K Martin Gramatica is on pace to destroy the team's scoring record, among other marks
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have put eight of their regular-season games in the book and, like a college student finishing her midterms, are about to receive some preliminary grades.
The 'Report Card' feature has become a staple in the newspapers of most cities at a season's midpoint, and it's an article you're sure to see this Sunday. Marks will be doled out at each position, inviting you to agree or disagree with their opinions on the Bucs' play so far.
But let's take a moment to look at this another way. Let's focus not on what the Bucs have accomplished in the first half but on what they might accomplish in the second half.
Why now? Well, mostly because the math is so easy.
For instance, the Buccaneers are on pace to score 410 points this season, after a 41-13 whipping of the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday raised their season total to 205. That would easily break the team record of 335 points, set way back in 1984. In fact, the Bucs have to average just a hair over 16 points per game the rest of the way to break that record; they've averaged almost 26 points per game so far.
The list of possible records and notable achievements is lengthy, as many Tampa Bay players are enjoying seasons and careers previously unheard of in Buccaneer land. To enhance your pleasure of watching your favorite Buccaneers chase these landmarks, we've broken the list down into three categories: 'Sure Things', 'With a Little Luck' and 'Keep Your Fingers Crossed'.
· Defensive Linemen Warren Sapp (10.5 sacks) and Marcus Jones are well on their way to breaking Lee Roy Selmon's single-season sack record of 13, set in the franchise's infancy in 1977. Sapp and Jones are each on pace to get at least 20, as a matter of fact, but since the NFL record is 22 and only four men have ever reached as high as 20.5, we'll keep our fingers crossed on that part of it.
· Likewise, the team record for sacks in a season is a house of cards just waiting to fall. The 2000 Bucs are already at 37, seven behind the standard of 44 set in 1997 and nearly reached last year (43). At the team's pace of 4.63 sacks per game, they would break the mark against Green Bay less than two weeks hence. Will the record fall on a Warren Sapp sack of archrival Brett Favre? It would only be fitting.
· The Buccaneers as a team have outscored their opponents 205-138 so far. At that pace, they'll finish with an overall scoring margin of 134 points, a quantum leap beyond the current record of 47. That mark was set in 1981, when the team scored 315 points and surrendered 268. The Bucs would have to get outscored by 20 points over the course of the rest of the season to miss out on that record.
· Perhaps we're putting too much confidence in a second-year kicker, but Martin Gramatica certainly seems like a sure bet to break the team scoring record for a second straight year. As a rookie, Gramatica became the first Tampa Bay player ever to break triple digits in scoring, with 106 points. This year, he has 65 through eight games, which obviously works out to 130 for the full year. Sure, Gramatica could be given far fewer scoring chances in the second half, but he'd have to see his average drop to almost five points a game to not pass his own mark.
· Linebacker Derrick Brooks won't break the team's single-season tackle record unless he goes on an unconscious tear and gets 15 stops per game the rest of the way. However, he is a sure bet to pass Richard Wood this season and move into second place on the Bucs' career tackle chart. How sure? Tune in Sunday. Brooks has 91 tackles this season, putting him at 854 for his six-year career. Wood had 855. Brooks is right on his pace for his usual totals, as a 182-tackle season would be his fourth straight campaign between 180 and 189. Only former teammate Hardy Nickerson has ever had more tackles in a season for Tampa Bay than those four Brooks totals.
WITH A LITTLE LUCK
· Tampa Bay's defense and special teams have helped out the scoring binge, putting the ball in the end zone on their own four times on two interception returns, a fumble return and a return of a blocked field goal. Those four scores are already just one shy of the team's single-season return TD mark of five, set in 1981 with four interception returns and one fumble return. The Bucs' current pace extrapolates to an amazing eight return touchdowns, of course, but that's a tricky bet considering the luck that is sometimes involved. Still, the single-season mark of five seems well within reach.
· If the Bucs' passing game is as healthy as it seemed against the Vikings, then quarterback Shaun King may have a crack at a few key marks. The team record for touchdown passes in a season is 21, accomplished twice by Trent Dilfer, in 1997 and '98. King has 10 touchdown passes and would get to 20 at his current pace. Also, King is on pace to pass for 3,186 yards, which would be the Bucs' first individual 3,000-yard season since Craig Erickson had 3,054 in 1993.
· Both Jacquez Green and Keyshawn Johnson have an opportunity to be the first 1,000-yard Buc receiver since 1989. Green, in fact, is on pace for 1,024 yards, while Johnson is just behind at a 988-yard pace. Johnson, by the way, is on pace for 76 receptions, which would not only tie for the third-highest total in team history but would also be exactly the per-season average he posted in four seasons as a New York Jet.
· CB Donnie Abraham would finish with eight interceptions at his current pick rate, and that's not a pace that can be discounted, given his history. Last year, Abraham tied for the NFL lead with seven interceptions, and he has two other five-INT seasons on his stat chart, as well. Eight interceptions would be one off the team record, set by Cedric Brown in 1981 and would mark the second-best season in team annals. Abraham needs just three more picks to become the first player in Buc history to have two seasons of at least seven interceptions.
KEEP YOUR FINGERS CROSSED
· There's more to the Bucs' sack race than the likely record-breakers described above. By our doubling method here at the halfway point, Tampa Bay's total of 37 team sacks is a good enough number to threaten the NFL's all-time record. The 1984 Chicago Bears set the mark with 72 sacks; the Bucs are on pace for 74. Maybe just because it's such a significant record, we're not ready to endorse this one just yet. After game 12 or 13, well…
· While Sapp and Jones lead the way for the sack squad, CB Ronde Barber and DT Anthony McFarland are helping immensely with 5.5 each. Why do we bring this up? Well, at those four players' current paces, the Bucs would finish with four men at 11 sacks or more. That would be remarkable, since only three players in the franchise's first 24 seasons had put up a total that high (including Sapp).
· On his way to the team record in points, Gramatica could also break the old marks for field goals made and extra points made. Well, the field goals made record, 27, isn't really 'old'; Gramatica set it last year. He's on pace for 28 this year. He's also on pace for 46 extra points, which would obliterate Obed Ariri's 1984 record of 38. It might be a bit much to expect Gramatica to get enough scoring opportunities to break both records.
· While making a run at the touchdown record, King is also protecting the ball well. In fact, the Bucs have rarely avoided the interception as well as they have through the first half of 2000. In 1982, Buccaneer quarterbacks threw just 11 interceptions, but that was in a nine-game season. In 1997, with Dilfer at the helm, Tampa Bay was picked off just 12 times, a team record for a 16-game season. King and the Bucs are on pace to tie that record, as King has been picked off just six times this season.
Take your pick of which marks you believe are reachable for the Bucs and their most productive players. It's clear after eight games, however, that many of the above trends are much more than early-season flukes. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' record book is going to need a serious rewrite for 2001.