Buc linemen Marcus Jones (78) and Warren Sapp (99) have bagged some impressive sack feats in recent seasons
A year ago at this time, we told you a story of Martin Gramatica and Karl Williams, of Mike Alstott scoring touchdowns and Brett Favre being sacked.
Well, maybe not a story so much as a loose collection of characters and plots. Gramatica, for instance, was showing remarkable field goal accuracy from everywhere on the field and, unrelatedly, Favre was being taken down more often by Tampa Bay pass rushers than almost any other team.
Why are we bringing these characters up now? Because it's time for another run through the cast.
At this time every season, the NFL's invaluable reference tome, the Record & Fact Book, hits the shelves. It's 504 pages in 2001 and packed with thousands of league-related facts and figures. Team summaries and NFL records share space with historical tidbits and hundreds of statistical charts.
But this is no advertisement for the R&F book, as it is known in league circles. The publication is available in book stores as a fan guide, but within NFL offices it is an oft-used reference material. It is also a source of an endless array of 'Did-You-Knows', which is what we were doing last July.
So let's see what the NFL 2001 Record and Fact Book has to tell us this year that we might not have known.
NFL coaches used the instant replay challenge system more often and to slightly greater effect in its second year back.
The league resurrected the instant replay system in 1999, of course, after a seven-year absence, then voted to keep it for 2000. The scheme mainly relies on coaches' challenges, but can also result in replay reviews ordered by an official in the last two minutes of either half.
In 1999, there were a total of 195 plays reviewed, of which 133 were called by coaches and their red instant-replay flags. Last fall, those numbers rose to 247 plays reviewed (almost exactly one per game over the 248 contests played), of which 179 were ordered by coaches.
In 1999, 57 reviewed plays were reversed, or 29.2%. Last year, that reversal rate rose to 33.6%, as 83 calls were overturned.
Only three active punters in the NFL have more career kicks than the 903 blasted over 11 seasons by Buccaneer veteran Mark Royals. Those players that even Royals must defer to are New England's Lee Johnson (1,163 career punts, former Buccaneer and current Philadelphia punter Sean Landeta (1,119) and Seattle's Jeff Feagles (1,054).
Another note derived from the R&F's 'Active Statistical Leaders' tables centers around defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who has moved into the league's top active 15 in sacks, with 58.5. That's no real news, of course, but what is interesting is that only one of the 14 players above Sapp on the list entered the league at the same time or later than he did.
Sapp and Tennessee's Kevin Carter, 12th on the list with 62.5 sacks, have played six season each; nobody else on the list has played less than eight. Of the 30 players on the list (which happens to include all active players with 48.5 sacks or more), only four have amassed sacks at a rate better than Sapp's 9.75 per season, including Carter. Bruce Smith (181 in 16 seasons) and John Randle (114 in 11 seasons) are unsurprising entries on that list. The only player below Sapp on the list who has a better rate so far in his career is new Buc Simeon Rice, with 51.5 in five seasons.
Last fall, defensive end Marcus Jones collected a career-best 13 sacks, a total that would have tied the Buccaneers' all-time single-season record if not for the fact that teammate Warren Sapp was obliterating Lee Roy Selmon's 1977 mark with 16.5 sacks of his own.
Yes, you knew that. But did you know that, while he finished second on the Bucs' squad, Jones had enough sacks to lead in that category for 25 of the league's other 30 teams. Moreover, he would have led his next-best teammate by five or more sacks on 16 of those squads.
The league has used the current roster limit of 45 active players (plus a third quarterback) on game day for 11 straight seasons, including 2001. That's the longest the NFL has stuck with the same active player limit in the history of the league.
The NFL's first season was 1925, and each team was limited to 16 active players at the time, as most played on both offense and defense. The following year, the limit was raised 12.5% to 18, and the number has been in almost constant flux since.
In general, the active player limit has been a steady, if slow, climb upward. After it climbed to 33 players by 1940, and stayed there for three years, it suddenly was dropped to 28 for the 1943-44 campaigns. Of course, it went right back up to 33 in 1945 and, with a few hiccups backward, increased slowly to 49 players by the second half of 1982 (after the players' strike was resolved). In 1985, that number was brought back down to 45, where it has stayed. In 1991, the 'third quarterback' caveat was added.
By at least one measure, Tampa Bay was the best first-quarter team in the league.
One of the informative charts in the R&F book lists each team's offensive and defensive outputs in each quarter of play. The Buccaneers do not rank as the league leaders in points allowed or points scored in any given quarter, though they are near the top in several of those categories.
However, the Bucs had easily the best points differential in the league in the first quarter. Tampa Bay scored 88 first-quarter points on the season, the third-best mark in the NFC and tied for fifth in the NFL. Meanwhile, the team's defense allowed just 39 first-quarter points, third-best in the conference and fourth-best in the league.
That works out to 49 more points scored than allowed for the Bucs in their 16 first quarters. The next best run differential belonged to Carolina, which scored 78 first-quarter points and allowed 46, a difference of 32.
Though it doesn't involve the Buccaneers, the single most interesting number on this chart is nine. That's the startlingly low total of points allowed in the third quarter all season by the Miami Dolphins.
After a slow improvement in 1996, Head Coach Tony Dungy's first season with the team, the Buccaneers' defense has stood as one of the league's best since 1997. In at least one category, they are the best in the NFL in that span.
Tampa Bay's pass defense has allowed 11,798 aerial yards over the past four seasons, the lowest total in the league by a very slim margin over Buffalo (11,801). The NFC East trio of Washington, Philadelphia and Dallas rounds out the top five in that category.
The Bucs also allowed the fewest points in the league over that four-year period: 1,062.
One more note from that particular group of tables, which chart the league's best teams over periods of the last two, three and four seasons: Tampa Bay is finally starting to register on the turnover charts, as was expected when Dungy arrived. Tampa Bay is not among the league's top five in takeaways over the periods of 1997-00 or '98-00, but over the last two years, they rank fifth with 72 turnovers forced. The first four teams on the list are Baltimore (80), Philadelphia (77), Detroit (74) and Kansas City (74).
The Buccaneers' fortunes in Raymond James Stadium, which opened in 1998, have been so favorable – a 19-5 home record over three seasons – that the team is moving quickly up the 'home field advantage' ranks.
Measured over the last decade (1991-2000), a period that includes some lean years for Tampa Bay, the Bucs are 47-33 in home games, a winning percentage of .588. That's better than 16 teams in the league over that same span.
Shaun King was the league's youngest starter at quarterback on opening day last fall … The Buccaneers open next season against the Dallas Cowboys, on September 9 in Texas. The team with the best opening-day record in the NFL since 1933? Dallas, 30-10-1 … Though they rank tied for 11th out of 15 teams in the NFC in overall record over the last decade, with a winning percentage of .444, the Buccaneers, they have a winning record in December over that span, 21-20 … Minnesota's Cris Carter, who will call it a career after 2001, has 1,020 receptions in 213 games. Carter has had more receptions against the Buccaneers, 105, than any team except Chicago, against which he has 130.