The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs have made the most out of a relatively limited history together.
Kansas City was the eighth team the Buccaneers, hatched in 1976, ever met. Just three years later, a Chiefs visit to Tampa produced an outcome that is not only the lowest-scoring game in Tampa Bay franchise history, still, but also one of the most important games the team has ever played. When Joe Montana went to the Chiefs in one of the most famous trades of all time, his first regular-season game was against the Bucs. The greatest comeback in Buccaneer history came at the expense of the Chiefs. And so on.
A week ago, Buccaneers.com began a series of preview articles focusing on the eight teams that will be invading Raymond James Stadium this fall, and the state of each team's all-time series against the Buccaneers. The series has already covered Tampa Bay's first two visitors of 2012, the Carolina Panthers and Washington Redskins, both of whom will be bringing dynamic young passers to town. The second quarter of the Buccaneers' season will begin with a game against the Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium on October 14, Kansas City's first trip to Tampa in eight years.
That particular game will have the added juice of this year's Ring of Honor ceremony, in which stalwart left tackle Paul Gruber will become the fourth person inducted into that exclusive club. The ceremony will take place at halftime, but there's a lot to like about what should take place in the 30 game minutes before and after Gruber's big moment.
First of all, the game features two teams with very similar recent histories, and the same point to prove in 2012.
In 2010, the Chiefs rebounded from a 4-12 season the year before, the first under new Head Coach Todd Haley, to win 10 games, make the playoffs and look like one of the league's up-and-coming young team. Big expectations for the 2011 season as a result of that breakthrough campaign sagged to disappointment and a losing record and the Chiefs will be heading into 2012 with a new head coach, Romeo Crennel, and an eagerness to prove that the 2010 season represented the true strength of the roster.
One could write much of the same for the Buccaneers, changing 4-12 to 3-13 and the respective coaches to Raheem Morris and Greg Schiano. Also, the Buccaneers' 10-6 record in 2010 wasn't quite good enough for a playoff berth (they missed out on a fifth-level tiebreaker to the eventual-champion Green Bay Packers), but it was definitely enough to build expectations for 2011.
The season will still be relatively young when the Buccaneers and Chiefs meet in Tampa in Week Six, but it may already be clear whether either or both of the teams have begun a real rebound. If both teams are indeed on the way back up, this could turn into yet another memorable battle between two unlikely rivals.
Kansas City is the third of eight opponents Tampa Bay will face at Raymond James Stadium during the regular season this fall. It is one of the most intriguing home slates Buccaneer fans have had to look forward to in some time. In addition to the Panthers, Redskins and Chiefs, the Bucs will welcome to town the New Orleans Saints, San Diego Chargers, Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles and St. Louis Rams. Before the games begin, Buccaneers.com is going to take a look at each of those eight rivalries, discussing the all-time series results, the best moments for each team in the series, the most recent matchup, the outlook for 2012 and one key matchup to keep an eye on this fall.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Kansas City Chiefs
All-Time Head-to-Head Results:
The Bucs and Chiefs have played to a 5-5 tie since that first meeting in 1976, most recently doing battle in Kansas City in 2008. More on that game below, as it was also one of the most exciting games between the two teams to date. Kansas City holds an overall points edge of 206-186 in the series, and other that extremely low-scoring affair mentioned above, it has been a relatively high-scoring run of games. The last two outcomes, for instance, were 34-31 and 30-27 Buccaneer wins, and Kansas City has scored 24 or more points in four of its five wins.
The Buccaneers were temporarily placed in the AFC West in their inaugural season of '76 and given an unusual schedule that included one game against each of the other 13 teams in the conference (plus a 14th contest against expansion mate Seattle). The eighth team on that docket was Kansas City, and the Chiefs joined the rest of the conference in taking it to the brand new team. However, the 28-19 final actually stood as Tampa Bay's second-highest point total of the season and quarterback Steve Spurrier had his best game in a Buc uniform (20 of 36, 212 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions).
The Bucs were able to gain some revenge pretty quickly, beating Kansas City, in Kansas City, just two years later, a 30-13 victory in the sixth week of the season that was just the third road triumph in franchise history. The next year, Kansas City came to Tampa on the final weekend of the season and the result was a 3-0 Tampa Bay win in a nonstop downpour, a victory the Bucs needed to clinch the NFC Central title and make it to the playoffs for the first time. Moving the ball was nearly impossible on this waterlogged afternoon – in fact, the 80 yards gained by the Chiefs on the day is still the lowest total the Bucs have ever allowed in a game – but Neil O'Donoghue's 19-yard field goal in the fourth quarter was enough to make Tampa Bay's postseason dreams come true.
The Chiefs won the next four, although that took awhile as the two teams met each other only four times over the next 19 years. The Bucs have tied it up in recent years, winning the last three.
Best Runs for Each Team:
As was just mentioned, the Chiefs went on a four-game victory run from 1981-93, and they averaged just under 25 points a game during that span. The tightest game in that run was a 24-20 Chiefs win in Kansas City in 1984 that turned into something of a shootout between the Bucs' Steve DeBerg (soon to be a Chief himself) and Kansas City's Bill Kenney. Kenney threw for 332 yards to DeBerg's 280, and they both tossed two touchdowns, though the Bucs' starter was picked off three times to Kenney's' two.
The Bucs' current run is their best in the series, as they've won the last three, dating back to 1999. The first of those was a 17-10 decision in 1999, a season in which Tampa Bay's defense carried a relatively anemic offense all the way to the NFC Championship Game. This particular outing was very representative of that, as the defense overcame five lost fumbles and an interception by allowing just 184 total yards. The Bucs needed their offense more in the next meeting, in 2004, as KC's Trent Green threw for 369 yards and three touchdowns, and they got it from Michael Pittman (128 yards and three touchdowns) and Brian Griese (296 yards, two TDs, zero interceptions). The result was a 34-31 Buc win that included seven lead changes. The most recent game in the run was another three-point decision that will be examined in more detail in the next section.
Best Game for Tampa Bay:
Obviously, the Bucs' 3-0 win over the Chiefs in 1979 was a milestone moment, and a perfectly fine candidate for this category. It wasn't a particularly enjoyable afternoon for many of the players on the field or the fans in the stands, however, as the torrential rains never let up. It was a good win, but one mostly ground out through Ricky Bell splashes through the mud.
The most recent Bucs-Chiefs set-to, on the other hand, was a thrilling affair full of twists and turns at Arrowhead Stadium. And, given that Tampa Bay erased a 21-point lead to win the game, and help their playoff hopes in early November, it too is a landmark moment for the franchise.
It didn't start out particularly well. The Bucs were favored, coming in with a 5-3 record to face the 1-6 Chiefs, who were in a relatively short stretch of starts by quarterback Tyler Thigpen. It's unlikely that Thigpen had a better day as the Chiefs' starter than he did on this afternoon, but quarterback Jeff Garcia and the Bucs' special teams were even more productive.
The game began ominously, as Thigpen drove the home teams 69 yards on the opening drive to score the opening points on Dwayne Bowe's seven-yard catch. Thigpen converted three third downs on the drive, running for one and throwing for two others; before the game was over he would prove he was a triple threat, also getting in on the receiving game. Worse, on Tampa Bay's first play from scrimmage, Earnest Graham fumbled and the Chiefs recovered at Tampa Bay's 41. That led to another quick touchdown and a 14-0 KC lead. The Bucs did manage to counter with a field goal, but the Chiefs continued to pour it on through some impressive trickery. From the Bucs' 37, Kansas City sent a direct snap to running back Jamaal Charles, who started left and then handed it to wide receiver Mark Bradley on a reverse. Bradley then pulled up and threw a perfect 37-yard touchdown strike to Thigpen, who had slipped behind the Bucs' defense. After a field goal by eventual Buccaneer Connor Barth, the Chiefs had a 24-3 lead with two minutes left in the half.
The comeback – the largest in Bucs' franchise history – began with the kicking game. After Barth's field goal, rookie sensation Clifton Smith returned the kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. The Bucs' defense then got a quick three-and-out and Garcia led a successful two-minute drill (helped immensely by a third-down roughing-the-passer call) to set Matt Bryant up for a 43-yard field goal. That made the Chiefs' halftime edge a less worrisome 24-13.
The second half was all Tampa Bay, as they outgained the Chiefs after the intermission by 280 yards to 124. Still, neither team scored in the third quarter so the Bucs still had to rally late. First, Charles fumbled at his own seven – right after Smith had fumbled after a short pass to kill a scoring threat – and the Bucs recovered. Tampa Bay used some trickery of its own, letting Graham thrown an option pass to TE Alex Smith to make it 24-19 after a failed two-point try. The Chiefs got their lead back to eight points with another Barth field goal, and that was still the situation when the Bucs got it back at midfield with 1:50 left. Most of the rest of the field was eaten up by catches of 19 and 24 yards by Antonio Bryant, the second a touchdown pass, and Garcia then found Smith in the end zone on another two-point try that tied the game.
In overtime, the Bucs won the toss and calmly drove 58 yards to put Bryant in position for the 34-yard game-winning field goal.
Best Game for Kansas City:
In 1993, the San Francisco 49ers were ready to move fully on from one legend to another. Joe Montana had missed almost all of the previous two seasons due to injury, during which his long-time understudy, Steve Young, had established himself as an all-star (and, eventually, a fellow Hall-of-Famer). Montana was back to health in 1993 (even getting a brief cameo at the end of 1992) but the 49ers were in Young's hands at that time, so Montana was traded to Kansas City for a fresh start. The Chiefs also signed long-time Raider running back Marcus Allen that offseason, so hopes were high in Kansas City.
That brought the Bucs into the spotlight to start the season, as Kansas City's opening regular-season game was in Tampa. Montana disappointed neither Chiefs fans nor the national press, turning in a very efficient debut in a KC uniform. He showed no ill effects from his long layoff, completing 14 of 21 passes for 246 yards, three touchdowns and one interception and even left the game early in favor of another "old-timer," Dave Krieg.
Montana did take a little while to get into the groove, as Michael Husted's 35-yard field goal near the end of the first quarter were the game's first points. He answered quickly after that, however, conducting an 83-yard drive that culminated in his 19-yard TD pass to Willie Davis. Later in the second period, Montana went deep down the middle to J.J. Birden for a 50-yard score, and in the third quarter he found new teammate Allen for a 12-yard TD.
Overall, the Montana-led Chiefs offense rang up 400 yards, including 278 through the air. Kansas City did fumble three times, but the Bucs could do little with the ball (157 total yards), and the game was a walkover.
Most Recent Meeting:
That huge comeback by the Buccaneers is described in detail above. With the NFL now operating on a rotational schedule format, the Bucs and Chiefs can expect to meet every four years, alternating home parks.
As discussed at the top, the Buccaneers and Chiefs head into the 2012 season with a similar motivation, seeking to prove that their breakthrough 2010 seasons were the more accurate portrayal of the teams' talents than their disappointing 2011 campaigns. It's easy to see how both teams could expect better results on offense right away.
For the Buccaneers, that's due to the rather significant additions of wide receiver Vincent Jackson (via free agency) and running back Doug Martin (through the draft). Quarterback Josh Freeman was at the front of the Bucs' surge in 2010, throwing 25 touchdown passes against just six interceptions in his first full season as an NFL starter. His 2011 follow-up didn't go nearly as well, but the Buccaneers believe they have greatly improved the arsenal around him, which should make a big difference. In addition, the arrival of All-Pro guard Carl Nicks gives Freeman a front line of protection that is potentially among the best in the league.
The Chiefs had the NFL's 12th-best offense in 2010 and nobody was better running the ball. Last year, Kansas City slipped to 27th overall and 15th on the ground. A large part of this was the season-ending injury that electric back Jamaal Charles suffered early in the season. Charles is back to health, as is promising young tight end Tony Moeaki. Like the Buccaneers, the Chiefs believe a better supporting cast will help quarterback Matt Cassel put up numbers more like his outstanding 2010 effort (93.0 passer rating, 27-7 TD-INT ratio). With Romeo Crennel know in charge, the Chiefs are also likely to return to a strong emphasis on the running game, much like the Bucs are planning to do in 2012 under Greg Schiano.
If the Chiefs' rushing attack is 2010-strong, it will be a good early test for a Buccaneers defense that expects to be much better against the run with the additions of linebacker Lavonte David, safety Mark Barron and a back-to-full-strength Gerald McCoy. Kansas City's defense also struggled against the run last year but added spectacularly athletic defensive tackle Dontari Poe with the 11th overall pick in the draft. And while the Bucs will get McCoy back, the Chiefs will enjoy the return of safety Eric Berry, who was a Pro Bowler as a rookie in 2010 but was lost for the year very early in the season in 2011.
Key Matchup in 2012:
Dwayne Bowe vs. Aqib Talib. During that outstanding 2010 season for Cassel, in which he tossed 27 touchdown passes, an amazing 15 of them ended up in the hands of Dwayne Bowe. Bowe went to the Pro Bowl that year, deservedly so, and finished with 72 catches for 1,162 yards and those 15 scores. Last year, Bowe nearly matched his yardage total, with 1,159, but his touchdowns dropped the same way that Mike Williams' did from 2010 to 2011. Last year, Bowe caught only five touchdown passes, and of course part of the reason was that Cassel missed nine starts due to injury. The Chiefs had 10 scoring passes in Cassel's nine starts, and just three in the seven games started by Tyler Palko or Kyle Orton.
Cassel obviously looks for Bowe around the goal line, and for obvious reasons. The Chiefs' fifth-year receiver is an imposing 6-2 and 221 pound and he is excellent at using his bulk for positioning. He also has amassed a highlight reel of some amazingly athletic grabs in the end zone. The Buccaneers' best hope to shut down Bowe in the red zone will be Aqib Talib, a cornerback with good size and the same sort of athleticism and instincts as Bowe. Stopping Charles will probably be job one for the entire Tampa Bay defense, but Talib's success against Bowe will likely be crucial to the final outcome, as well.
The Buccaneers and Chiefs have met just twice in the last eight years, but both outings were high-scoring affairs with three-point margins of victory. Neither Tampa Bay nor Kansas City was particularly high-scoring in 2011, but both teams expect much better offensive results this year thanks to significant additions and players returning from injury. The Buccaneers have farther to go on defense than the Chiefs, with 2011 as the barometer (Kansas City ranked 11th, Tampa Bay 30th), but both teams used very high draft picks for defenders who should be instant starters (Mark Barron and Dontari Poe). Tampa Bay's first inter-conference game on the 2012 schedule could end up being critical in the playoff hopes of both teams, if their parallel rebound seasons go as hoped.