WR Joey Galloway needs just one touchdown catch Sunday to tie the team's single-season record in that category
The only important goal for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this weekend can be expressed with one letter: W.
A win, that is, which would produce an NFC South division title, a playoff berth and a first-round home game. The Bucs are eying the postseason for the first time since their Super Bowl title in 2002 and are thrilled to have matters in their own hands.
Still, there are some numbers worth pursuing on Sunday, as well, at least within the framework of the primary task. Several Buccaneer players are on the cusp of tying or setting franchise records, as is the team as a whole. Here's a quick look at the players to keep an eye on Sunday as they chase down longstanding team standards, and the team records that may be in jeopardy of a rewrite.
WR Joey Galloway
Galloway's career renaissance at the age of 34 has produced one of the finest seasons by a receiver in Buccaneer franchise history. Through 15 games he has 79 receptions for 1,249 yards and eight touchdowns. Here's where those totals stand among (or just outside of) the top five single-season marks in team annals:
Receptions... 1. 106, Keyshawn Johnson, 2001 2. 86, Mark Carrier, 1989 3. 85, James Wilder, 1984 4. 84, Keenan McCardell, 2003 5. 80, Michael Clayton, 2004 Receiving Yards… 1. 1422, Mark Carrier, 1989 2. 1266, Keyshawn Johnson, 2001 3. 1249, Joey Galloway, 2005 4. 1193, Michael Clayton, 2004 5. 1176, Kevin House, 1981 Touchdown Receptions… 1. 9, Mark Carrier, 1989 2. 9, Bruce Hill, 1988 3. 9, Kevin House, 1981 4. 8, Joey Galloway, 2005 5. 8, three others Given those lists, it's clear that Galloway can't catch Johnson for the receptions record and would need a huge day to reel in Carrier at the top of the receiving yards chart. However, he has a very good shot at finishing no worse than second in all three categories, needing just eight receptions and 18 yards to do so.
Carrier's mark isn't out of reach. Galloway, who had 166 receiving yards in a win over Detroit and 149 in a loss at San Francisco, would need a career-best 174 yards against the Saints to pass Carrier. Nor is a two-touchdown day a complete fantasy; Galloway has two of those as a Buccaneer already.
DE Simeon Rice
No, the Bucs' pass-rusher extraordinaire is not a serious threat to break the Bucs' single-season sack record. Sitting at 12 sacks through 15 games, Rice would need five more against the Saints to get to 17 and surpass Warren Sapp's 16.5 sacks of 2000. Rice has had some extremely prolific days against the Saints (his 14 sacks against New Orleans are his most against any one team), but his career single-game best is four sacks.
What Rice could feasibly reach is the Bucs' single-season forced fumble record, which has stood for 26 years. Wally Chambers set the mark at seven in 1979 and it was tied by Broderick Thomas in 1991 but it has never been surpassed. Rice has six heading into the season finale. Rice needs one more to tie, two to break, and he already has a two-FF game under his belt this season, against Washington.
P Josh Bidwell
The first Pro Bowl punter in franchise history heads into the final weekend with one team record in his grasp and another one somewhat within reach. Bidwell could conceivably lose the record he has or catch the one he doesn't, but as you'll see below neither of those outcomes is likely.
Bidwell would have to have just about the worst punting game in NFL history to lose control of the gross punting average record. The current Buccaneer mark, not long for this world, is 43.3 by Tom Tupa in 2003. Through 15 games, Bidwell is second in the NFL with an average of 45.5 yards per punt, which has held up for 84 kicks. If Bidwell were to punt five times against the Saints, he would have to average less than five yards per kick to drop from 45.5 to 43.2.
The net punting average is still in his sights, too. The current record of 37.8, set by Tommy Barnhardt in 1996, would be safe if the season ended today, but Bidwell has one more crack at it. Using the same five-punt parameter, Bidwell, who is currently at 37.3, would need to post a net average of 46.6 on Sunday to catch Barnhardt. That would be a new career high for Bidwell.
The Bucs' clutch placekicker isn't likely to break or tie the team record for field goal percentage, but probably just due to a lack of opportunity.
Bryant has missed only four field goals this season, the same number that Steve Christie missed when he set the team's percentage record in 1990. However, Bryant is 19-of-23 while Christie was 23-of-27, and those four added kicks improve the percentage from 82.6 to 85.2.
In other words, Bryant needs to kick four field goals without missing on Sunday to equal Christie's record (there has been only one five-field goal game in Buccaneer history, Martin Gramatica's against the Bears in 2002, so breaking the record is even more unlikely). Bryant has had just one game this season in which he's received four field goal opportunities, against the Jets in Week Five. And he made them all.
Bryant could also tie an unbreakable record in the Bucs' ledger: Single-season extra point percentage. The record, obviously, is 100%, and it has been accomplished 11 times, though not since 2002. Bryant has made all 29 of his tries so far.
Though it has been a very good season for the Buccaneers, and a record-breaking one for a few individuals on both sides of the ball, there are only a few team standards that are likely to fall by the end of Sunday's game.
One, of course, is the single-season gross punting average. Since most seasons feature just one punter, all of the individual notes for Bidwell above also apply to the team's punting records.
The Bucs are in position, however, to break the team record for fewest fumbles in a season, and that has certainly played no small part in Tampa Bay's success. The fewest times the Bucs have ever put the ball on the ground was in 2000, when they fumbled 16 times, or exactly once per game. Good ball security on Sunday is the key; the 2005 Bucs have fumbled just 14 times through the first 15 games.
Tampa Bay's run defense has improved dramatically in 2005, as evidenced by the rise in the team's rankings from 19th in the league in 2004 to sixth this year. Another indication of the Bucs' success against the run is the 3.48 yards per run their opponents have been able to manage, one of the best defensive marks in franchise history.
The 1988 Buccaneer defense allowed just 3.24 yards per carry, establishing the team record. This year's defense, if the season ended today, would be fourth on the list, after a '78 squad that gave up 3.44 yards per carry and a '79 team that allowed 3.47.
Obviously, one good game would nudge the 2005 Bucs past those teams from the '70s, which played in a different era in which the running game was more prolific on a game-to-game basis but less effective on a carry-to-carry basis. But can these Bucs catch the 3.24 team of 1998?
In a word, no. Even if the Bucs allowed zero yards on 20 carries to the Saints – something says they would give up well before that 20th carry – that would drop the team's defensive per-rush average to just 3.32. In other words, shoot for second place.
If we've stretched the bounds of credulity with some of these record chases, please forgive us our optimism. The bottom line is that this has been a marvelous season for the Buccaneers – hopefully with the best chapters still to be written – and a record-breaking one for just a few individuals. Enjoy the season finale for its playoff implications, but keep note if you wish that Galloway, Rice, Bidwell and maybe Bryant have a chance to punctuate their great seasons with new team records.
If Not the Best, Still Great
There are a few other Buccaneers who are not in position to break team records but could finish up seasons that are among the team's best. Here are a few brief notes in that category.
- QB Chris Simms currently has an interception percentage of 2.43%, having been picked off just seven times in 288 attempts. If that seems good...well, it is. In fact, it would be the third-best single-season interception percentage in team history, and the best by anybody not named Brad Johnson. Johnson set the team record in 2002 with a mark of 1.33% (6-451), a year after he had first rewritten the books with a 1.97% finish (11-559). * LB Shelton Quarles is about to break LB Derrick Brooks' seven-year stranglehold on the Bucs' season tackle lead. Quarles heads into the final game with 175 tackles, leading Brooks by 18 stops. Quarles needs just six stops on Sunday to finish in the top five on the Bucs' single-season tackle list. He could conceivably move as high as third, passing Brooks' seasons of 189 (1998), 182 (1997) and 180 (1999). * Oh, what could have been for WR/PR Mark Jones. He has had two long returns erased by penalties in the last two weeks and had one monster runback sliced by 60 yards when a diving punter just clipped his heel. Still, Jones has 468 punt return yards this season, which is quietly the second-best total in franchise history. Jones would have to have an enormous day to catch Karl Williams' team-record of 597 punt return yards in 1997, but maybe luck will finally shine on him on Sunday. **
Finally, there a couple Buccaneers who could use the final 60 minutes of football Sunday to move up a few spots on the franchise's all-time statistical lists. Let's take a look.
- FB Mike Alstott, he of the 68 career touchdowns, could move up another big spot on the Bucs' all-time list if he can launch himself into the end zone one more time on Sunday. Alstott has 414 career points, which is far and away the best among non-kickers in team history. It also puts him in the top level among the kickers, and one more touchdown would put him into third place overall. At the moment, the top two spots are unassailable, as Martin Gramatica has 591 points and Michael Husted has 502. But third-place kicker Donald Igwebuike is within Alstott's reach at 416 points. * Alstott is also in second place on the team's all-time rushing chart and fifth place on the career receptions chart. While he's still far behind James Wilder in rushing yards, he could move up another spot on the catch list with four grabs Sunday against New Orleans. Alstott has 283 receptions and Kevin House occupies fourth place with 286. * RB Michael Pittman currently is moving up the same list. He ranks 10th in team history in receptions with 208 catches, leaving him just one behind Ron Hall (209) for ninth place.