Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Can You Get There from Here?

The Bucs have practice in turning 3-4 starts into playoff berths, but the league as a whole has had difficulty with that transformation


After seeing his team fall to 3-4 at Green Bay, Head Coach Tony Dungy is looking ahead to another turnaround

If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were to take a moment to scan the NFL's standings this morning, they would find themselves … scanning the standings, which is not where this team wanted to be roughly halfway into the season.

Buoyed by a 10-6 record last year and the significant offseason signings, re-signings and additions by draft of QB Brad Johnson, DE Simeon Rice, CB Ronde Barber, T Jerry Wunsch and T Kenyatta Walker, the Bucs had hoped to storm out of the gates to the tune of 6-1 or 5-2.

Instead, Tampa Bay is 3-4 for the fourth consecutive season, and so a look at the standings is probably a good idea, if not for the team then at least for the fan trying to figure out the Bucs' place in the playoff chase. While Tampa Bay is clearly not in the position in which it would like to be, it's worth noting that six of the 15 teams in the NFC are standing somewhere between 3-4 and 4-3.

At the same time, there are four teams with better records than that group, and six playoff spots. Even if all four of those teams at 5-2 or better hold onto their virtual, early-November playoff spots – which is far from guaranteed, there will clearly be quite a scrum for the other two.

Most Buc fans are familiar with their own team's flirtation with 3-4 and what lies beyond. Tampa Bay's identical records in each of the 1998, '99 and '00 seasons turned into two playoff berths and no record worse than 8-8. However, the league has a whole has not treated 3-4 teams too well over that span.

Eventual Records of 3-4 Teams, 1998-2000

**Team****Final Record****Playoffs?**
2000 Buffalo8-8No
2000 Dallas5-11No
2000 Tampa Bay10-6Yes
2000 Carolina7-9No
2000 Green Bay9-7No
2000 San Francisco4-12No
1999 Tampa Bay11-5Yes*
1999 Chicago6-10No
1999 Minnesota10-6Yes
1998 San Diego5-11No
1998 Tennessee8-8No
1998 Arizona9-7Yes
1998 Tampa Bay8-8No
1998 N.Y. Giants8-8No
  • Division Winner

Obviously, the league has not been kind, overall, to teams that start out 3-4. Of the 14 teams that found themselves in that predicament over the last three years, only four made the playoffs and only one won its division.

Of course, half of those playoff squads, and the one division winner, came out of Tampa Bay. And the 8-8 Bucs of 1998 weren't eliminated from the postseason until Arizona kicker Chris Jacke hit a game-ending field goal for the Arizona Cardinals while the Buccaneers were flying back from Cincinnati.

Thus, the team has some hard-won confidence that it can once again buck the odds of the 3-4 start. However, that confidence will only be useful if translated into improved play.

"Yes," said Head Coach Tony Dungy, when asked if the Bucs could rally again from 3-4. "But you have to go out and do it. It's one thing to say, 'Oh, we've got the ability to do it.' I feel we do. But it remains to be seen. You've got to play, and you've got start making those (game-turning) plays."

When 4-3 teams are added into the analysis of the last three years, the picture gets a little rosier, if not perfect. From 1998-2000, 19 teams started the season 4-3, and nine made the playoffs, with three winning their divisions. That's a 47.4% playoff success rate from 4-3, as compared to 28.6 from a 3-4 record. All together, teams in the 3-4 to 4-3 continuum over the past three seasons are 13 for 32 in realizing their playoff dreams.

It's probably best to analyze the six 2001 NFC teams currently in that range as a group, because most of those squads are just one or two plays away from being one game better or worse. The Bucs, for instance, might have left Green Bay 4-3 had they been able to recover Brett Favre's fumble late in the fourth quarter on Sunday. That also means it might just take one or two critical plays here or there to get any one of these teams back on a consistent winning track.

"At some point, maybe it just takes one play to turn it around and get it going," said Dungy. We've been inconsistent so far, and we've got to get consistency and put together a streak."

"But if you're asking me if we can do it, yes we can."

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