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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Talking Upsets | S.S. Mailbag

This week, Bucs fans have questions about the biggest upsets in franchise history, prime-time return touchdowns, the evolution of covering the NFL and more


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night in the only battle of undefeated teams on the NFL's Week Three slate. The defending NFC champs will pose quite a challenge to the Buccaneers' efforts to produce their first 3-0 start since 2005, especially in the trenches. The Eagles' offensive line sent three players to the Pro Bowl last season, while the Philly defense produced a league-high 70 sacks, 15 more than the next team on the list.

Judging from their early results, though, the Buccaneers may be equipped to handle these particular difficulties. Through two games, Tampa Bay's offensive line has allowed only one sack of Baker Mayfield, though it's fair to say that Mayfield has helped in that regard with some impressive escapes. Meanwhile, seven different Bucs defenders have combined to produce eight sacks, which is tied for the fifth most in the NFL so far. Only the Buccaneers and the Dallas Cowboys can boast eight or more sacks on defense and only one allowed on offense.

Seeing that made me wonder how rare that sort of start is, and perhaps more importantly, if it was the beginning of a season-long trend. So I took a look.

Since the 1970 merger and before the Bucs and Cowboys did it this year, there were 22 other teams who recorded at least eight sacks on defense through two games while allowing one or fewer on offense. (Sacks were technically not an officially-recognized stat until 1982, but they were still recorded so we have teams on the list from before that season.) There actually had been a pretty big gap since the last one before the Bucs and Cowboys joined the list; prior to that, Buffalo had last done it in 2013, and prior to that it had last been accomplished by three teams in 2006.

By the way, 14 of those 22 teams started out 2-0 while the other eight were 1-1. The Bucs and Cowboys have run that total of 2-0 teams up to 16.

First of all, 15 of those 22 teams ended up with winning records and 11 finished with double-digit victory totals. None of the teams that started out 2-0 finished with a losing record.

(A little note on methodology here: One of the teams played in 1987, when a strike reduced the number of games played by each team to 15. Four of the teams were before the NFL expanded from 14 games per season to 16 in 1978. For all the sack totals below I prorated those seasons to what they would have had in 16 games.)

The sacks generated by the teams' defenses proved to be a bit more predictive than the sack totals allowed on offense. The final defensive sack totals for those 22 teams came out to an average of 45.9, with the 1987 Bears at the top of the list with 70 and the 1988 Patriots at the bottom with 29. Seventeen of the 22 teams finished in the top 10 in team sack rankings, including 11 in the top five. The average spot in the rankings for the 22 teams was 7.3.

As for the offenses preventing sacks, the final totals came out to an average of 29.4 allowed per team, with the 1989 Dolphins at the top of the list with 10 (we call that the Dan Marino factor) and the 2013 Bills at the bottom with 48. Fifteen of the teams finished in the top 10 in the rankings for sacks allowed, including six in the top five. The average spot in the rankings for the 22 teams was 9.3.

That seems like mostly encouraging data. Exactly half of the 22 teams that started out with eight or more sacks on defense and one or fewer allowed on offense continued to excel on both sides of the ball, finishing in the top 10 in the rankings in both categories.

A two-game sample, obviously, is not enough to hang any rock-solid convictions on, but history suggests the Bucs (and the Cowboys) have a good chance to continue excelling in the traditions for the rest of the season.

Now on to your questions.

A reminder that you can send questions to me any time you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. We are also now soliciting questions each week on our Instagram page; look for that story on Wednesdays. As always, if you want to get a longer question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to

What do you consider to be the biggest upset in Bucs history? Would beating the Eagles be it?

- @kahaian (via Instagram)

This is a great question, possibly driven by the Bucs being 6.5-point underdogs this Monday night (at least at the beginning of the week) despite being 2-0 and playing at home. And I don't want to brag, but the very first game that came to my mind is indeed the winner, based on point spreads.

In 2009, the first season with Raheem Morris as head coach, the Buccaneers came out of the gate with seven straight losses before beating a Green Bay team that would finish 11-5 in Josh Freeman's very first NFL start. That is not the game I'm talking about though. The Bucs won only once more in their next six games, so they were a cool 2-12 when they rolled into New Orleans to take on 13-1 Saints team in the second-to-last weekend of the regular season. You may remember that Saints team as the won that went on to win Super Bowl XLIV over Peyton Manning's Colts.

The Buccaneers were 14-point underdogs going into the game. (There are different sources for this information that vary slightly but for this exercise I'm using the data on Pro Football Reference.) There was an 11-win differential between the two teams. Tampa Bay's defense played pretty well but it was still 17-3 in favor of the home team heading into the fourth quarter. A 23-yard touchdown run by Cadillac Williams made it a one-score game, however, and then came the miracle: a thrilling 77-yard punt return for a touchdown by Micheal Spurlock. That sent the game into overtime after the Saints missed a 37-yard field goal attempt with five seconds left in the fourth quarter. The Bucs won the toss and Williams ran the ball 10 times on an 11-play, 48-yard drive to set up a 47-yard field goal attempt. The only other play on that drive was a Freeman scramble for eight yards on a third-and-five. Connor Barth nailed the field goal and the Bucs left the Superdome winners for just the third time that season.

Now I know what you're thinking: The Saints probably had the top playoff seed clinched and were resting all of their starters, right. Nope! The starters started. Drew Brees played the entire game. This was a legitimate and stunning upset.

According to PFR's data, that is the largest point spread the Buccaneers have ever overcome to win a game. It is one of nine times they have won after coming into the game as double-digit underdogs. The most recent of those nine was the very memorable 48-40 shootout, also in the Superdome, to open the 2018 season. The Bucs were 10-point dogs in that one, too. New Orleans keeps showing up on this list, as four of the nine games were not only against the Saints but in Louisiana. That included a 26-19 Bucs win in New Orleans in Week Two of the 2015 season and one of the most significant games in franchise history. In 1977, just the second year of the Bucs' existence, the Buccaneers took an 0-26 all-time record into New Orleans and used three pick-sixes to come away with a 33-14 victory, the first one in team annals.

View pictures from the exclusive premiere of Prototype: The Legacy of Rondé Barber at the Tampa Theater.

Why did Shaq Barrett change his number?

- @ashleyrobillard (via Instagram)

For those who may not know, outside linebacker Shaq Barrett changed his jersey number from 58 to 7 this season. When he first arrived in Tampa in 2019, linebackers could not wear single digit numbers, but the NFL significantly relaxed their jersey number regulations in 2021 and now Barrett has chosen to make the switch to a more preferred number, as have many players around the league.

So why the change? He explained to me today (and has explained to others before) that it was for biblical reasons, referring to it as the Bible's "complete number" and a "holy number." This is not my area of expertise so I did a quick Google search and found this:

"The number 7 is the foundation of God's word. It derives much of its meaning from being tied directly to creation and symbolizes completeness and perfection." The number seven is found in its singular form 463 times in the King James bible.

When was the last time the buccaneers returned a punt for a TD on a prime time game?

- @408rollis (via Instagram)

How about we agree to punt this question to next week and then we all cross our fingers on Monday night? Actually, never mind, that sounds like a good way to jinx it.

Because the answer to your question, dude, is never. The Buccaneers have a total of 11 punt return touchdowns in their history, including the one by Spurlock described above. Karl Williams is responsible for five of those 11, which is an underrated and cool stat in team history. Exactly zero of those have happened in prime time.

I guess the one that came closest was a 59-yard score by Joey Galloway against the Saints – they're coming up an awful lot today – at Raymond James Stadium on December 19, 2004. That game started at 4:05 p.m. ET and ended at 7:09, and Galloway's touchdown came six minutes into the third quarter, so that was probably what, about 5:45 in the early evening? Yeah, that really doesn't count.

The other 10 punt return touchdowns in Bucs history all happened during 1:00 p.m. games. Maybe I'll be able to say something different next week.

How was the Rondé movie?

- @arabianblake45 (via Instagram)

It was phenomenal. For anyone who isn't aware, the Buccaneers held a special debut screening of a documentary called "Prototype: The Legacy of Rondé Barber" at the venerable Tampa Theater on Wednesday night. One of the things that made the night special, I felt, was a crowd that was very energetic and happy all night. They were really pouring out the love for Rondé, and for any other Bucs legend who popped up in the movie or were present at the theater.

If you weren't fortunate enough to be in that crowd, you can still watch the movie. The Buccaneers posted on their YouTube channel and on on Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. ET. I highly recommend it.

The portion of the movie about the 2002 NFC Championship Game in Philly and, of course, "The Pick-Six" were obviously a lot of fun, particularly how it is framed through the change in how the TV broadcast was talking about Barber from the beginning of the game to the end of it. I won't go into details because I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it yet. Just now that it was expertly shot, it looks gorgeous and there are a lot of voices in it from throughout Barber's life, before, during and after his playing career.

Why are there no captains?

- @ilianna413 (via Instagram)

The Buccaneers have not yet named their team captains for 2023, and I'll admit that is a bit unusual. Head Coach Todd Bowles said he wanted to give it a few games to see how this team with a lot of new players is jelling and who are emerging as leaders. The players will eventually vote on their captains, though, so hang tight.

In the meantime, Bowles has been selecting five or six game-day captains to go out on the field for the coin flip each week. It's been a lot of the players you would expect: Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, Lavonte David and Devin White, Tristan Wirfs and Vita Vea.

Biggest difference about the NFL now compared to when you first started covering the team?

- @Bigdaon2012 (via Instagram)

I would say the rise of social media. I can remember leaving press conferences and racing up to my office to try to get quotes transcribed and getting any significant breaking news out as quickly as possible. For instance, if the coach revealed in a Monday press conference that a player was going on injured reserve, that was news you wanted to get out right away.

Now anytime something important is mentioned in a press conference, every reporter in the room immediately sends out via Twitter or other social media platforms. I'm not complaining; I actually like it this way. You can get the news out right away, and then flesh out the story later when you get back to your desk.

Social media has also allowed the players various avenues to connect with fans and get their own perspective out into the world without having to go through traditional media. I think we can all agree that not everything about social media is great, but it has certainly changed the way the NFL connects with the public in a gigantic way.

How fast can you (Scott Smith) run the 40?

- @bromaxdskywell (via Instagram)

I saved this one for the bottom hoping that most readers will have checked out before getting to this one, because I don't want to embarrass myself.

You put the question in present tense and I don't have a good answer for you there. There is no chance I would let myself be timed in a 40-yard dash at my current age and physical condition because I don't want to know the number. However, I do have something of an answer for you from about 25-27 years ago. At some point in my mid-20s, former Buccaneers personnel pro John Idzik (his titles varied from pro personnel assistant to director of football administration to director of football administration), agreed to time me in a 40-yard dash on the practice field behind old One Buc Place. Who knows why he subjected himself to this when he was used to evaluating actual athletes, but he did. For laughs, maybe?

Anyway, it was nothing to write home about. I thought I was kind of sneaky fast back then, but I was clocked at a 4.90. That means there were probably some offensive linemen I couldn't outrun. Oh well, I bet most of them can't type 90 words a minute.

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