The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 3-1 after what used to be the first quarter of the season (before a 17th game changed the math a bit). This is 10th season in which the Buccaneers have had that exact record after four games, and the second in a row.
Strangely, of the nine previous Bucs teams that started a season exactly 3-1, only one of them also won its fifth contest and got to 4-1. That was the 2002 team that lost its season opener, won the next five and eventually went on to win Super Bowl XXXVII. That would be a good model for the 2021 team to follow.
(Three other Bucs teams have started 4-0 – 1979, 1997 and 2005 – and all of them went on to the postseason.)
The first two 3-1 Bucs teams occurred almost consecutively, in 1990 and 1992. Those both proved to be mirages, with neither team finishing with more than six wins. The first 3-1 Bucs team to go on to the playoffs was in 2000, a season that included four-game winning and losing streaks and two more three-game winning streaks. The 2002 season was covered above.
The 2007 and 2008 teams both went 3-1 but then lost their fifth games. The first of those teams did make the playoffs but the second stunningly lost their last four outings to fall out of what seemed like a certain playoff spot. The Bucs also had back-to-back 3-1 starts I 2010 and 2011 under Raheem Morris, the first one going on to 10 wins but no playoff spot and the second one collapsing to 4-12. And finally, last year's team lost in Week Five after a 3-1 start but still went on to capture another Super Bowl title.
So, in a way, a 3-1 start should feel very good for Buccaneers fans. Both of their championship seasons started out that way. On the other hand, five of the previous nine seasons to begin that way didn't even end up in the preseason. So, yes, there is a long way to go.
Those Bucs fans have seen a 3-1 team lose its fifth game and win the Super Bowl, and they've seen a 3-1 team win its fifth game and win the Super Bowl, so there will be no reason for panic after next Sunday's game no matter what the outcome is. But it makes obvious sense that being 4-1 is inherently better than being 3-2, and indeed across the entire NFL the average results for those two conditions differ rather significantly.
Since the playoff field expanded to six teams per conference in 1990 (it's now seven per conference), 162 teams have started out a season with exactly a 4-1 record. The average final record for those teams was 11-5. In that same time span, 263 teams have started out 3-2 and their average final record was 9-7. Only one more loss in the early going, but it led to, on average, two more losses when it was all said and done.
Of those 162 4-1 teams, 126 made the playoffs, or 77.8%. That's pretty good! Of the 263 3-2 teams, only 130, or 49.4%, made the playoffs. That is a little more queasy.
Those 162 teams that started out 4-1 produced 11 Super Bowl champions. The 263 teams that started out 3-2 produced 10 Super Bowl champions. That's 101 more opportunities and one fewer title. It's definitely good to be 4-1.
Will the Bucs add themselves to the former group on Sunday. The Miami Dolphins aren't going to make it easy, but if Tampa Bay does get the win it will make their attempted title defense seem a little bit more possible.
And now on to your questions.
A reminder that you can send questions to me anytime you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. We are also now soliciting questions each week on our Instagram page; look for that story on Wednesdays. As always, if you want to get a longer question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to firstname.lastname@example.org.
big shootout to Joe Tryon. Is he going to continue to play while JPP is out? When will JPP be back?
- @coke_man25 (via Instagram)
Please tell me you meant "shoutout." I really don't wany anyone shooting at Joe.
And, yes, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka is obviously going to continue to play while Jason Pierre-Paul is sidelined by his shoulder injury, and he's going to continue to play after JPP comes back from that injury. Perhaps you were wondering if Tryon was going to continue to start while JPP was out, and the answer to that again is, yes. Before Pierre-Paul was sidelined, Tryon played a total of 40 snaps in the Bucs' first two games while Anthony Nelson played 21. Since, Tryon has started both games and played 101 snaps or 81.5% of the team's total. Nelson has played 36 snaps in those games, moving up from 10.5 per game to 18 per game. Obviously, Tryon's leap in playing time has been far larger than Nelson's, and there's nobody else at the position so there's no reason to expect Tryon's share to drop by much while JPP remains unavailable.
The real question will be how the snaps are distributed after Pierre-Paul is back in action. Has Tryon's response to greatly increased playing time convinced the coaches that he should be getting more than 20 snaps per game? Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett are well-known for ably handling a very high percentage of defensive snaps – Barrett is at 84% through four games and Pierre-Paul was in on 88% of them before he got hurt – but the Bucs may need to make a bit more room for the rookie. His two sacks and four QB hits in New England were huge.
So when will Pierre-Paul be back in action. Could be as soon as this weekend. This mailbag is going up before Thursday's practice, but JPP was a limited participant in practice on Wednesday. He also surprisingly practiced in limited fashion last Friday, but it wasn't enough to clear him for last Sunday night's game. Still, he's obviously moving in the right direction and he is famous for being able to play through injuries. He played all of last season and led the Bucs in sacks while dragging along one pretty messed up knee.
I truly don't think the Bucs know yet, as of Thursday, if Pierre-Paul is going to be ready to go by Sunday. Given his toughness, you definitely can't rule it out. I do know that his return will be very welcome. His defensive teammates frequently rave about the energy he brings to everybody when he's on the field. It will be nice to have that back.
Hey Monsieur Smith;
as a ( potential ) Canadian trader who prefers reg season NFL over CFL and NHL, I get a kick at how winning the SuperBowl makes a team "world" champions! when their play is confined to the lower 48 states. Why stop there? They could be the Galactic Champions! As one of the pundits said earlier, 2021 season could be like playing 17 Super Bowls! Do you think the Buccs can repeat as Milky Way pan-galactic Champions?
Yours cheekily, Anton (via email)
Well, before we start casting aspersions (even cheekily) on others for their word choices, let me just tell you, good sir, that you have committed two atrocities of your own in my estimation. First of all, Super Bowl is two words. I've shouted this from the mountaintop before but I guess not everybody has gotten the message. SUPER BOWL IS TWO WORDS. Sorry, this is a pet peeve of mine.
Also, the correct way to shorten Buccaneers is "Bucs," not "Buccs." There's no real reason for this, it just is. That's the way it has always been and that's the way it shall be. If you want to say, "Buccos," which is really something you see more often in relation to the Pittsburgh Pirates, then you can use two Cs. Otherwise, it's one C. Bucs. Get with the program, my Canadian friend.
(By the way, when I spell-checked this mailbag before submitting it, both SuperBowl and Buccs were flagged as spelling errors. I feel vindicated.)
Now that we have that out of the way, let me also tell you that I agree with you completely. I've always thought it was strange that Super Bowl winners were commonly referred to as "World Champions." I mean, I think it's pretty clear that the winner of the National Football League would beat any other team from any other part of the world, but those teams never even get a chance at the title! I actually try to use that description as infrequently as possible, preferring "Super Bowl Champions," but I can't claim I've never used it. Um, in fact, the book about the 2002 Super Bowl-winning team that I was fortunate enough to have the chance to author, is entitled, "World Champions, The Official Story of the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers." Come to think of it, I'm not sure why that was the "official" story of that team, but there's no changing it now.
I guess this is just one of those things that people started saying at one point and it just stuck. In that way, it's similar to the Super Bowl itself. The first three Super Bowls weren't even officially called Super Bowls. Kansas City Chiefs Owner Lamar Hunt had come up with that title in 1966, inspired incredibly enough by his kids' love of the Super Balltoy, and it was unofficially used for the next few years before being adopted for good (and applied retroactively) in 1970.
Typing that paragraph made me think about the names of other major sports league championships in the United States, and as I'm sure you know Major League Baseball concludes each season with a "World Series." That league does include a Canadian team, but it hardly includes the entire world, and there is actually some pretty high-level baseball leagues in other countries. If you ask me, that's an even more egregious claim of world dominance than the NFL's use of "world champions."
So, yeah, somebody just started saying it and everyone thought it sounded cool so here we are. I already know of the Lamar Hunt Super Bowl story, but I had to Google why NFL title winners are commonly referred to as world champions. Turns out it's basically because Lamar Hunt's brainchild wasn't officially adopted until 1970. The first three games were officially called the "AFL-NFL World Championship Game." You win the World Championship Game, you're World Champions. Simple as that.
Of course, we're really just chasing our own tail here, because putting "World" into that title for the first three would-be Super Bowls was just as arbitrary. I can't think of a good reason why they weren't just called the "AFL-NFL Championship Game." But they weren't, and here we are.
As an aside, I thought I would point out that there actually is a rather good series of science-fiction books called "The Galactic Football League," by Scott Sigler. And, yes, it is actually about American football being played on multiple planets spanning our galaxy in the distant future. If that premise sounds a little silly to you (and incredibly hopeful for the NFL), let me assure you that these books actually have a lot of substance to them and explore some topics (racism, crime, gambling) that are relevant today. I've read them all and thoroughly enjoyed them. And no, I do not know Scott Sigler and I am not receiving any sort of kick-back for this plug.
Will AB get more targets
- @gransgransashes (via Instagram)
This seems like a weird question to me on the heels of a game in which Antonio Brown got 11 targets, just one fewer than Mike Evans on Sunday night in Foxborough. Do you mean more than that? Like, 20 or something? He had six more targets than Chris Godwin while playing 33 fewer snaps. The man is being targeted!
Brown missed the Bucs' third game in Los Angeles while on the reserve/COVID-19 list, so he's played one fewer game than almost all of the team's primary pass-catchers. And yet he's still third on the team in targets, with 21. Kinda fitting for the team's third receiver, I think. Evans leads the way with 37 and Godwin is next with 30. Factoring in the missed game, Evans is getting 9.25 targets per game, Godwin 7.5 and Brown 7.0.
All of that said, I actually think the answer to your question is yes. After the Rams and Patriots games, it appears that teams are trying to take away the deep ball against Tom Brady and the Bucs' offense and lean towards more men in coverage than in the box. That challenges the Bucs to run it and to patiently move the ball with short passes. Against the Patriots, Brady threw 24 of his 43 passes either behind the line of scrimmage (screens, in other words) or fewer than 10 yards down the field. He was 17 for 24 on those passes for 141 yards. On passes between 10 and 19 yards downfield, Brady was two of 11 for 46 yards. He did have 81 yards on throws over 20 yards (plus one big gain to Brown erased by a penalty), but that came on just three of eight passing.
I think the Buccaneers are going to continue to see this defensive approach a lot. Last year, Brady was one of the best deep ball passers in the league and that was a huge part of the team's offensive success. This year, he is chucking it downfield far less frequently, and whether that's by design or due to defensive strategies, the new approach is alsoworking. The Bucs lead the NFL in passing yards; they are just needing more passes to get there than last year.
So who does this favor in the receiving corps. A smart co-worker of mine who will go unnamed here told me in the press box well before kickoff on Sunday night that he thought Brown was going to have a big night. His theory was that Brown is one of the Bucs' best players with the ball in his hands, and if you're going to be throwing a lot of quick passes you want to get it to guys who are going to add yardage after the catch. About halfway through the game, I formally acknowledged his wisdom.
So if the Bucs see the same defensive strategy a lot, I think there will be a lot of opportunities for Brown. And what we know very well about Brady is that he is going to throw it to the open man, no matter who that is. So, essentially Brown can control whether he gets even more targets moving forward. If he continues to get open at a high clip and can make plays after the catch, Brady is going to continue to find him.