QB Jeff Garcia has helped the Buccaneers' offense produce at a near-record clip
Nineteen eighty four wasn't a particularly good year for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Neither was 2003.
Just two years removed from the playoffs, the '84 Bucs went 6-10 in John McKay's final year as head coach. The '03 squad, flush off its triumph in Super Bowl XXXVII, dominated Philadelphia in the season opener and then watched the wheels come off in an injury-riddled 7-9 campaign.
Forgettable seasons, really, or ones the team would like to forget. However, as the 2008 Tampa Bay team starts to hit its stride offensively, and some all-time single-season team records begin to swim into view, it's the 1984 and 2003 seasons that keep popping up as the standards.
"They get a bye week to try to find their offense," said this week's "Power Rankings" on ESPN.com. Well, the Bucs could start that search by looking at the league rankings. A franchise that has never posted a single-digit finish in the NFL's team offense chart, Tampa Bay is currently ranked ninth in the NFL with 350.3 yards per game.
Now, it would be a tad hypocritical of this site to put too much emphasis on that league ranking, given the partial dismissal of that statistic in this space in the past. The most important "stat" is wins and losses, of course (the Bucs' 6-3 mark is one win off their best nine-game start ever) and the fundamental building block of wins is points scored (the Bucs rank 15th in the league in that category and are on pace for their second-most points ever).
But the Bucs' offensive ranking and raw yardage numbers are at least instructive in relation to its own history. Tampa Bay's current offense, in terms of yards game, is better than what it had in any of its seven playoff seasons since 1997, and the Bucs' per-game scoring average (which does take into account defensive and return touchdowns) is better than all of those squads except 2000.
The yardage and point averages in 2008 are better than those of the three Buccaneer playoff teams in the late '70s/early '80s, too. None of that is surprising, as both playoff-heavy eras in team history have been driven by outstanding defenses. As it turns out, it is those forgettable '84 and '03 seasons that established many of the records that the Buccaneers are unknowingly chasing in 2008. Fueled by the do-everything James Wilder, the '84 Bucs ran the ball well, moved the chains and converted third downs at a very healthy pace. The '03 team had a deficient running game but threw the ball all over the field, piling up big numbers through the air. Both of those teams finished 10th in the NFL's offensive rankings, the highest mark ever for the franchise.
Will this year's team hold its offensive averages for 16 games (and hopefully a few more)? Could they possible get even better? We won't know for two more months. But as the Buccaneers enjoy their bye week – which is the de facto midpoint of the season, if not the actual one – it's a good time to see where the team is projected to arrive, statistically. As you'll see in the table below, the 2008 Buccaneers could eventually be featured quite prominently in the team's record book.
|**Category**||**Projection**||**Potential Rank***||**Record (Season)**|
|Points Scored||355||2nd||388 (2000)|
|Total Net Yards||5,605||1st||5,453 (2003)|
|First Downs||312||2nd||344 (1984)|
|Passing First Downs||208||2nd||209 (1984)|
|Third Down Pct.||41.7||2nd||42.9 (1984)|
|Yards Per Rush||4.21||2nd||4.22 (2000)|
|Pass Attempts||619||1st||592 (2003)|
|Net Passing Yards||3,751||2nd||3,805 (2003)|
In some of the above cases, the records being chased aren't necessarily indicative of a better offense. For instance, there's no intrinsic value in having the most pass attempts in team history if those attempts aren't producing good results, or if they are mainly the byproduct of an anemic rushing attack and a lot of second-half scoreboard deficits.
However, it's worth noting that the 2008 Buccaneers are throwing the ball more than ever before but also running with as much per-carry efficiency as any team in franchise history. The '08 Bucs may not have struck a perfect run-pass ratio in every game this season, and their running game may have slowed after a hot start due to injuries, but the numbers would suggest that this team has the making for a strong, balanced attack in the season's second half.
And, as the first two lines in the above table show, it all adds up to one of the most prolific offenses in the Buccaneers' 33 years of existence.
Tampa Bay's 2008 defense has some more lofty standards to pursue if it wants to find its way into the team record book – the 2002 and 1999 teams, in particular, put up some numbers that will be difficult to match – but that group does have a couple projections of its own worth watching.
Most fall under the category of first downs. This year's team is on pace to allow just 240 first downs, which would be its third-best mark ever, after totals of 228 in 1999 and 236 in 2002.
The Bucs are on pace to allow only 73 rushing first downs, which would be a new team record, just better than the 75 allowed in 1988, 1999 and 2005.
And Tampa Bay opponents are converting just 32.0% of their third downs this season. If maintained, that average would tie for the third-best mark in team history, just off the 1998 and 2003 totals of 31.7 and 31.8, respectively.
Finally, while it might seem a bit silly to project the Bucs' total of one rushing touchdown allowed through nine games to the end of the season – uh, two, when rounded up – the team does have a little cushion in its pursuit of that mark. The lowest rushing touchdown total the Bucs have ever allowed in a single season is six, in 2003.
As for individual records, there are few 2008 Buccaneers on pace to put their names at the top of the team's record charts. That is obviously a product of the team's broad use of its depth chart, by design and by reaction to injuries. The strong running game, for instance, has been split pretty evenly between Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn, and two different quarterbacks (Jeff Garcia and Brian Griese) have started at least four games.
Wide receiver Antonio Bryant is on pace – just barely – to become the first Tampa Bay receiver other than Joey Galloway to have a 1,000-yard receiving season; with 566 yards through nine games, he projects to 1,006. Bryant will have to turn it up a notch or two to chase any single-season records, however. Otherwise, these are the few Buccaneer individuals with a shot at single-season records this year.
- K Matt Bryant is on pace to score 139 points, which would be a new team record. The current mark belongs to Martin Gramatica, who had 128 points in 2002. * Bryant has a shot at several other kicking marks set by Gramatica in 2002. Gramatica made a team-record 32 field goals in a team-record 39 tries that year; Bryant is on pace for 36 and 41, respectively. * Obviously, that's a better rate of success for Bryant than Gramatica. In the category of single-season field goal percentage, Bryant is chasing Steve Christie's 1990 mark of 85.2. With 20 successful kicks in 23 attempts this year, Bryant is currently at 87.0%. * RB Warrick Dunn is averaging 4.8 yards per carry this year, which would be a new team record if maintained. The current mark is 4.6, set by James Wilder in 1987. And, yes, Dunn is likely to qualify for the record; it takes a minimum of 100 carries in a season to be considered for the per-carry average mark, and Dunn is at 89 with seven games to play. Wilder set the record, in fact, in a season in which he carried only 106 times. * QB Jeff Garcia is completing his passes at a 68.5% clip this year, including a 71.1% rate since returning to the field in Week Five. That would be the second-best completion percentage in team history if maintained to the end of the season; Garcia will have to keep his average moving upward in order to catch Griese's team record of 69.3%, set in 2004. * P Josh Bidwell, who already owns the team single-season record for gross punting average (as well as the second and third-best single-season marks), could add the net average record to his resume, too. He's ahead of the record pace right now, with a 38.3-yard net that would better the existing record of 37.8 (Tommy Barnhardt, 1996) by a half-yard. Bidwell could also top the record for punts inside the 20, which he currently shares with Tom Tupa, of 30. Bidwell is on pace for 32 such kicks this year.