Tampa Bay Buccaneers

In the Zone

Over the past six seasons, the Bucs’ Dave Moore has found the end zone on a more regular basis than any other tight end in the league

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TE Dave Moore has become a regular in the end zone during his ten-year NFL career, but this spike after Sunday's touchdown in Green Bay was one of his most emphatic ever

You're contemplating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' game in Green Bay on Sunday when you're fed an interesting statistic by an industrious and under-appreciated stats man for the FOX network.

You had seen Dave Moore catch an 11-yard seam pass for a touchdown on third-and-goal midway through the second quarter, and had appreciated it on a fairly obvious level. Besides giving the Bucs' a 10-7, first-half lead, Moore's score was also the 23rd of his career, moving him into a tie for fourth place on the team's all-time TD receptions list. That's a stat Tampa Bay's PR men were ready with as Moore crossed the goal line.

But the FOX man knows there's a little more to it. Turns out that it's Moore's third touchdown of the season, relevant because the long-time Buccaneer is now the only tight end in the entire National Football League who has caught at least three touchdown passes in each of the past six seasons.

Wow. Now that says something to you in terms of Moore's productivity and longevity, so you hurry to tell a third person this impressive statistic. You think this person might also have a certain appreciation for Moore's abilities, but the note is greeted with surprise and a little bit of disbelief.

Not that you're worried about the Buccaneer tight end being insulted by this reaction. That third person is Moore himself.

"I never even thought about it like that," said upon hearing of his unmatched touchdown streak. "There are some pretty good tight ends out there."

But none, apparently, that have found the end zone with as much regularity as Moore over the past half-dozen years. Cleveland's Rickey Dudley, a former Raider, could match that statistic this season, but currently has zero touchdowns on the season.

Moore is the anti-Deion, about as non-flashy as you could expect a professional athlete to be. You're much more likely to find him fishing than shopping for jewelry, and the simple between-the-legs spike he pulled off in Green Bay was probably the most emphatic of his career. He has built a long and successful NFL career by doing whatever the team needed at the time, and so he has never labeled himself as a touchdown-maker, even as he climbs the team's career scoring chart.

"I don't get a lot of catches, so my perception of the situation is, when guys start to overplay things I'll get my shots here and there," he said. "That's kind of what happens. We get down there and we line up in a three-by-one, and the safety cheats outside. Then all I have to do is beat the linebacker over me, and I give that high-school head fake and it works every time.

"I guess I don't see myself as a big touchdown guy because I don't get that many touches."

That's not off the mark. Moore averaged exactly 16 receptions per season through his first nine years, with a single-season high of 29 last year. That average is brought down somewhat by a total of nine catches in his first three years, when he was more of a long-snapper and secondary blocker, but even in his three seasons as an every-game starter, Moore has averaged just 25 grabs per season. True to form, he's on pace for 27 receptions this year.

But Moore is on the field for almost every play, every game, a testament to the strong blocking skills he has developed through years of toil. Moore was much more of a passcatcher when he first entered the league as a seventh-round draft pick of the Dolphins out of Pitt, but he learned through several years on 'the bubble' at roster cut time to pick up as many skills as possible.

When things get tight in the red zone, however, Moore's original skills – good hands and precise routes – become amplified. He didn't catch a single pass in the Bucs' first two games, largely because the team spent little of that time in the red zone, but he's had 12 receptions in the five games since and has scored in three of the Bucs' last four contests.

"It's really not anything special," said Moore. "I've always been a big part of our red zone package, since Mike Shula was here, and the first two games we didn't get in the red zone. The one time we did, I had a couple of opportunities against Dallas, but we ran the ball two times then the quarterback sneaked it in. In Minnesota, we just weren't in the red zone too much – we just ran through it."

Moore played in his 137th game as a Buccaneer last Sunday, the third most in team history behind Paul Gruber (183) and Tony Mayberry (160), including 110 in a row. But even he has not seen the Bucs leave Wisconsin with a victory, as the lead he help built this time around slipped away in the closing minutes.

However, he has seen the Bucs at 3-4 before, as they have now started with that record for four consecutive years. That previous experience only goes so far, he said on Monday.

"The past has nothing to do with the future, so that obviously concerns you because 3-4 is quite a hole to dig yourself out of," said Moore. "But on the other hand, we have been there before and we know what it's going to take from here on out to play winning football. Fortunately for us, it's not too much. It's just a little bit here and there that makes the difference. We had it last week but we didn't have it this week."

In the past, the Bucs' up-and-down play in the first half has given way to a steadier second half that more closely resembles the persistently good results of Moore's own career. That end-season run is going to need to begin immediately, in Detroit this coming weekend, according to the Buccaneers' longest-tenured veteran.

"It's definitely uphill, no question," said Moore of the remainder of the season. "We're going to have to play our best ball because we've got some hot teams coming in here. I think the most dangerous of all, though, is this weekend. They're without a win, they've been playing better every week, and they're certainly going to be up for the game.

"We need to play those games as if we were in that situation, which we are. We're in a must-win pretty much every game from here on out."

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