The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2015 season did not go as well as expected, a fact emphasized by the team's current search for a new head coach. Still, it was a memorable season in a number of ways, most notably with the rapid development of rookie quarterback Jameis Winston. Thanks to Winston's exploits, and those of several other Buccaneer standouts, the 2015 campaign will also have a lasting impact on the franchise's record books.
A photo timeline of Jameis Winston's rookie year with the Buccaneers.
The Bucs believe Winston is the top candidate for this year's Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year award after he became just the third rookie quarterback to throw for over 4,000 yards. That was obviously a new standard for Tampa Bay rookies, and it nearly set a new single-season record for any Buccaneer quarterback, rookie or not.
Below is a closer look at that mark plus other single-season Buccaneer records that were broken or nearly broken in 2015. We also note a few records the team would have preferred not to set, plus a handful of others that have a good chance to fall in 2016.
- Most net yards, team: 6,014
- Highest average yards per play, team: 5.91
RB Doug Martin led the NFL in rushes over 20 yards. Check out his 20+ yard gains in ascending order.
In terms of yards, Winston led the most prolific offense in franchise history, breaking the mark of 5,820 set in 2012. Beyond those two clubs, no other Buccaneer team has even cracked 5,500 yards in a season.
While it's true that offensive numbers continue to rise league-wide – the NFL set a new record for yards per game in 2015 for the sixth time in the last seven years – that doesn't diminish the Bucs' accomplishment in relation to its own history. Tampa Bay's per-game average was 6.52% better than the league average, the team's second-best mark ever in relation to the rest of the NFL. In 2003, the Bucs gained 340.8 yards per game and were 7.07% better than the league average. In addition, Tampa Bay ranked fifth in the NFL in yards per game in 2015, its highest finish ever on that list.
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The Bucs also shot well past their old yards-per-play record, which was previously set at 5.61 in 2010. The 2015 squad also ranked third in the NFL in that category, just ahead of Seattle and New Orleans.
- Yards per carry, team: 4.75
Tampa Bay's rushing attack was consistently good throughout the 2015 season, and probably would have ranked even higher than fifth if the team had enjoyed second-half leads in more of its games. On a per-carry basis, the Buccaneers have never been better as a team.
Photos of running back Doug Martin from the 2015 season.
The '15 Bucs averaged 4.75 yards per carry, breaking the record of 4.64 set in 2010. Those are the only two seasons in franchise history in which the team has a whole picked up more than 4.5 yards per tote. The backfield tandem of Doug Martin and Charles Sims combined to average 4.89 yards per carry on 395 of the team's 455 runs. In the NFL in 2015, the Bucs were second in this category only to the Buffalo Bills, who averaged 4.78 yards per tote.
- Most combined yards passing and rushing, season, individual: Jameis Winston, 4,255
Winston didn't quite break the Bucs' single-season passing yardage record (more on that below), but he did do more with his arms and legs combined than any other previous Tampa Bay quarterback. Three years ago, Josh Freeman became the first Buccaneer to pass for over 4,000 yards, with 4,065, and he added 139 rushing yards. That total of 4,204 combined passing and rushing yards was at the time a team record, but Winston surpassed it as a rookie.
Winston threw for 4,042 yards and ran for 213, for a combined total of 4,255, allowing Freeman's record to stand for just three years. Winston was a surprisingly vital threat on the ground throughout his rookie campaign, scoring six rushing touchdowns.
- Passing yards, individual, rookie: Jameis Winston, 4,042
- Touchdown passes, individual: rookie: Jameis Winston, 22
These two accomplishments broke records that had only been in place for two years, as Mike Glennon had set new standards for both in 2013 with 2,608 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2013. There's no doubt that opportunity played a big role in this record falling twice in rapid succession; Glennon had been the first Buccaneer rookie quarterback to start as many as 13 games, and Winston is now the first one to start all 16. Still, as noted above, Winston is just the third rookie quarterback in NFL history to break the 4,000-yard mark.
- Lowest punt return average allowed, team: 5.2 yards per return
Jacob Schum quietly posted the third-best single-season net punting average in franchise history, at 38.0, and he can certainly share the credit with the Bucs' coverage team.'
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Buccaneer opponents averaged 5.2 yards per punt return on 27 attempts, the fourth-lowest total in the NFL in 2015. That was also the lowest average any Tampa Bay team has ever allowed, narrowly beating out the record of 5.3 on 22 returns in 1992.
Almost Got It
- First downs, team: 336
- Passing first downs, team: 201
- Penalty first downs, team: 36
The Buccaneers had a really good run of offensive third-down efficiency from Weeks 4-13, which helped the offense put up some record-breaking numbers overall. Sustaining drives allowed the team to pile up first downs at a rate it had almost never done before. However, the franchise records in a variety of first-down categories still stand.
The Bucs got closest in the three categories listed above. Their 336 first downs overall was second in team history, and a lot closer to first (344 in 1984) than third (307 in 2003). The total of 201 passing first downs fell just eight short of the 209 recorded by that 1984 squad; no other Buc team has reached 200. And with 36 first downs as the result of penalties, the Bucs fell just one shy of their record of 37 set in 2013.
- Yards per carry allowed, team: 3.44
In addition to excelling on a per-carry basis on offense, the 2015 Buccaneers also did a great job in the same category on defense. Tampa Bay allowed opponents to gain just 3.45 yards per carry, second in the NFL only to the 3.28 allowed by the Denver Broncos. Tampa Bay was the only team to rank in the league's top 10 in rushing average on both offense and defense, and only Baltimore joined them in the top 10 on both lists.
That was not quite a Buccaneer record, however. The 1978 team originally set the mark at 3.44 and that stood for a decade until the 1988 held opponents to 3.24 yards per carry. The rushing average allowed by the Bucs last season is their third-best ever.
- Rushing yards, individual: Doug Martin, 1,402
- Yards per carry, individual: Charles Sims (4.94) and Doug Martin (4.87)
Through the first 14 games of the season, Martin had 1,305 rushing yards, which at the time put him on pace for 1,491. Given that projection, he actually needed to up his per-game total over the last two weeks in order to surpass James Wilder's long-standing team record of 1,544 rushing yards, set in 1984.
Alas, game situations limited Martin's impact in the last two weeks and he finished with 1,402 yards. That was still the third-best single-season total in franchise history, behind Wilder's 1984 campaign and Martin's own 1,454-yard rookie debut in 2012.
Martin got past the 1,400-yard mark on just 288 carries, 31 fewer than he had in 2012 and 119 fewer than Wilder had in 1984. He is the first player in team history to average more than 4.75 yards per carry in a season in which he carried the ball at least 250 times. In 2012, he had become the first Buc to average 4.5 or better in a season with 250 totes.
Martin did not lead the team in that category, however, as long as one lowers the minimum to 100 carries. Sims barely out-did him on 107 carries, and between them they posted two of the top three per-carry campaigns in franchise history. Only LeGarrette Blount's average of 5.01 yards on 201 carries in 2010 is better.
- Passing yards, individual: Winston, 4,042
- Net passing yards, team: 3,852
As mentioned earlier, Winston didn't quite catch Josh Freeman's 2012 team record of 4,065 passing yards, falling 23 yards short despite a strong finish in which he averaged 32.7 per game over the final three weeks. Winston's total is still the second-best in team history, and he seems poised to break that mark several times over in the years to come.
Winston threw ever pass for Tampa Bay in 2015 – the first time any Buc quarterback has done that for an entire season – so it stands to reason that the team as a whole would threaten some of its aerial records. That was definitely the case, as the Buccaneers got their second-highest net passing yardage total ever. The record of 3,983 was set in 2012, of course, breaking the previous mark of 3,805 set in 2003.
**Didn't Want It
- Most penalties, team: 143
- Most penalty yards, team: 1,195
- Most opposing penalty first downs: 39
Penalties were an obvious trouble spot for the Buccaneers in 2015, a consistent problem throughout the season. Tampa Bay was penalized 10 or more times in six of its games. By season's end, the Bucs had been penalized 143 times for 1,195 yards, the former tying Buffalo for the most in the league and the latter trailing only the Bills' mark of 1,249.
Those were the highest single-season marks in both categories in team annals, though the previous records hadn't stood long. The 2005 team had held the penalties record at 131, while the 2013 team lost 1,136 yards on flags. The third new record listed above obviously follows right along; too many flags meant too many free first downs. The 39 penalty first downs enjoyed by Buccaneer opponents tied for the most in a single-season against Tampa Bay, equaling the mark set in 2013.
- Highest opponent passer rating, team: 102.5 (97.4, 2014)
- Highest opponent completion percentage, team: 70.0% (68.7%, 2014)
While the aforementioned yards-per-carry figure speaks well for Tampa Bay's run defense, there is obviously work to be done on the pass defense. The two unwanted records set above actually broke the marks set just a year ago by the 2014 squad: 97.4 passer rating and 68.7% completion percentage. Those two statistics go hand in hand, of course; completion percentage is one of the four elements that goes into calculating passer rating. Allow fewer completions and that rating will come down, though the team will need to allow fewer TD throws and pick off more passes, too, to make really substantive gains.
**Maybe Next Year
- Points, team
- Points, individual
The Buccaneers' offense set a new team record for yards but didn't really challenge its 2012 mark of 389 points scored. Tampa Bay's 342 points scored was well short of that mark, though still the fifth-highest single-season total in franchise annals. Since the Buccaneers' promising offense is chock full of young players likely to get even better, there's real reason to hope that the yards will translate into more points in 2016.
Six potential candidates for the Buccaneers' head coaching position, according to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport.
If the Buccaneers do start creating, and capitalizing on, more scoring opportunities next fall, that will be good news for their kicker, presumably Connor Barth. Barth had 123 points as the kicker for that 2012 team that set the single-season scoring mark, which was only eight behind the team record of 131 set by Matt Bryant in 2008.
Yards per pass attempt, individual (7.83)Touchdown passes, individual300-yard passing games, individual
All of this is basically just optimism about Winston. The rookie averaged 7.56 yards per pass attempt in 2015, which was the fourth-best mark in team history, and that was without a strong first season in terms of throwing the ball downfield. Winston made his mark with impressive accuracy on difficult mid-range passes, such as deep outs. His scouting report coming into the NFL, however, suggested that he would be a very good deep-ball quarterback, so one could reasonably expect that part of his game to develop. If it does so in 2016, Winston could easily make the jump from 7.56 to 7.83, which was the Bucs' single-season record set by Brian Griese in 2004.*It is also not a leap to expect a passer who threw 22 touchdowns as a rookie to jump up by five or six more in his sophomore campaign. Josh Freeman holds the team record with his 27 TD passes in 2012. And while Winston had just two 300-yard games in his debut season, both came in the final three weeks of the season and he had three other games where he finished between 287 and 297 yards. *
- Most receiving yards, individual
- Most Receiving Yards, running back
Mike Evans has 2,257 receiving yards already, the ninth-highest total for any player in NFL history through his first two NFL seasons. Evans and Randy Moss are the only two players in league annals to have a pair of 1,000-yard receiving seasons under their belt before turning 23 years old.
Photos of quarterback Jameis Winston from his rookie season.
In other words, there are seeds of greatness there. Evans has been very good so far, but he has room for improvement. He also has the advantage of growing up together with Winston in the years to come. Mark Carrier's team record of 1,422 receiving yards has stood for a long time, since 1989, despite the likes of Keyshawn Johnson, Joey Galloway, Antonio Bryant and Vincent Jackson taking turns threatening it. Evans will probably topple that record eventually, and it wouldn't be a shock to see it happen next fall.
Charles Sims proved the Bucs' brain trust right in 2015, his second season, topping 1,000 yards from scrimmage and lead in the NFL in yards per scrimmage touch by a running back. Jason Licht and company pointed to Sims's outstanding pass-catching ability when they drafted the running back in 2014, and that came to the fore in 2015 when he caught 51 passes for 561 yards. That's the fourth-best mark for a running back in team history, but the record of 685 yards by James Wilder in 1984 isn't far off. It would certainly be surprising to see Sims's playing time diminish in 2015; rather, his overall numbers should improve.