A behind-the-scenes look at the Buccaneers' game against the Saints.
For most NFL teams, in most in-season weeks, Tuesday is the player's day off. It's a chance to rest, regroup and – win or lose the previous weekend – turn the page to the next opponent.
It's also a perfect time for us to discuss the hottest topics surrounding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And for that reason, the One Buc Mailbag is back! Every Tuesday, I'll be fielding a handful of questions from the fans, but you can send them in all throughout the week. The easiest way is to hit me up on Twitter (@ScottSBucs, using #BucsMailbag), but if 140 characters aren't quite enough to get your point across, you can also send an email to email@example.com.
This week, we get a little more into the details of the race for the NFC South title, look at the Bucs' history on a certain date, and more. Let's get to it.
1. The Race for the South
This is the appropriate place to start, because there is no topic Buccaneer fans are more interested in right now than the playoff race. And that's a good place for this franchise to be after too many unhappy Decembers.
I wrote about the state of the NFC South (and entire conference) playoff picture on Monday. As you can see, this particular tweet was sent before Sunday's game against the Saints, which the Buccaneers won, 16-11. That was one of the game's to which Sam refers and you can now put it in the win column. To update his scenario, two of the Bucs' last three games are against teams with losing records.
The problem here is that the team the Buccaneers are battling with for the division title, the Atlanta Falcons, have it even easier down the stretch, at least on paper. While the Buccaneers were fighting Drew Brees and a very game Saints squad on Sunday, the Falcons were putting the finishing touches on Jeff Fisher's era with the Rams, winning 42-14 in Los Angeles. Atlanta's remaining three games are against teams with a combined .282 winning percentage, as opposed to the Bucs' who face three teams with a combined .538 winning percentage.
The difference basically comes down to the San Francisco 49ers versus the Dallas Cowboys. The Bucs and Falcons both finish their seasons with games against New Orleans and Carolina, though Tampa Bay gets the latter at home and the former on the road while it's the opposite for Atlanta. This coming Sunday, the Falcons play the 1-12 49ers at home while the Buccaneers draw the 11-2 Cowboys on the road.
Now, don't take that as sour grapes. The Buccaneers got their chance to play the 49ers earlier in the season, and they beat them handily in Week Seven. Tampa Bay also faced the Rams in Week Three, and lost a close one. It's just a fact; Tampa Bay clearly faces a tougher task in Week 15 than do their rivals, the Falcons.
If Atlanta does win that game against San Francisco, they will clinch an advantage in the "common games" tiebreaker with the Buccaneers. Go back to that Monday article if you want a more detailed description of what I mean by that. What it comes down to is that the Falcons would control their own destiny, winning the South on that tiebreaker even if both teams win out over the last three weeks.
Perhaps you think I'm saying all of that to answer your question in the negative, Sam, but that's not the case. Yes, I do think the Buccaneers have a good chance to win the NFC South. It won't be easy, and they're going to need a little help. Football Outsiders' playoff odds chart has the Bucs' chances of winning the division at 27.6%, compared to 72.1% for the Falcons, and that's almost surely due to Atlanta's easier schedule.
However, let's not forget how competitive the NFC South is. Last year the Panthers were trying to finish out a perfect 16-0 season when they went to Atlanta in Week 16 to face a Falcons team that had lost six of its previous seven. Sure enough, Atlanta spoiled that undefeated season by beating Carolina 20-13. Are you telling me you'd be surprised if Atlanta went to Charlotte in Week 16 and lost? I wouldn't. The Panthers looked like the team many expected them to be this past Sunday in thrashing San Diego, and they may soon get Luke Kuechly back in the lineup.
If the Falcons do lose either of their last two games against the Panthers and Saints, that would open up a door for the Buccaneers to sneak through to the division title, even if they lose this Sunday in Dallas. If the Bucs finish 10-6 with their one loss being against the Cowboys, while the Falcons finish 10-6 with their one loss being against either the Panthers or Saints, that "common games" edge that Atlanta holds would be rendered moot. In that scenario, the Buccaneers would win a higher-level tiebreaker – best record in division games - as they would be 5-1 against NFC South teams while the Falcons would be 4-2.
Sometimes at this point in a playoff race you concoct scenarios that, while pleasing, are pretty far-fetched. In contrast, I don't find the above scenario far-fetched at all. And even if Football Outsiders has the odds about right, I still think a 27% chance is a good chance.
2. December 11th Buccaneer History
This past Sunday December 11th was my birthday, and I am so proud the Bucs granted my birthday wish! My question is, what is the history of wins and losses for the Buccaneers for Dec. 11th?
- "Schmitty," (via email to firstname.lastname@example.org)
He has to know, right?
I feel like this is a set-up, but just in case it's not I have to take this one because it would be just too perfect. What else in Buccaneers' history happened on December 11th, you ask? Oh, only one of the most important and memorable victories ever for the franchise. In fact, if this happened to be your 39th birthday, Schmitty, then you were born on the day the Buccaneers first tasted victory.
That's why I'm calling "set-up" here. Either Schmitty is old enough to know this or someone in his family who is a big Bucs fan has let him know the significance of his birthday. Because it was on December 11, 1977 that Tampa Bay won, 33-14, at New Orleans to break its infamous, franchise-opening 26-game losing streak. (By the way, people often forget to give me a name in these emailed questions, so I'm going with Schmitty based on a clue from the email address.)
The Buccaneers and Seahawks came into the league as the 27th and 28th franchises, respectively, in 1976. That was the last bit of NFL expansion before true free agency began in 1993, and it was not an easy time to get a team off the ground from scratch. A veteran allocation draft brought mostly fringe and near-the-end players to the Bucs and Saints, and the college drafts mixed in a large number of young and inexperienced talent. In retrospect, the Buccaneers' rise to the NFC Championship Game in 1979, in just their fourth season of play, is one of the most remarkable accomplishments in franchise history.
But in December of 1977, the Buccaneers were still looking for their first victory. They got it against Hank Stram's Saints thanks to three pick-sixes, as Mike Washington, Richard Wood and Greg Johnson each took an interception to the house. Well, Washington and Wood took it to the house, from 45 and 10 yards out respectively. Johnson was already in the house, so to speak, as he was standing in the end zone when he caught a pass deflected by Glenn Robinson off Archie Manning.
Johnson is a bit of a strange footnote in Bucs history, being involved in that trio of pick-sixes. Washington and Wood were cornerstones of the first great Tampa Bay defense, but Johnson played in a total of five games as a Buccaneer, and only seven in the NFL as a whole, all in 1977.
Those three interception returns for touchdowns remain a single-game Buccaneers record. Actually, another Tampa Bay team did match that feat, but it was in the postseason, a little game sometimes referred to as Super Bowl XXXVII. Dwight Smith went to the house twice in that one and Derrick Brooks once, providing a neat bit of symmetry between that first franchise win and the moment it finally reached the NFL's highest peak.
The next time the Buccaneers played on December 11th was 11 years later and it did not end as well, though there is an interesting footnote to this one, as well. On Dec. 11, 1988, Ray Perkins's Buccaneers lost at New England, 10-7, in overtime. This one is noteworthy because Perkins made the against-the-grain decision of choosing direction after winning the overtime coin toss.
Now, I have heard this choice defended by former Buccaneer staffers who were in attendance, as heavy winds in one direction was one reason why the two teams had combined for 429 yards in regulation. And, indeed, Perkins stood by his decision after the game; according to the great Buccaneer history website Bucpower.com, he said, "Given the same circumstances, I would make the same decision 100 times out of 100."
Pictures of the Bucs Cheerleaders from Week 14 at Raymond James Stadium.
Of course, the press disagreed after the Patriots took the opening possession 56 yards to set up Jason Staurovsky's 27-yard game-winning field goal. That was only the second drive of the day on which the Patriots moved more than 35 yards. Perhaps it was a good gamble by Perkins, but it didn't pay off.
But wait, there's more December 11th Buc history! In 1994, Sam Wyche's Buccaneers limped into the final five weeks of the season with a 2-9 record before suddenly going on a four-game winning streak. It helped that the Buccaneers got to play the downtrodden Washington Redskins twice in that span (they would finish the season 3-13). In between those two games, the Bucs got Chuck Knox's Los Angeles Rams, who would finish the season 4-12. That was on December 11, and the Bucs won 24-14. There's nothing particularly remarkable, in terms of Bucs history, about that game, but it was a nice afternoon for wide receiver Charles Wilson. Wilson rang up 176 receiving yards, which is still the fifth-highest single-game total in team history. And he did it on just four catches, thanks to TD breakaways of 71 and 44 yards. Wilson averaged 44.0 yards per reception, the 14th highest single-game mark in NFL annals among players with at least four catches in a game.
Did you think we were done? Nope! December 11th was also the date of another very memorable Buccaneers game during a playoff stretch drive, which is hopefully how we'll remember this year's version when it's all said and done. In 2005, the Bucs raced out to a 4-0 start behind the amazing production of rookie Cadillac Williams and were 7-4 after 11 games. At that point, the schedule took a nasty turn, as Tampa Bay had to play three road games in a span of 14 days, at New Orleans, Carolina and New England. The Panthers and Patriots were both playoff contenders that year, and both made the playoffs.
The Buccaneers, however, won the NFC South, mostly because they took their December 11 game in Charlotte, 20-10. That put Tampa Bay into a tie with the Panthers for first place in the division, and they eventually won it on a tiebreaker after finishing 11-5. Cadillac had another big day, with 112 yards and two touchdowns, and Ronde Barber was the star on defense. Barber had a sack and an interception, in the process becoming the first cornerback in NFL history to rack up at least 20 sacks and at least 20 picks in his career.
Prior to last Sunday's game, the most recent December 11 game was in 2011. That would the 2011 season in which the Bucs started 4-2 under Raheem Morris and then lost their last 10 games, so the less said about this one, the better. The game was in Jacksonville and the Buccaneers scored two touchdowns in the game's first 16 minutes to rush out to a 14-0 lead…only to allow 41 unanswered points from there on out.
So, there you go. If you add in Sunday's win, the Buccaneers are 4-2 all time on your birthday, Schmitty, and that includes the first victory in franchise history, a weird bit of overtime trivia, one amazing receiver performance and a critical late-season victory in a tight NFC South title race. Happy birthday to you!
3. Hashing Out the Field Goal Game
I don't know if those kind of stats are kept anywhere; I certainly can't find them. However, I do have access to all our video footage from this year, and the team's video department can call up a "cut-up" of all his field goals in a matter of seconds. And since we're only 25 field goals into Roberto Aguayo's career, it doesn't take long to go through them.
I should emphasize that point, too. We're 25 attempts in. I'll answer your question, but I personally do not think we can draw any conclusions from the numbers we have so far.
Any time the play right before a field goal attempt ends outside the hash marks, the kick will be spotted on the closest of those hash marks. So if you throw a seven-yard pass to the right sideline on third-and-10, then the ensuing field goal will be kicked from the right hash. If you are in between those two hash marks, you can try to set your kicker up with his preference by running a play that moves in the direction of the preferred hash. If you get close enough, that's where it will be spotted. Occasionally a field goal is kicked from between the two hashes because that's where the previous play ended.
So therefore we have three categories to put Aguayo's kicks into: left hash, middle and right hash. So far, he has attempted nine field goals from the left hash, four from the middle and 12 from the right hash. Here's how he's fared:
Left hash: 7 of 9
Middle: 4 of 4
Right hash: 7 of 12
Since it fits your suspicions, I'm guessing you'll take this as good evidence, Thom. That's fine, but I'm not sure. I'd like to see a bigger sample size. Plus, not all attempts are created equal. All three of Aguayo's longest attempts this year have come from the right hash, all misses. From 43 yards and in, he's 7-2 from the right hash and 6-2 from the left.
I'd also like to note that in Carolina in Week Five, when he made the first game-winner of his career, Aguayo was kicking from the right hash after the Bucs purposely ran Jameis Winston in that direction on first down with 17 seconds left. They even lost three yards in order to accomplish this purpose, but it worked as Aguayo blasted a 38-yarder right down the middle. I don't know if that means he always wants it in that spot – and for strategic reasons, I know the coaches wouldn't say so I didn't ask – but he apparently did in that situation.