The two most prolific quarterbacks in NFL history are now in the same division, and the NFL schedule-makers clearly didn't want to wait to match them up. Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will open their 2020 season with a trip to New Orleans to take on Drew Brees and the Saints in Week One.
If Brees and Brady, who rank first and second all-time in passing yards and touchdown passes, put on the kind of show the NFL clearly expects, the 2020 opener on September 13 could turn into one of the most memorable Week One games in Buccaneers history. It will have to be a really big show just to top the 2018 season-opener, also at the Louisiana Superdome, in which Ryan Fitzpatrick led the visiting Bucs to a 48-40 win, the highest-scoring Week One game in league history.
So is that 2018 game the best season opener in Buccaneer annals? Read on to find out. In fact, we're going to share our picks for the best game the Bucs have ever played in each week of the season, drawing from 44 past campaigns. There were only 14 games (and 14 weeks) in the 1976 and '77 seasons, and until bye weeks were introduced there were only 16 weeks from 1978-1989, but we're going to go all the way to Week 17.
(There was even a Week 18 game when the league tried a two-bye-week schedule in 1993, but that doesn't give us enough choices for that week. And some might consider the final games of 1982 and 2001 to be in Week 18 due to schedules rearranged in-season by a player's strike and the 9/11 tragedy, respectively, but that's getting too complicated.)
So here they are, our choices for the best game played in each week of the season in Bucs history, along with some honorable mentions when appropriate. Some weeks – like One, Two, Nine and 11 – had a lot of choices while some others – like Five, Six and 15 – had very few. We're starting with Weeks 1-9 here and will post Weeks 10-17 tomorrow.
View pictures of all the Buccaneers' 2020 opponents.
Week One: Buccaneers 13, 49ers 6, Aug. 31, 1997
Sure, it featured 69 fewer points than the 2018 opener, but that's sort of the point. This was the surprise beginning to Tampa Bay's surprise 5-0 start in 1997, Tony Dungy's second season at the helm. The Buccaneers used that fast start to push a playoff drive that broke a 14-year postseason drought. And it was led by what in retrospect was clearly the beginning of the Buccaneers' defensive dynasty over the next decade. Warren Sapp inadvertently injured both Steve Young and Jerry Rice and the Bucs triumphed over a stacked San Francisco team that would go on to finish 13-3 in 1997.
Honorable Mention(s): 1979 – a 31-16 win over Detroit that started the team's first surprise 5-0 start and first playoff season; 1987 – Steve DeBerg throws five touchdown passes in a 48-10 thrashing of Atlanta; 2003 – the defending Super Bowl champs follow their shutdown of the Vet in January with a shutout in the Linc's debut, beating the Eagles 17-0 on Monday Night Football; 2018 – as noted above.
Week Two: Buccaneers 41, Bears 0, Sept. 10, 2000
The Bucs were very streaky in 2000, with one four-game winning streak, two other three-game winning streaks and one four-game losing streak. It added up to a Wild Card berth but a quick playoff exit in Philadelphia. Through the first three weeks, though, it looked like the NFC runners-up from 1999 were going to be even better in 2000. In the middle of that is the most lopsided shutout and most lopsided win of any kind in franchise history. Shaun King ran one in for a touchdown and threw a 58-yard scoring strike to Jaquez Green, Mike Alstott capped the scoring with a 20-yard rumble and Ronde Barber notched one of his roughly 6,000 non-offensive touchdowns with a 24-yard return of a fumble.
Honorable Mention(s): 1979 – first overtime win in franchise history as Bucs win at Baltimore, 29-26, as part of 5-0 start; 1980 – 10-9 win over Rams is a measure of revenge for 1979 NFC Championship Game defeat; 1992 – Bucs knock Green Bay's Don Majkowski out of the lineup (for good), leading to the debut of Brett Favre in a 31-3 Tampa Bay home win; 1999 – Warren Sapp, Chidi Ahanotu, Marcus Jones and Brad Culpepper combine for nine sacks of Donovan McNabb and Doug Pederson in 19-5 beating in Philadelphia; 2002 – Bucs first win of Super Bowl seasons is a 25-0 blanking of the Ravens in Baltimore, capped by Derrick Brooks' 97-yard interception return touchdown; 2018 – Bucs beat defending-champion Eagles, 27-21, during incredible two-week run for Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Week Three: Buccaneers 26, Rams 14, Sept. 23, 2002
This was during the height of the Buccaneers' run of prime-time showdowns with Kurt Warner's Rams, and it didn't disappoint. None of them did, and in fact we're going to see one more of them a little bit later in this list. This one was closer than the final score suggests, and St. Louis actually racked up 358 total yards to 252 for the Buccaneers. The difference: Tampa Bay's defense picked Warner off four times and didn't allow him a touchdown pass while Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson threw a touchdown pass to Rickey Dudley and was not intercepted. The lasting image from that game was Derrick Brooks, playing through a hamstring injury, sealing the game with his second pick-six in as many weeks and simply continuing on through the end zone, out through the tunnel and to the Bucs' locker room.
Honorable Mention(s): 1997 – Mike Alstott had one of his signature one-yard TD runs, Warrick Dunn added 101 yards and a 52-yard touchdown and Trent Dilfer completed 15 of 20 passes in a strong win over a good Vikings team; 2008 – in Chicago, the Bucs rally from 10 points down in the last six minutes of regulation and Brian Griese throws a team-record 67 passes in a 400-yard effort and a 27-24 overtime win.
Week Four: Buccaneers 55, Rams 40, Sept. 29, 2019
Just last fall the Buccaneers returned to Los Angeles for a game for the first time since 1993, and it was well worth that 26-year wait. In fact, it ranks as the highest-scoring game in team history, both in terms of Tampa Bay's point total and the game's overall score. The Buccaneers won, 55-40, as Chris Godwin and Mike Evans combined for 16 catches, 261 yards and three touchdowns. Still, the game remained close in the fourth quarter until Shaq Barrett came up with a strip-sack of Jared Goff and former Ram Ndamukong Suh displayed breakaway speed on a 37-yard touchdown return.
Honorable Mention(s): 1990 – Vinny Testaverde leads a 74-yard game-tying touchdown drive at the end of regulation, Wayne Haddix picks off a pass in overtime and the Bucs win, 23-20; 1997 – another exciting game in the Bucs' 5-0 start, this one featuring 238 yards from scrimmage and three touchdown catches from the Thunder & Lightning duo of Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn; 2014 – not a great season in Lovie Smith's first year at the helm but a thrilling finish puts this 27-24 win at Pittsburgh on the list, as Vincent Jackson laid out for a five-yard, third-down touchdown catch with seven seconds to play.
Week Five: Buccaneers 42, Bears 35, Oct. 8, 1989
The 1989 season was not a great one for the Bucs but it did feature one long-awaited occurrence: a series sweep of the Chicago Bears, who came into the season with a six-year, 12-game winning streak against the Buccaneers. Both of the '89 games were high-scoring affairs but this one was the highest, a 42-35 Bucs win in Tampa. Vinny Testaverde threw three touchdown passes, Lars Tate scored two on the ground and the Bucs held on after taking a 42-21 lead in the fourth quarter.
Honorable Mention(s): 1979 – Bucs finish their 5-0 start to the season as Isaac Hagins catches the go-ahead touchdown with five minutes left and both Cedric Brown and Jeris White subsequently pick off quarterback Vince Evans to stymie the comeback attempt.
Week Six: Buccaneers 17, Browns 3, Oct. 13, 2002
This one is primarily remembered for the Mike Alstott midfield run on which he careened off nine of Cleveland's 11 defenders. Alstott, a fan favorite the previous six years, had been something off the forgotten man in Jon Gruden's offense over the first five weeks but he was the man on this afternoon, with 126 yards and two touchdowns on just 17 carries. Overall, this 17-3 decision might not have been one of the Bucs' tentpole games on their run to the Super Bowl title, but there just happen to be a dearth of big Week Six games in franchise history.
Honorable Mention(s): None.
Week Seven: Buccaneers 24, Vikings 13, Oct. 13, 1996
This one wins in a not-terribly crowded field of Week Seven candidates based largely on symbolism, and it barely triumphs over "The Matt Bryant Game." This was the team's first win under Tony Dungy after an 0-5 start and a bye week, and it came against a 5-1 Vikings team that was playoff-bound and, by the way, was Dungy's previous employer. The Buccaneers had given Dungy his first head coaching job after he had served as Minnesota's defensive coordinator for four years. Dungy had famously preached the importance of staying the course and sticking to the plan after the Bucs' slow start, and this game started a 6-5 run that turned into a playoff berth the following season. Trent Dilfer threw three touchdown passes, two to Robb Thomas, and was not intercepted.
Honorable Mention(s): 2006 – this was a close call as the Bucs' 23-21 win over Philadelphia in '06 included not only Matt Bryant's 62-yard game-winning field goal as time expired but also two Ronde Barber pick-sixes, but it was an otherwise forgettable season; 1995 – the Bucs improved to "five-dash-two" with an overtime win at Minnesota that included a 78-yard Martin Mayhew fumble-return touchdown, an overtime drive kept alive by a fumble followed by another fumble and a 51-yard game-winner by Michael Husted; 2001 – Brad Johnson beat his former Vikings team with two TD passes and Mike Alstott ran for 128 yards and scored three touchdowns.
Week Eight: Buccaneers 12, Panthers 9, Oct. 27, 2002
This is not the best game the Buccaneers have played in a Week Eight but it's probably the most important. Tampa Bay got off to a 5-1 start in its Super Bowl season but then lost in their own personal house of horrors in Philadelphia. The run could have lost serious momentum with another loss in Carolina the next weekend and that seemed like more of a possibility when Brad Johnson woke up too sick to play on game day. Rob Johnson started in his place and absorbed six sacks while throwing no touchdowns and one interception. There were no touchdowns in the game, in fact, and the Bucs were trailing 9-3 with 10 minutes to play. That's when Martin Gramatica hit the first of three long clutch field goals a 52-yarder to cut the lead to three points. The Bucs were still trailing by that margin with three minutes left when they punted away to the Panthers, but Steve Smith fumbled the kick and Aaron Stecker recovered, leading to Gramatica's 53-yard game-tying kick. Gramatica then capped it with a 47-yarder with 10 seconds left and the Bucs started another four-game winning streak.
Honorable Mention(s): 1980 – The Bucs beat Joe Montana and the 49ers, 24-23, for their only West Coast win in the franchise's first 20 seasons, as Garo Yepremian hit a 30-yard field goal with 47 seconds left; 2010 – LeGarrette Blount leaps over a Cardinals defender on a 48-yard run, part of a 128-yard, two-TD outing, and both Geno Hayes and Aqib Talib notched defensive touchdowns in a wild 38-35 victory in Arizona; 2015 – a highly-motivated Kwon Alexander, mourning the death of his brother, intercepts a pass and forces a fumble and Tampa Bay's defense gets the fourth-down stop it needs in overtime to hold on to a 23-20 win in Atlanta.
Week Nine: Buccaneers 27, Vikings 24, Nov. 1, 1998
This one barely won Week Nine over the Doug Martin game in Oakland in 2012, one of the greatest individual performances in franchise history. But the Buccaneers' win over Minnesota midway through the '98 season was one of the team's biggest victories during the heady late-'90s. In fact, this was the only regular-season game the Vikings lost in Randy Moss's rookie season, and it was the Bucs' offense that carried the day. In fact, this remains the only time in team history in which two Bucs running backs topped 100 rushing yards in the same game, with Mike Alstott racking up 128 to Warrick Dunn's 115, with both scoring a touchdown. In fact, the offense was so efficient on this afternoon at Raymond James Stadium that punter Tommy Barnhardt wasn't needed once.
Honorable Mention(s): 2000 – another midseason win over another very good Minnesota team, but this one was a 41-13 blowout featuring four Shaun King touchdown passes and a Derrick Brooks pick-six; 2002 – the Bucs' offense broke out of a mini-slump with a 38-24 win over, yes, Minnesota, scoring just one fewer point than it had in the previous three games combined, as Brad Johnson tied a team record with five touchdown passes; 2004 – the most exciting game of a down '04 season as the Bucs and Chiefs traded touchdowns and the lead over and over again, leading to Michael Pittman's 78-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and his game-winning (and third) TD for a 34-31 final in the fourth quarter; 2008 – the Chiefs again, this time in Kansas City, where the Buccaneers engineered the biggest comeback in franchise history, rallying from 21 down with the help of a Clifton Smith kickoff return touchdown and a halfback-option TD pass from earnest Graham to Alex Smith to win, 30-27 in overtime; 2009 – Josh Freeman's starting debut, and he throws two touchdown passes in a shocking 38-28 upset of the visiting Packers by an 0-7 Tampa Bay team; 2012 – As noted above, this one had a strong claim to a very crowded Week Nine as Martin exploded for 251 yards and four touchdowns in a win over the Raiders in his hometown.