It's the Sam Wyche Bowl!
That's the sort of trenchant analysis you're going to get for a series that has been put on the line all of 11 times before this coming season and never – not even once – when both teams were in the midst of a playoff season. Actually only two of those 11 games happened in a season in which either team ended up in the postseason, and on both occasions the other team would go on to finish 2-14. (For the Bucs, that was during their '02 Super Bowl run; for the Bengals, it was the most recent meeting, in 2014.) These franchises aren't two ships passing in the night, they're one ship sailing by while the other is hitting an iceberg.
As for Wyche, he was the Bengals' head coach for eight years, losing his grip on the floating door after a 3-13 season in 1991. He immediately traded in Ohio orange for Florida orange (and hopefully traded in Skyline chili for some Florida oranges), taking over the helm of the Buccaneers in 1992. If this series did fashion a traveling trophy – a favorite theme here in our Series history, uh, series – Wyche would deserve to have his name on it. He is 2-0 in the series, beating the Bucs with Cincy in 1989 and taking down the Bengals with Tampa Bay in 1995.
That latter victory kicked off a six-game winning streak for the Buccaneers against the Bengals, matching their longest run against any team at any point in franchise history. That streak took so much time to unfold that Derrick Brooks played in the first one but not the sixth one, and Ronde Barber played in the sixth one but not the first one. Andy Dalton was the quarterback when the Bengals snapped that streak four years ago, becoming the first Bengals passer to take down the Bucs since Boomer Esiason in 1989. Dalton was two years old when the Bengals hosted the Bucs that October day in '89, so he probably didn't fully appreciate the five touchdown passes Esiason lofted in the game.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a franchise-best .636 winning percentage against two teams: Buffalo and Cincinnati. This Sunday, the Buccaneers will put that record on the line when they renew their historic rivalry with the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium!! Do I smell a future "30 for 30" documentary? I think I do.
Here's the all-time series scoreboard:
Tampa Bay 7
View exclusive, behind-the-scenes photos of the Buccaneers Week 7 matchup against the Cleveland Browns from Team Photographer Kyle Zedaker.
1. Tampa Bay 35, Cincinnati 0, Dec. 27, 1998
Oh, so close! Not the score, obviously; that was close for about 10 seconds after the opening coin flip stopped rolling around. Trent Dilfer's third pass of the game was a 50-yard touchdown pass to Robb Thomas, whose Smooth catch made the Bengals instantly Unwell. After that, the rest of the game was some light exercise for Mike Alstott, who ran 20 times for 69 yards and three touchdowns. Dilfer threw one more TD pass, to Reidel Anthony, but otherwise just handed off an incredible 51 times, leading to 223 yards on the ground. Cincinnati played two quarterbacks in the game, and they were named either Paul Kresser and Eric Justin or Eric Kresser and Paul Justin, and you definitely don't know the answer without looking it up. They combined to complete 11 of 27 passes, or 13 of 27 if you count the ones caught by Ronde Barber and Charles Mincy. The only drama of the day came after this game was over. The Bucs had come into the final weekend with some faint playoff hopes still alive despite a 7-8 record. Everything fell their way until a late-afternoon Chargers and Cardinals game, which the Bucs needing the Cardinals to lose. The game unfolded as the Bucs were flying home, getting periodic updates from the pilot (this was 1998, remember). San Diego converted a fourth-and-20 with a miracle 30-yard touchdown pass to tie the game with 16 seconds left and the Bucs' plane celebrated…only to find out that a 46-yard kickoff return and a 52-yard field goal had somehow allowed the Cards to pull it out.
2. Tampa Bay 35, Cincinnati 7, Sept. 29, 2002
The Super Bowl-bound Bucs of '02 played three road games in their first five weeks and did not allow a single offensive touchdown in those contests. Unlike the game four years earlier, the Bengals did score in this game, and in fact scored first on a 51-yard pick-six by linebacker Brian Simmons in the first quarter. That was essentially the only highlight of the day for the home team, as the Bucs outgained the Bengals, 363 yards to 168, and scored five unanswered touchdowns to complete the drubbing. Linebacker Shelton Quarles matched Simmons with a pick six and Alstott brought his Queen City scoring average down a bit by only getting one touchdown. Brad Johnson threw a 65-yard touchdown pass to Keenan McCardell and also fed tight ends Ken Dilger and Rickey Dudley a TD each, and it really doesn't matter what order all of that happened in.
3. Tampa Bay 16, Cincinnati 13 (OT), December 2, 2001
The Buccaneers nearly let this one slip away against a Bengals team that would finish the year at 6-10, but John Lynch saved the day at the end. Neither team could get much going offensively, and for the Buccaneers that was because Cincinnati defenders set up a camp in their backfield, recording six sacks and 10 tackles for loss on running plays. The Bucs got their big break early on special teams when Barber blocked a punt in the second quarter (seriously, was there anything Ronde Barber couldn't do?) and Todd Yoder returned it 11 yards for a touchdown. Martin Gramatica had an up-and-down day, missing twice in his first four attempts, but he helped the Bucs take a 13-3 lead early in the third quarter. The Bengals rallied with a short field goal drive followed by a 14-play touchdown drive that included two third-down conversions and a fourth-down conversion. Corey Dillon tied it with eight seconds remaining on a six-yard pass from Jon Kitna. The Bucs won the toss in overtime and got to the Cincinnati 35, where they faced a fourth-and-eight and elected to punt. The strategy worked when Dwight Smith was able to down Mark Royals' punt at the four-yard line. On the next play, Lynch forced a Dillon fumble and also recovered the loose ball to set up Gramatica's 21-yard game-winner.
1. Cincinnati 14, Tampa Bay 13, Nov. 30, 2014
The Bengals made the playoffs five straight years from 2011-15, and in 2014 they won five of their last seven to get in. The middle of those five wins was in Tampa in Week 13 and it required a comeback after the Buccaneers took an early 10-0 lead. The home team didn't really do much on offense (263 yards, 14 first downs, two third-down conversions) but they scored quickly when Johnthan Banks intercepted Andy Dalton on the first play of the game and returned it to the Bengals' nine. That led to a quick Patrick Murray field goal, and the Bucs were able to mount one sustained drive in the second quarter, ending in Doug Martin's seven-yard touchdown run. Cincy's offense wasn't much better, and it waited until nearly halftime to score, with Dalton running it in himself for a five-yard score. The Bengals then took the lead for good in the third quarter on Dalton's 13-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green. The Bucs made it a one point game just 48 seconds into the final period on another field goal but the offense had three more tries and never again got inside the Cincinnati 40. A 12-men-on-offense penalty negated a Louis Murphy catch at the Bengals' 20 and a Josh McCown pass to Mike Evans on fourth-and-20 only got 13 yards.
2. Cincinnati 56, Tampa Bay 23, Oct. 29, 1989
This is the fourth-highest scoring game in Bengals history, though they also had a 61-7 win over the Houston Oilers later in that same '89 season. As noted above, Boomer Esiason threw five touchdown passes in this game, though he did it in less than 200 yards through the air. The Bengals actually had six scoring passes because backup Erik Wilhelm also got to play near the end, completing five of six passes for 98 yards, including a 46-yard touchdown toss to Tim McGee. McGee and Pro Bowl tight end Rodney Holman each scored twice in the game. Oh, and the Bengals also ran for 188 yards. And forced four turnovers. And scored 35 second-half points. And probably made Sam Wyche become very memorable to his future employers. The Buccaneers actually nearly matched Cincinnati in total yards, 475 to 482, and the score was only 21-16 at the half but two Vinny Testaverde picks and a Lars Tate fumble in the second half did the Bucs in.
3. Cincinnati 21, Tampa Bay 0, Oct. 10, 1976
This one wasn't much of a contest, coming five games into the expansion Buccaneers' existence, but it's Cincinnati's only shutout in the series so it makes the list over a limp 23-17 win in 1983. The game marked the Bucs' first trip to Cincy, and they left without a point but probably plenty of bruises for quarterback Steve Spurrier, who was sacked three times. Parnell Dickinson also got in the game late and was sacked as many times as he got off a pass (once each). The Bengals had a Pro Bowl quarterback in Ken Anderson but only asked him to throw 15 times, which produced 98 yards and one touchdown. Otherwise, the Bengals just ran the ball, 39 times in all for 188 yards and a Boobie Clark score. Cincinnati's final score came on a third-quarter fumble recovery by Pro Bowl safety Tommy Casanova.
Bucs' Top Performers Against Bengals:
Among players currently on the roster, here are a few Buccaneers who have fared well against the Bengals.
· DT Gerald McCoy…2 games, 1 sack for 8 yards, 3 QB hits, 2 passes defensed, 1 tackle for loss
· QB Ryan Fitzpatrick…3 games, 103 attempts, 60 completions, 704 yards, 234.7 yards per game, six touchdowns, three interceptions, 86.4 passer rating, 6 carries for 31 yards
· WR DeSean Jackson…2 games, seven receptions for 114 yards, 16.3 yards per catch, 7 first downs
Bengals' Top Performers Against Bucs:
· RB Giovani Bernard…1 game, 10 carries for 49 yards, 2 first downs, 1 reception for 4 yards
· LB Preston Brown…1 game, 11 tackles, 1 quarterback hit
· DT Geno Atkins…1 game, 2 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 tackle for loss, 2 quarterback hits
Bucs-Bengals Game-by-Game Record:
· Overall Season Series: Bucs lead, 7-4
· Bucs' Home Record: 2-2
· Bucs' Road Record: 5-2
· Current Streak: Lose 1 (2014)
· Buccaneers' Longest Winning Streak: 6 (1995-2010)
· Bengals' Longest Winning Streak: 2 (1983-89)
· Regular Season Point Total: Buccaneers 223, Bengals 196
· Most Points in a Game, Buccaneers: Buccaneers 35-0 (1998) and Buccaneers 35-7 (2002)
· Most Points in a Game, Bengals: Bengals 56-23 (1989)
· Most Points, both teams: 79, Bengals 56-23 (1989)
· Fewest Points in a Game, Buccaneers: Bengals 21-0 (1976)
· Fewest Points in a Game, Bengals: Buccaneers 35-0 (1998)
· Fewest Points in a Game, both teams: 21, Bengals 21-0 (1976)