a God!!!) The citizens of Tampa finally had something to cheer about. Things were by no means perfect, as the Bucs defense was usually expected to carry the brunt of the teamâ€™s weight on their shoulders, while the offense remained less than impressive even with big names like Warrick Dunn, Mike Alstott, and Keyshawn Johnson. Dungyâ€™s head was on the chopping block, with the final blow being dealt after a loss to the Eagles, ending the Bucsâ€™ short run at the playoffs.
Four draft picks and 8 million dollars of cash later, Tampa welcomed Jon Gruden as the new leader of their ranks. Gruden went to work on the offense, while the defense continued to kick ass and take names. And at the end of the season, something remarkable happened: Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl. Won??.. More like completely decimated Grudenâ€™s former squad, the Oakland Raiders 48-21.
But, Iâ€™m afraid itâ€™s all down hill from there. Between front office soap operas and player misconduct, the Bucs personnel saw many faces come and go in the following years. Keyshawn Johnson, Warren Sapp, John Lynch. All Gone. The Tampa Bay community was considerably upset when Lynchâ€™s release was announced, as he played a great role in the area. That year, the Bucs looked like the Bucs of Old: and weâ€™re talking mid eighties old. Not exactly fond memories for Tampa fans. 2005 left fans with some bit of hope and rebuilding, only to have their dreams of returning to the Super Bowl plagued by injuries. For the first time in over ten years, Tampaâ€™s defense wasnâ€™t ranked in the top ten, and Tampa finished a pathetic 4-12.
Which brings us to now. After last weekâ€™s game at Seattle, I honestly wasnâ€™t expecting to see much. Hell, I just went into this Sundayâ€™s game the way I used to go into my Calculus tests: Prepare for the worst, and hope for the best. This was Tampaâ€™s home opener against the New Orleans Saints, whose lackluster performance left them 0-1 after last Thursdayâ€™s Season Kick-off at the hands of Dungy and his Colts. The weather was stifling to say the least, but at least these seats were plastic.
Both teams failed to do anything productive on their first possession. During the Saints second possession, Deuce McAllister fumbled at the Tampa Bay 43 where it was recovered by linebacker Barrett Rudd. On the ensuing drive, Bucs QB Jeff Garcia proved he can not only make plays on the run, but that he is seemingly the perfect fit for Grudenâ€™s “West Coast style” offense. Garcia used his legs to scramble for a first down on the goal line on a 3rd and 8, leading to a Cadillac Williams 1 yard TD.
Less than two minutes into 2nd Quarter on a 3rd and 11, Garcia found Joey Galloway on a crossing pattern. Galloway got s solid downfield block from Mark Clayton, found a seam, and peeled off for a 69 yard touchdownâ€”putting the score at TB 14 NO 0.
Just inside the two minute warning, after a 40-plus yard reception by Ike Hilliard, Garcia hit Galloway over the middle in the end zone for a 24 yard score, putting the half to rest at 21-0.
In the middle of the third quarter, Garcia completed a pass to Galloway over the middle again for a 30+ yard gain which was only the preamble for another short Cadillac touchdown run.
After surrendering 62 points this season, the Saints finally scored with under a minute left in the third quarter on a short run by Mike Carney. The Bucs answered two possessions later with a 27 yard field goal from Matt Bryant in the middle of the fourth quarter.
As the end of the game neared, the Saints offense began to show some life. One of Breesâ€™ few redeeming moments of Sundayâ€™s game was a 58 yard completion to David Patten. And with less than three minutes left on the clock, Brees finally threw his first touchdown of the season, a 4 yard pass to Marques Colston.
Sundayâ€™s game left me with several thoughts, and even more confusion regarding the state of the Saints offense than I had had when I left Indy. What happened to the team from last year that went to the NFC Championship?.. Where was the explosive running game?… And what happened to Drew Brees?…
Like Britney Spears at the VMAâ€™s, the Saints just never found their rhythm. Brees missed wide open receivers, and made poor decisions even when his offensive line gave him ample time to think on his feet. The Saints running game was completely stuffed, limiting McAllister to just 2 yards the second half and stifling Reggie Bushâ€™s ground game to a mere 27 yards on 10 rushes. He did however have 43 yards in the air for 6 receptions.
As for my home team?.. Well, theyâ€™re beginning to show signs of life, and not a moment too soon. The offense appears it is finally starting to gel, and Gruden seems to have found his savior in Garcia. The Pro Bowler, who has been treated by other teams as a hand-me-down quarterback in seasons past, is really coming into his own and filling the void that has haunted Tampa for years now. Gruden has had a tendency to spit out quarterbacks as quickly as he chews them up, with Garcia being the eighth different one to start since 2002.
The other talk of the Bucs was the rejuvenated Joey Galloway. Once a ghost of Bucanneers past, Galloway made mince meat out of the New Orleans secondary, proving the Saints simply cannot protect against the long ball. He went for 135 yards and scored two TDâ€™s, and practically strutted into the end zone for one of them. So long as he keeps the ball in his possession and stops carrying it like a damn Coach purse, he should continue to torment defenses with his speed and jumping capabilities. And thatâ€™s how Joey got his swagger back.
For the first time leaving Raymond James in: psh.. I canâ€™t even tell you how long: fans were ecstatic. It wasnâ€™t the doom and gloom Iâ€™ve listened to since we didnâ€™t repeat Super Bowl performances back to back. Iâ€™m not going to sound the cannons and announce the Bucs return to greatness or anything just yet, but I will give credit where credit is due. To come into a game where no one gives them a second glance, and be able to make the kind of offensive plays that they did, speaks volumes for the playersâ€™ determination. Iâ€™m interested to see what they come up with next week when the Rams come rolling into the Bay area. I guess weâ€™ll just have to wait and see.
Until then: the forever-scowling Chucky has something to smile about.