QB Brian Griese's 97.5 passer rating in 2004 represented another big leap forward in that section of the Bucs' record book
It was an entry that held firm in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' record book for 15 years, but it has now gone down twice in the last three seasons.
Steve DeBerg's 1987 passer rating of 85.3 – at the time the first rating above 80 in team history – barely withstood several challenges in the 1990s but hasn't proved strong enough to hold back the pass-happy new millennium. First, Brad Johnson obliterated the mark with his 92.9 in 2002 as he helped lead the Buccaneers to victory in Super Bowl XXXVII. Now, Brian Griese has made another quantum leap in that particular record, setting the new standard in 2004 with a 97.5 rating.
No movement for a decade and a half, and then a collective improvement of 12.2 points in just three years? Certainly the game has changed over the 29 years the Buccaneers have been a part of the NFL, and that's a part of it. In 1982, Tampa Bay averaged 216 passing yards per game and ranked sixth in the league; this past season, they averaged 214 per game and ranked 14th in the league. In addition, the stricter enforcement of illegal-contact penalties, a special emphasis this season, led to better numbers across the board, including Peyton Manning's NFL-record 121.1 rating.
But this is a Buccaneer record that has tended to move forward in big spurts, regardless of league trends. In fact, of the six times the passer rating record has been broken in team history, this year's leap of 4.6 points is actually the second lowest improvement. Here's a look at the history of the Bucs' passer rating record:
Griese's assault on the Bucs' record book didn't start until Game Five, when he replaced the injured Chris Simms late in the first quarter at New Orleans. Simms had made his first career start that day but suffered a shoulder sprain on a sack by Saints DE Will Smith. Griese seized the opportunity impressively, to say the least, and started the next 10 games before his own foot sprain kept him out of the season finale.
In the process, Griese set or challenged several other Buccaneer passing records. In fact, he and rookie receiver Michael Clayton, Griese's favorite target, accounted for a good portion of the Tampa Bay records broken in 2004.
Let's take a look at all of the Buccaneer standards that fell this past season, plus a few that were heartily challenged, starting with the individual marks.
Griese was responsible for three passing records (including passer rating), and he tied one more.
Highest Completion Percentage, Season Old: 62.3 by Brad Johnson, 2002 New: 69.3 by Brian Griese, 2004
Most Yards Per Pass Attempt, Season Old: 7.72 by Vinny Testaverde, 1990 New: 7.83 by Brian Griese, 2004
Most Consecutive Games Throwing a Touchdown Pass Current (tied): 11 by Brad Johnson, 9/8/03-11/24/03 Current (tied): 11 by Brian Griese, 10/10/04-12/26/04
In addition, because the minimum number of passes need to qualify for the Bucs' career passer rating record is 250, Griese also currently holds the team's all-time passer rating record.
Clayton, of course, sent an all-out blitz on the team's rookie receiving records, seemingly toppling a new one every week in December. In what was by far the most productive season ever for a Buccaneer rookie receiver – and one of the five most productive in NFL history – Clayton put his name all over the book.
Most Receptions by a Rookie, Season Old: 65 by Mike Alstott, 1996 New: 80 by Michael Clayton, 2004
Most Receiving Yards by a Rookie, Season Old: 818 by Lawrence Dawsey, 1991 New: 1,193 by Michael Clayton, 2004
Most Touchdown Receptions by a Rookie, Season Old: 5 by Kevin House, 1980 New: 7 by Michael Clayton, 2004
Most Receptions by a Rookie, Game Current (tied): 9, James Wilder, vs. St. Louis, 9/27/81 Current (tied): 9, Michael Clayton, at San Diego, 12/12/04
Clayton's numbers blew away the old Buc rookie standards, and they challenged the team records for all players. His 80 receptions were the fifth most in franchise history and his 1,193 yards were the third most. Among all rookies in NFL history, those totals ranked fifth in both categories. The only rookie wide receivers (excluding running backs and tight ends) in league annals with more receptions in a season were Arizona's Anquan Boldin (101) in 2003 and New England's Terry Glenn (90) in 1996.
Running back Michael Pittman missed becoming the sixth Buccaneer to rush for 1,000 yards in a season by 74 yards, but he did put up 1,317 combined rushing and receiving yards, tied for the 10th best mark in team history. Pittman, James Wilder and Warrick Dunn are the only players to appear on that top-10 list more than once, as Pittman also had 1,348 combined yards in 2003.
Along the way, Pittman broke two team records, tied another and just missed on a third.
Longest Rushing Play Old: 76 yards by Warrick Dunn, vs. Chicago, 12/21/97 New: 78 yards by Michael Pittman, vs. Kansas City, 11/7/04
Longest Rushing Touchdown Old: 75 yards by James Wilder, at Minnesota, 11/6/83 New: 78 yards by Michael Pittman, vs. Kansas City, 11/7/04
Most Rushing Touchdowns, Game Current (tied): 3 by five players, most recently Michael Pittman, vs. Kansas City, 11/7/04
Longest Reception by a Running Back First: 74 by Gary Anderson, vs. Green Bay, 10/14/90 Second (tied): 68 by Michael Pittman, at Carolina, 11/28/04 Second (tied): 68t by Michael Pittman, at Atlanta, 9/21/03 Second (tied): 68 by Warrick Dunn, vs. Detroit, 12/12/99
Pittman also scored a career-high 10 touchdowns (seven rushing, three receiving) to become just the fourth player in team history to reach double digits in that category in a single season. The record is 13, set by Wilder in 1984, followed by 11-touchdown seasons for Alstott in 2001 and Errict Rhett in 1995. Pittman's 10 scores tied the fourth-best marks set by Alstott in 1997 and Wilder in 1985.
The Buccaneers also set a handful of records as a team, most of them mirroring the individual marks noted above. Those new standards include:
Best Passer Rating, Season Old: 86.3, 2002 New: 89.1, 2004
Best Completion Percentage, Season Old: 62.3, 2003 New: 66.4, 2004
Fewest Points Allowed, Game Current (tied): 0, nine times, most recently vs. Atlanta, 12/5/04
Most Rushing Touchdowns, Game Current (tied): 3, 15 times, most recently vs. Kansas City, 11/7/04
(Note: Of the nine shutouts in team history, five have been recorded in the last three seasons. The Bucs have pitched more shutouts in the last three years than any other team in the league.)
Best Kickoff Return Average, Season Old: 24.1, 2002 New: 24.2, 2004
(Note: CB Torrie Cox compiled a kickoff return average of 26.2 yards on 33 returns, which stands as the second-best mark in team history to Karl Williams' record of 27.4 in 1996. However, the minimum for this mark in the Bucs' book is 10 returns, and Williams put up his average on just 14 runbacks. Among all players with at least 20 returns in a season, Cox' mark is the best in team history, surpassing the 25.2-yard average Aaron Stecker put up on 37 returns in 2002.)
As a team, the Bucs neared but did not break a few other notable records.
- The 24 touchdown passes thrown by Johnson, Simms and Griese ranked as the second-best mark in team history, to the 27 tossed up last year. Griese accounted for 20 of those TDs, Johnson three and Simms one. * The Bucs' 3,474 net passing yards in 2004 were the third-most in team annals. The record of 3,805 was set just last year, breaking the old standard of 3,545 from 1984. * Tampa Bay's pass rush produced 45 sacks in 2004, which ranks as the second-highest single-season total in team history. The record of 55 was set in 2000, and this year's total just edged out the 44 sacks the Bucs racked up in 1997.