RB Warrick Dunn, who scored the Bucs' final touchdown in Detroit, is discovering that there's room for everybody in the Bucs' new offense
For kicks, contemplate this trivia question: When was the last time the Tampa Bay Buccaneers scored a total of 93 points over one three-game stretch?
Did you make a wild guess?
Well, here's the wilder answer. Never.
You are welcome to withhold judgment on Les Steckel, Shaun King and the Bucs' new offense if you wish. Certainly, three games is not really a representative sample.
More optimistic folk, however, see that the Buccaneers are scoring, and scoring again, and showing no signs of stopping. A team that reached the NFC Championship Game in 1999 with the fifth-lowest scoring attack in the league could be a formidable force if this type of end zone discovery continues unabated.
And the scary part? Head Coach Tony Dungy doesn't think the Bucs have hit their stride yet.
"We're about where I thought we'd be," said Dungy after Sunday's game. "We're still not functioning at peak efficiency. We're still learning about the offense, we're still learning our players, and we had some points out there today that we needed to get. In later games, we'll need to get those, but they're coming along well. The guys are working at it tremendously hard, but it's a new system. I think it will be week 10 or 12 before we're really at peak efficiency."
Not that he's displeased with the results. "Offensively, 21 points, 31 points, 41 points…that's good to see," said Dungy."
Late in 1981, the playoff-bound Buccaneers scored a total of 92 points over three games to make a successful push for the postseason. It took nearly 20 years for the next such points explosion, and this one is occurring at the beginning of the season. That is certainly building optimism around team headquarters.
Now, only three teams in the last two years have averaged as many as 31 points per game for an entire season: the Broncos and Vikings in 1998 and the Rams last season. So it would be a stretch, perhaps, to expect the Buccaneers to maintain this particular pace. Still, it's not too early to look up the team's single-season scoring record. It's 335 points, set in 1984, which is generally considered the best offensive season in team history.
That's an average of just under 21 points per game. The Buccaneers have to averaged just 18.5 points per game the rest of the way to snap that team standard.
Perhaps the catch word for the Buccaneers' new scoring prowess is 'variety.' Tampa Bay has scored on a fake spike, they've scored on a play-action bomb and they've scored on a pass to a 290-pound guard-turned-fullback.
While FB Mike Alstott remains the team's top avenue to the end zone, with four touchdowns, the team has also gotten two rushing touchdowns from King and one from RB Warrick Dunn. That's a total of seven rushing TDs, as many as the Bucs had all of last season.
And perhaps nothing is more emblematic of the team's offensive turnaround than a newfound ease of scoring in the red zone, which Steckel prefers to call the 'Green Zone' with well-placed optimism.
Through three games, Tampa Bay has ventured into the Green Zone 11 times and come away with nine touchdowns. That is in stark, stark contrast to the Bucs' offense of 1999, which finished last in the league in touchdown percentage inside the 20.
Moreover, the two drives that reached inside the 20 but didn't find paydirt at least resulted in field goals. Steckel's Tennessee Titans offense in 1998 was the first in NFL history to score on every one of its Green Zone trips. The Bucs may not match that remarkable achievement, but they have certainly learned a few lessons about converting opportunities into scores from Steckel.
After scoring 31 points in the Pontiac Silverdome on Sunday, or just eight points less than they put up in that venue over the previous four visits combined, the Bucs are off to a 3-0 start for just the third time in franchise history.
The first two times, 1979 and 1997, the Bucs finished with 10-6 records and made the playoffs. But each of those teams was heavily weighted towards defense; the '79 squad finished first in the NFL and the '97 group finished third. Neither of those teams reached 300 points by season's end.
This team looks like it could be very different. Isn't that wild?