K Matt Bryant is now the team's single-season scoring leader and he's rapidly moving up the franchise's career chart in that category
This is a time of transition for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and not merely due to seismic shift that was the recent promotions of Raheem Morris to head coach and Mark Dominik to general manager.
No matter who is in charge of your football team, January and February are used to assess the season that just passed, determine what it will take to produce the desired results the next season and then plan accordingly. For the Buccaneers, who saw an inspired 9-3 start go for naught thanks to an 0-4 December, the analysis begins with that late-season fade and is thus tinged with a feeling of disappointment.
But the evidence unearthed during those first 12 games must be considered, too. Some things definitely were going right. Even during December, there were performances that were very encouraging; see: "Bryant, Antonio" and "Williams, Cadillac," for instance.
Put it all together and you had a 2008 season that, statistically, will have a lasting impact on the Buccaneers' franchise record books. Only a handful of team and individual records were broken outright, but quite a few more were seriously threatened, and some notable milestones were achieved. In addition, several Buccaneers continued their climbs up the team's career statistical charts, and others are in prime position to do so in 2009.
So before the analysis of '08 is completely through and we've turned the page to what will hopefully be a sunnier '09, let's review the individual and team efforts that will force an update to the Bucs' historical records.
The 2008 season included the top single-season scorer in team history and, in at least one way, the Bucs' most prolific offense ever.
- 131 points scored (season), Matt Bryant: Bryant just finished the most prolific scoring season in Buccaneer history, surpassing Martin Gramatica's 2002 record (128) by a field goal. Bryant was on all season – he had four games in which he scored in double digits and he led the team or tied for the lead in scoring in 13 of the 16 outings. Bryant reached the mark by hitting on 35 of 36 extra points and 32 of 38 field goals. * 32 field goals (season), Matt Bryant: Speaking of those successful three-pointers, they were equal to the 32 Gramatica put up in 2002. Bryant did it in one fewer kick, as Gramatica was 32-of-39 for that Super Bowl-bound team. Bryant now owns two of the top four field goal-producing seasons in team history, having also hit on 28 of 33 last year. * 67 pass attempts (game), Brian Griese, at Chicago, Sept. 21: Griese's memorable outing also included 38 completions, which was just two shy of the team record in that category. In leading the Buccaneers on a stirring comeback in their 27-24 overtime win against the Bears, Griese threw six more passes than Brad Johnson did against Carolina on Sept. 14, 2003. Amazingly, Griese was not sacked even once despite all those drop-backs. * 5,456 net yards of offense (season), team: The Bucs' offense had its ups and downs in 2008 and sometimes failed to capitalize on opportunities due to struggles in the red zone. By the end of the year, however, the 2008 group had produced more yards than any other team in franchise history…barely. The previous record was 5,453, by the 2003 team helmed by Johnson. * Seven return touchdowns (season), team: With Derrick Brooks getting so familiar with the end zone in 2002, it may have seemed like that was the top season in franchise history for touchdowns scored on returns. However, that '02 squad scored "only" six return TDs, one fewer than the 2000 team did. So it was that 2000 record that the Buccaneers chased – and matched – this past fall. Helped out by the scoring spark provided by Clifton Smith in the kicking game, the Buccaneers scored seven times on returns, with Gaines Adams, Ronde Barber, Phillip Buchanon, Geno Hayes and Jermaine Phillips each getting one. Hayes was on a return of a blocked punt; Adams, Barber and Buchanon scored on interception returns; Phillips got in on the runback of a fumble. * 24.8-yard kickoff return average (season), team: Smith didn't quite get the individual record for kickoff return average (see below) but he did lead the way to a new team mark. Smith, Dexter Jackson, Brian Clark, Michael Clayton, Alex Smith, John Gilmore and Maurice Stovall (whether intentional or not) all contributed to the final average, which was more than a half-yard better than the 24.2-yard mark put up by the 2004 squad.**
A number of other team and individual records nearly fell. In each of the six cases below, the record-chaser ended up second on the franchise's all-time list.
- 44.5-yard gross punting average (season), Josh Bidwell: Obviously, it was a good year for the Bucs' kicking game. Bidwell was chasing his own record in this case – a 45.6-yard mark set in 2005 – and though he didn't quite catch it, he does now own the top four gross punting seasons in team history. * 37.6-yard net punting average (season), Josh Bidwell: Bidwell was trying to overtake a different player in this case, pursuing the 37.8-yard mark established by Tommy Barnhardt in 1996. Bidwell got close last year (37.5) and just a tiny bit closer in 2008. * 64.9% completion rate (season), Jeff Garcia: This one is actually a bit of a distant second, in that it was still well shy of Griese's team record of 69.3% set in 2004. But it did pass Garcia's own second-place rate of 63.9% in 2007. * 38 completions (game), Brian Griese, at Chicago, Sept. 21: As mentioned above, this one was just two hookups shy of the record, set at 40 by Brad Johnson on November 18, 2001. The opponent in that '01 game also happened to be the Chicago Bears. * 361 points scored (season), team: The 2008 crew scored 15 more points than did the 2002 Super Bowl team (that extra return TD helped!) but couldn't quite take down the 2000 bunch, which rang up 388. Five of the top six scoring seasons in team history have now occurred since 2000, with only the 335-point 1984 team breaking up the run. * 3,619 passing yards (season), team: Not surprisingly, given the evolution of the game, four of the top five passing seasons in Buccaneer history have occurred since 2002. This one was second only to a 3,805-yard performance by the 2003 offense led by Brad Johnson.**
None of the entries below are "records," per se, but they did break new ground in franchise history.
- 1000th touchdown in franchise history, team: The first regular-season touchdown in Buccaneers history was scored by cornerback Danny Reece on a 44-yard fumble return in the fourth game of 1976. The 1,000th TD belongs to Cadillac Williams. The first of Williams' two scores against Oakland in the season finale on Dec. 28 rolled the franchise into quadruple digits in the TD category. The Bucs stand at 1,002 heading into 2009. * Third 400-yard passing day in team history, Brian Griese: In the Week Three Chicago game we've already touched on several times, Griese turned his 38 completions into 407 yards, the third-highest total in team history. It was the first 400-yard game by a Buc passer in a decade, following Vinny Testaverde's 469-yard effort at Indianapolis on Oct. 16, 1988. Those two plus Doug Williams' 486-yard outburst at Minnesota on Nov. 16, 1980 stand as the only 400-yard games in team annals. Griese's outing is further distinguished by this: His is the only one of those 400-yard days to produce a victory. * 32 consecutive starts to open a career, Tanard Jackson: A fourth-round pick in 2007, Jackson proved to be one of the draft's better steals in recent memory when he started every game as a rookie and quickly emerged as one of the league's best young safeties. He followed that by starting every game in 2008, as well, becoming the first defensive player in Buccaneer history to open 32 straight games at the beginning of his career. * Rare Pro Bowl bids, Clifton Smith and Davin Joseph: Ronde Barber and Derrick Brooks have been to Hawaii many times, but their fellow 2008 Pro Bowl picks, Smith and Joseph, are headed to the all-star game for the first time. Moreover, Smith and Joseph are breaking new ground in Buc history. Smith is the first return specialist in team history to make the Pro Bowl and only the third undrafted rookie in NFL history to receive that honor. Joseph is only the second offensive guard to make it for the Bucs and he is the first one that was actually drafted by Tampa Bay to do so.**
What to Look For
Assuming they are on the field for the Buccaneers in 2009, Matt Bryant and Warrick Dunn will be in position to quickly climb up the team's all-time statistical charts.
- All-Time Scoring, Matt Bryant: Bryant currently ranks fourth in Buccaneer history with 416 points during his time with the team. He would need just 17 points – usually accomplished in three or fewer games – to pass Mike Alstott (432 career points) and take over third place on that list. Though it would come along later in the season, Bryant also needs a total of 87 points to pass Michael Husted (502) and rank second all-time. * All-Time Rushing Yards, Warrick Dunn: Dunn's return allowed him to resume his rise up the Bucs' charts, where he is featured prominently in several different categories. Perhaps most notably, he is the third-leading rusher in team history and wouldn't have much trouble moving into second if he is in action next fall. Not only is Dunn just 14 rushing yards away from being the third player in team history with 5,000, he is just 103 away from passing Alstott (5,088) for second place. James Wilder's top spot – 5,957 – would take quite a bit more work. * All-Time Receptions, Warrick Dunn: Dunn is in the top five in this category, too. In fact, he's third with 306, having just passed Alstott (305) before the 2008 season ended. That puts him within striking distance of second, which is currently held by Mark Carrier (321). Dunn could pass that mark with 15 grabs, but he would still be far from the overall top spot, occupied by James Wilder and his 430 receptions.**
Though they didn't break new Buc standards or prominently rework the record book, the following Buccaneers accomplished some impressive statistical feats in 2008.
- Antonio Bryant: Bryant's 83 receptions for 1,248 yards not only made him the most productive free agent receiver in the NFL in 2008, they also gave him one of the best pass-catching seasons in Buccaneer annals. Bryant's reception total ties for the fifth best in team history and his yardage total is the fourth-highest by a Buccaneer. * Jeff Garcia: Garcia's 2008 passer rating of 64.9 was, as mentioned above, the second best in team history. By adding that to his own mark of 63.9 in 2007, Garcia became the first quarterback in team history to have two seasons with passer ratings over 90.0, let alone two in a row. Johnson (2002) and Griese (2004) have one apiece. * Barrett Ruud: Ruud's 178 tackles led the team and were the eighth-highest single-season total in team history. Ruud's mark was the best by a Buc since Shelton Quarles had 196 in 2005 and only the third total over 175 for the Buccaneers this decade. * Clifton Smith: Officially, Smith will not take over the top spot for single-season kickoff return average, though one might argue he had the best season in team history in that category. To qualify for the single-season record, as kept by the Buccaneers, a player needs a minimum of 10 returns in that year, and thus Mark Jones holds the record with his average of 28.6 on exactly 10 runbacks in 2007. Actually, Micheal Spurlock, who had a 27.8-yard average on 16 returns in that same year, ranks second on the list, and Smith will now rank third. However, Smith's average was recorded on 36 returns, giving him the best mark among players with at least 30 runbacks in a season…or even 20.