Second-year kicker Martin Gramatica has broken the Bucs' scoring record twice in two seasons
As it turned out, 16 points was just enough.
Just enough to beat the Dolphins, 16-13, in a defensive slugfest complicated by a driving rain. And just enough to pass one of the most significant milestones in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' record book.
Meet the 2000 Buccaneers, the most explosive team in the franchise's 25-year history.
By scoring 16 points against the Dolphins on Sunday, Tampa Bay upped its season point total to 336 points, making it the highest-scoring Buc team ever. The 1984 squad set the record long ago at 335 points. Tampa Bay has two more games left this season to pad its new record total.
After picking up just 221 yards in adverse conditions in Pro Player Stadium, the Bucs' offensive ranking in the NFL is likely to drop a notch or two from 23rd spot it occupied coming into the weekend. At the same time, however, Tampa Bay entered the league ranked seventh in scoring. QB Shaun King, who has started all 14 games in just his second NFL season, endeavored to explain the Bucs' win in Miami and inadvertently summed up the season.
"I thought when we got opportunities, we made plays," said King. "We stuck to what we wanted to do coming in and scored enough points to win."
Not every game has been this close for the Buccaneers. They pasted Chicago 41-0 in Week Two to set a team record for margin of victory. They won at their own personal house of horrors, the Pontiac Silverdome, a week later by a 31-10 score over Detroit. They took an undefeated Minnesota team in Week Nine and sent them home with a 41-13 loss. They've scored 74 points in the last three weeks, or 24.6 per game, while giving up just 47.
Three different Buccaneers – King, RB Warrick Dunn and FB Mike Alstott – each have five rushing touchdowns, the first time that has happened in team history for a trio of players. None of those three, nor any offensive player for that matter, found the end zone in Miami, but the defense did for the fifth time this season. LB Jamie Duncan returned an interception 31 yards for the Bucs' only touchdown.
And, yes, it should be noted that seven of the Bucs' 37 touchdowns have come via defense or special teams, but should Tampa Bay be faulted for believing its other two units can both score and create scoring opportunities? It was believed that turnovers would swing the balance in this battle of heavyweight defenses, and the Bucs forced five of them versus just one of their own, scoring 13 points off those takeaways. Style points were not included in the final score.
"All we look at is that we have won five of the last six (actually six of the last seven)," said King. "People are going to write what they want to write and say what they're going to say, and we're going to keep winning. When it's all said and done, everybody will switch over and write the good articles. We might now win like everyone wants us to, but we go out and get the job done."
Perhaps no player gets his job done as consistently well as second-year kicker Martin Gramatica, who is perhaps the single most important factor in the Bucs' run to a team scoring record. Gramatica has been nearly automatic this season, hitting on 25 of his 30 field goal tries, and the range at which the Buccaneers have confidence in him seems to grow week by week.
Against the Dolphins, Gramatica had made two of his first three tries, uncharacteristically missing from 30 yards in the second quarter to snap his string of consecutive successful kicks at a team-record-tying 16. With just under seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, and the game tied, the Buccaneers had failed to advance the ball past the Miami 28 after a turnover gave them the ball at that spot.
A field goal at this juncture was a risky endeavor, particularly considering the steady rain that had fallen all day had just recently turned into a torrential downpour. Though the Pro Player Stadium field was obviously very well maintained, the footing had to be a concern for both kickers. That didn't deter Head Coach Tony Dungy, however, as he sent on his diminutive kicker to try a 46-yarder. A miss would have given Miami possession at its own 36.
Gramatica didn't miss. "I just went out there and tried to find a good spot," he said. "I just tried to treat it like a normal kick. I hit it solid and wanted to make sure so I looked up and saw it going straight. I wanted to make sure it went through before I got too excited."
Gramatica is well-known for his excited celebrations after big makes such as these, but he certainly has every reason to celebrate. With 10 points on the day, he surpassed his own individual single-season scoring record, set last season at 106. Gramatica now has 112 points, not to mention the only two triple-digit scoring campaigns in franchise history.
In the race to lead the NFC in scoring, Gramatica used his big day to pass both Philadelphia's David Akers and Carolina's Joe Nedney, both of whom now have 111 points. No Buccaneer has ever led the league on the individual scoring table.
As a team, the Bucs won't lead the conference in scoring, particularly with high-flying offenses in Minnesota and St. Louis racking up the points. Those two teams hooked up for a total of 69 points in St. Louis' win on Sunday, and the Rams head to Raymond James Stadium next. Tampa Bay held the Rams to just 11 points in last year's NFC Championship Game, won by St. Louis 11-6.
The Bucs could very well put the clamps on St. Louis again next Monday, but will they be able to score enough points to win this time?
Well, that's what they've been doing most of the 2000 season.