In their season-ending overtime loss to Atlanta on Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers held the Atlanta Falcons to 87 yards on 30 carries, an average of 2.9 yards per run. Those are very good results for the Buccaneers' run defense, and that's also the most rushing yards Tampa Bay has allowed in a game since Week 11.
It's a measure of how impenetrable the Bucs' run defense has been all season that there was just a slight hint of dissatisfaction in how things went in the season finale. The bar had been set very, very high over the first 16 weeks of the season.
"I thought they ran the ball in the middle of our defense a little too well today," said Head Coach Bruce Arians. "But again, we came up with some big stops. Our defensive line has played outstanding all year. Our front-seven played well all year."
Sunday's finale marked the sixth straight game in which the Buccaneers held an opponent below 90 rushing yards and also to 3.0 yards per carry or worse. Only three of Tampa Bay's 16 opponents in 2019 rushed for over 100 yards as a team. The only individual 100-yard game the Buccaneers allowed was to Seattle's Chris Carson, who got to 105 yards in Week Nine.
In the end, the Buccaneers allowed just 1,181 rushing yards in 2019. Excluding the 1982 strike season in which only nine games were played, that's the fewest rushing yards Tampa Bay has ever allowed in a single campaign. And while it's fair to point out that the NFL has evolved into a more passing-centric league, the 3.26 yards per carry the Bucs allowed is also their second-best single-season mark ever.
Fewest Rushing Yards Allowed, Single Season, Buccaneers History*
(* Excludes nine-game 1982 season but not 15-game 1987 season)
But the Buccaneers didn't just set their own 16-game record for run defense, they actually fielded the 11th-best run defenses of the past four decades, since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978. It's the league's best rushing defense performance in nearly a decade.
Even if one extends the qualifying period through the rest of league history, the Buccaneers still allowed the 13th-lowest rushing yards per game average ever in a single season, at 73.8. In addition to the 10 teams ahead of them in the chart above, the Buccaneers also fell behind the 1951 New York Giants (52.3 yards per game) and the 1964 Buffalo Bills (65.6).
Inside linebacker Lavonte David was an important part of that run defense, and on Sunday he added six tackles to finish with a team-high 121 stops in 2019. That's the seventh time in eight NFL seasons that David has eclipsed the 100-tackle mark. The first of those six stops was also another milestone for David: It was the 1,000th tackle of his career. David is just the fourth player to surpass 1,000 career tackles as a Buccaneer.
Surpassing the 1,000-tackle mark through eight seasons also allowed David to join an extremely exclusive NFL list. He and Hall-of-Famer Ray Lewis, the former Baltimore Ravens linebacker, are the only two players since the sack became an official statistic in 1982 to record at least 1,000 tackles, at least 20 sacks and at least 10 interceptions through their first eight NFL seasons.