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Their Level Best

Posted Jun 7, 2011

Buccaneer players have had some noteworthy single-season performances during the franchise’s 35-year history, but are they one of only six NFL teams to hit a specific mark in eight key categories?


Last fall, Josh Freeman put together one of the best seasons ever by a Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback.

 

Freeman’s passer rating was 95.9, the second-best single-season mark in team history and by far the best by any quarterback who started every game.  He threw 25 touchdown passes and just six interceptions, one of the better TD/INT ratios in NFL history in a single campaign.  Most importantly, he led the league’s youngest team to an unexpected 10-6 record and the very cusp of the playoffs.

 

One thing Freeman did not do in 2010, however, was throw for 4,000 yards.  In that respect, he is like every other Tampa Bay quarterback who came before him.  Freeman’s 3,451 yards last season ranks fourth in team history; the record still belongs to Brad Johnson and his 3,811 yards in 2003.

 

Now, as Buccaneers’ head coach Raheem Morris will tell you, “stats are for losers.”  In this case, the corollary is that Freeman’s overall performance was more than good enough to lead his team to victory on the majority of weekends; there’s no reason to believe the extra 34.3 passing yards per game he would have needed to get to 4,000 would have made a significant difference in the team’s overall success level.

 

Stats are awfully useful for historical comparisons, however.   In this case, again, the fact that no previous Buccaneer quarterback has reached the 4,000-yard mark in a single season creates another potential franchise milestone for Freeman to conquer.  Given the young passer’s remarkably rapid development – not to mention the likely-to-improve cast of young pass-catchers around him – there’s every reason to believe that Freeman can surpass Johnson and get to 4,000.  And if he does so, Freeman will take the Buccaneers as a franchise one step closer to a series of individual accomplishments that only a few clubs have managed.

 

The Buccaneers remain one of the four teams in the NFL’s current 32 that has yet to have a 4,000-yard passing season.  The others are Chicago, Philadelphia and Seattle.  On the other hand, the Bucs have enjoyed a 100-reception season by an individual (106 by Keyshawn Johnson in 2001); six other teams cannot say the same.  And Tampa Bay is not the lone remaining NFL club that has never had a 1,500-yard rusher, thanks to James Wilder’s 1,554-yard campaign in 1984.  Similarly, Ronde Barber’s 10 picks in 2001 keep the Bucs off the four-team list that has never had one of their own hit that milestone.

 

At the moment, there are only six teams that have had individuals achieve each of these eight milestones in a single season:

 

  • 1,500 yards rushing
  • 4,000 yards passing
  • 100 receptions
  • 1,500 yards receiving
  • 15 sacks
  • 10 interceptions
  • 140 points scored
  • 15 touchdowns scored

 

It’s true that those particular statistical levels were chosen arbitrarily, but they are relatively uniform and also somewhat infrequently achieved.  For instance, in 2010, the NFL had one 1,500-yard rusher, five 4,000-yard passers, two 100-catch receivers, no 1,500-yard receivers, one 15-sack man, no 10-interception defenders, two 140-point scorers and two 15-touchdown scorers.  Seasons of 1,000 rushing yards or 3,000 passing yards are still considered impressive, but they are achieved fairly commonly.  The above milestone moments only come along every so often for any given franchise.  The Bucs last had any of the above in 2001.

 

Somewhere along the way, most franchises find players who crack most of the milestones above.  Again, however, only six of the current 32 teams have reached them all: Arizona, Dallas, Indianapolis, Minnesota, St. Louis and San Diego.  Here are the six teams and the highest-ranking player in each of those eight categories (in some cases, there was more than one possible choice, but only the first such season is listed):

 

 

Arizona

Dallas

Rushing Yds.

O. Anderson (’79): 1,605

E. Smith (’95): 1,773

Passing Yds.

N. Lomax (’84): 4,614

T. Romo (’09): 4,483

Receptions

L. Fitzgerald (’05): 103

M. Irvin (’95): 111

Rec. Yds.

D. Boston (’01): 1,598

M. Irvin (’95): 1,603

Sacks

S. Rice (’99): 16.5

D. Ware (’08): 20.0

Interceptions

B. Nussbaumer (’49): 12

E. Walls (’81): 11

Points

N. Rackers (’05): 140

E. Smith (’95): 150

Touchdowns

J.D. Crow (’62): 17

E. Smith (’95): 25

 

 

Indianapolis

Minnesota

Rushing Yds.

E. James (’00): 1,709

A. Peterson (’08): 1,760

Passing Yds.

P. Manning (’10): 4,700

D. Culpepper (’04): 4,717

Receptions

M. Harrison (’02): 143

C. Carter (’94): 122

Rec. Yds.

M. Harrison (’02): 1,722

R. Moss (’03): 1,632

Sacks

D. Freeney (’04): 16.0

C. Doleman (’89): 21.0

Interceptions

T. Keane (’53): 11

P. Krause (’75): 10

Points

M. Vanderjagt (’03): 157

G. Anderson (’98): 164

Touchdowns

L. Moore (’64): 20

C. Foreman (’75): 22

 

 

St. Louis

San Diego

Rushing Yds.

E. Dickerson (’84): 2,105

L. Tomlinson (’06): 1,815

Passing Yds.

K. Warner (’01): 4,830

D. Fouts (’81): 4,802

Receptions

I. Bruce (’95): 119

L. Tomlinson (’03): 100

Rec. Yds.

I. Bruce (’95): 1,781

L. Alworth (’65): 1,602

Sacks

K. Carter (’99): 17.0

L. O’Neal (’92): 17.0

Interceptions

D. Lane (’52): 14

A. Cromartie (’07): 10

Points

J. Wilkins (’03): 163

L. Tomlinson (’06): 186

Touchdowns

M. Faulk (’00): 26

L. Tomlinson (’06): 31

 

 

 

The Buccaneers are missing four entries on the list.  Their all-time single-season leaders in each category are:

 

  • James Wilder, 1984: 1,554 rushing yards – qualifies
  • Brad Johnson, 2003: 3,811 passing yards – does not qualify
  • Keyshawn Johnson, 2001: 106 receptions – qualifies
  • Mark Carrier, 1989: 1,422 receiving yards – does not qualify
  • Warren Sapp, 2000: 16.5 sacks – qualifies
  • Ronde Barber, 2001: 10 interceptions – qualifies
  • Matt Bryant, 2008: 131 points – does not qualify
  • James Wilder, 1984: 13 touchdowns – does not qualify

 

Clearly, the Bucs haven’t missed the marks by much.  Carrier nearly got to 1,500 yards in 1989 and Wilder fell just two touchdowns short in 1984.  Still, they are four milestones away from the sweep.

 

On the other hand, if Freeman does manage to take another significant statistical step forward in the next season or two, several of the remaining milestones could fall at once.  If 3,500 yards and 25 TDs becomes 4,500 yards and 35 TDs, the Bucs might also end up with a 1,500-yard receiver, a 15-touchdown skill player and, most likely of all, a 140-point kicker.

 

Of the eight categories included, it is the 1,500-yard receiving season that has kept most teams from lengthening that list of six teams above.  Of the 32 teams, 19 are still looking for their first 1,500-yard receiving season.  Buffalo, Green Bay, Kansas City, New England, the New York Giants, Oakland, Pittsburgh and Washington all need to add just that category to finish the sweep.

 

Alternately, the San Francisco 49ers need only a 140-point scorer to make it a full eight, as do the Denver Broncos and the Tennessee Titans.  The Carolina Panthers need only a 10-interception player to complete the sweep.

 

As mentioned above, only Cincinnati still awaits its first 1,500-yard rusher.  Similarly, only Baltimore and Tampa Bay are still lacking a 15-touchdown performer.  Four teams each have not yet had a 10-interception season (Baltimore, Carolina, Houston and Jacksonville) or a 15-sack player (Cincinnati, Cleveland, Houston and Jacksonville).  It’s worth noting that Baltimore, Carolina, Houston and Jacksonville are the four teams with the fewest number of years in the NFL.

 

As Dallas and San Diego can attest, sometimes it takes just one great player, or one phenomenal season, to clear the list.  Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin personally took care of five of the eight categories for the Cowboys in 1995.  LaDainian Tomlinson was so good at running, catching and scoring for half of a decade that he is the Chargers’ qualifier in half of the eight categories (rushing yards, receptions, touchdowns and scoring).

 

Other franchises have certainly seen the benefits of a long tenure in the NFL.  The Arizona Cardinals – previously located in Chicago and St. Louis – haven’t won a championship since 1947, but they’ve been competing in the league since the inaugural season of 1920.  They’ve knocked various categories off the list in 1949, 1962, 1979, 1984, 1999, 2001, 2005.  The Colts’ inclusion on the list, however, is almost wholly a product of their run of success in the last dozen  years: Manning, James, Harrison, Freeney and Vanderjagt, though Eric Dickerson had already eclipsed the 1,500-yard mark before James’ arrival.

 

Perhaps the current Buccaneer core will enjoy a run as long and productive as that of Manning and company.  If so, it’s a good bet they will also join the Colts on that exclusive list above, with so many individual milestones achieved.