DE Steve White forced two crucial turnovers in last year's thrilling playoff run
For a few days in November, it appeared the 2000 Tampa Bay Buccaneers might be on the outside looking in come playoffs time. That thought seemed hard to fathom.
How thankfully distant the Buccaneers' futile past is beginning to seem.
Yes, this is the franchise that made the playoffs only three times from its inaugural year in 1976 through Head Coach Tony Dungy's first season in 1996. This same franchise, however, has now qualified for three playoff berths in the last four seasons.
Only one other team in the NFC – Minnesota – can make that latter claim (the Vikings have made it each of the four seasons). In the AFC, only three teams can say the same. Jacksonville and Denver have made three trips each, and Miami has made three with the chance to earn a fourth berth this weekend.
And so the Buccaneers' playoff history grows by leaps and bounds each season. Last year, for instance, featured the two closest postseason games in team history. None of the Bucs' first six playoff games was decided by less than a touchdown, but Tampa Bay's 1999 postseason slate included a 14-13 win over Washington and an 11-6 loss at St. Louis.
What bits of playoff lore will the Bucs fashion this winter. Will there be any single plays as thrilling or controversial as John Lynch's game-turning interception against Washington or Bert Emanuel's catch/no catch in St. Louis?
We'll see. In the meantime, let's take a comprehensive look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' playoff history.
Tampa Bay's Playoff Seasons
Here's a look at the six seasons that have ended in playoff berths for the Buccaneers:
|Year||Record||Went into Playoffs As…||Playoff Results|
|* * *|
|1979||10-6||NFC Central Champs||Won Divisional Playoff Game, Lost NFC Championship Game|
|* * *|
|1981||9-7||Wild Card||Lost Wild Card Game|
|* * *|
|1982||5-4||NFC Qualifier *||Lost First Game|
|* * *|
|1999||11-5||NFC Central Champs||Won Divisional Playoff Game, Lost NFC Championship Game|
|* * *|
- In the strike-shortened 1982 season, the normal playoff format was scraped in favor of a 'Super Bowl Tournament,' with eight teams in the field in each conference.
Did You Know?
When Buccaneer CB Donnie Abraham, then in his second NFL season, picked off Green Bay QB Brett Favre twice in the Divisional Playoffs on January 4, 1998, he instantly became the team's all-time postseason interceptions leader.
Abraham is the only player in Buccaneer playoff history to have two interceptions in his postseason career, let alone in one playoff game. That's fitting, as Abraham also needs just five more interceptions during the regular season to become the team's all-time leader. If you combine the two categories, Abraham's 27 career interceptions are just one behind Mike Washington and two behind Cedric Brown on the Bucs' all-time list.
1979: Worst to First
After a disastrous 0-26 franchise start in 1976-77 and an injury-plagued third season in 1978, the Bucs weren't on any pundit's radar screen entering 1979. The distant San Jose Mercury News was the only publication to predict any kind of '79 success for Tampa Bay, picking them second in the NFC Central.
Out of the spotlight, the Bucs then jumped out to a 5-0 start, earning future Hall-of-Famer DE Lee Roy Selmon a spot on the cover of Sports Illustrated. They went from there to 9-3 and had a chance to become the first team in the NFL to clinch a playoff spot in week 13, before losing a 23-22 heartbreaker to Minnesota. Two more losses followed and the Bucs found themselves at 9-6, without so much as the division title or a playoff berth sewn up.
Then came one of the most memorable games in franchise history, a season-finale against Kansas City, played at home in a biblical thundershower. As rivers of water poured down over the concrete steps of old Tampa Stadium, the Bucs outlasted the Chiefs, 3-0, winning on Neil O'Donoghue's 22-yard field goal.
And suddenly you had the NFC Central Champion Buccaneers, division winners in just their fourth season. 'Worst to First', now a fairly common phrase, was tacked onto the team like a slogan, but there still was little expected from them in the postseason.
That's how the visiting Philadelphia Eagles were favored over the home Buccaneers in the divisional playoff game on December 29, 1979. Philly, having finished 11-5 and losing the NFC East to Dallas in a tiebreaker, did indeed come to town with a potent offensive trio of QB Ron Jaworski, RB Wilbert Montgomery and WR Harold Carmichael.
But it was the ground-oriented Buccaneers' offense that carried the day, as RB Ricky Bell carried the ball a team playoff-record 38 times for 142 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Bucs' number-one ranked defense limited the Eagles to 227 total yards, including just 48 on the ground.
The Bucs served notice right away that they were planning to control the game tempo and the game clock, grinding 80 yards in over nine minutes for an opening-possession touchdown. Bell took it around right end for a four-yard touchdown to cap the impressive march.
Tampa Bay also scored the next 10 point of the game – on an O'Donoghue field goal and a one-yard run by Bell- then held on for an eventual 24-17 victory. After Philly had closed the gap to 17-7, QB Doug Williams hit TE Jimmie Giles on a nine-yard touchdown pass that proved to be the winning points. Jaworski did find Carmichael for a 37-yard scoring pass, but two Eagles possessions in the last five minutes were stymied by the Buccaneer defense.
Afterward, wry Buccaneers Head Coach John McKay admitted that some of the nation's attention might be on the upstart Tampa Bay team at this point.
"I suppose we are a popular team right now with the people around the country," said McKay. "It is just natural for everyone to love an underdog."
Everyone but the Rams, as it turned out. In a scene that would seem eerily familiar 20 years later, the then-Los Angeles Rams killed the Buccaneers' Super Bowl hopes in a very low-scoring NFC Championship Game.
This time, on January 6, 1980, the Rams' defense turned the table on the Buccaneers, holding Tampa Bay's running game somewhat in check and limiting the home team to just 177 total yards. Meanwhile, Los Angeles ran all over the Tampa Stadium turf, racking up 216 rushing yards behind the work of running backs Cullen Bryant (106 yards), Wendell Tyler (86) and Lawrence McCutcheon (26).
Still, the Bucs' defense mostly bent without breaking, holding L.A. to three Frank Corral field goals, all from very close range. The Bucs appeared to have one final gasp in the second half when, trailing 6-0, linebacker Richard Wood stopped Tyler on fourth-and-one to give Tampa Bay possession at its own 28. However, the Bucs failed to advance and the Rams added one final field goal to seal the deal.
Did You Know?
Of the six NFC teams to qualify for the playoffs, the Buccaneers have the second-best home record in 2000.
Tampa Bay went 6-2 in Raymond James Stadium this season, winning its last five home games in a row. Only Minnesota, which lost its last home game to Green Bay, had a better home mark than the Bucs at 7-1.
Last year, all five NFC playoff games were won by the home team, including the Bucs' 14-13 thriller over Washington.
1981: Back on Top
Tampa Bay followed its amazing rise to the NFC Central penthouse in 1979 by plummeting back to 5-10-1 and tied for last in 1980.
The wait in the cellar didn't last long, however, as the Bucs shot back to win their second division title in three years in 1981. Once again, it came down to the final weekend of the season. For that matter, it came down to the final few minutes.
In early December, the Bucs won a nail-biter, 24-23, over Atlanta at Tampa Stadium. Williams threw for his highest yardage total of the season, 336, to extend the Bucs' winning streak to three games and allow the team to take over sole possession of first place in the division.
However, they relinquished that lead the next week by reversing the score and losing a home game to San Diego, 23-24. That left the Bucs and Lions with identical 8-7 records, and the final weekend of the season called for Tampa Bay to visit Detroit, where the Lions had won five straight home games.
The Bucs proved equal to the challenge, winning a 20-17 thriller despite being outrushed (159-104) and out-passed (181-172). After Detroit's Eddie Murray (yes, the same one) had tied the game in the third quarter with a 47-yard field goal, the Bucs' still-ferocious defense provided the game-turning play.
On third-and-ten from the Lions' 32, Selmon buzzed around left tackle Karl Baldischwiler and sacked QB Eric Hipple from behind, forcing a fumble. DT David Logan scooped up the loose ball and ran 21-yards for the touchdown.
That gave the Bucs the coveted division title and a second crack at the playoffs, but it also sent them off to forbidding Dallas.
Nothing terribly good came of that trip, the Bucs' first road playoff game ever. Dallas completely dominated the Buccaneers in a 38-0 drubbing, extending the Bucs' playoff scoreless streak to eight quarters. Cowboys RB Tony Dorsett rushed for 86 yards, added 48 yards on receptions and scored a touchdown. Williams was picked off four times as the Bucs' quarterback.
Did You Know?
FB Mike Alstott has made a big impression on the Bucs' playoff record book during his short career.
Alstott is already the Bucs' all-time leading scorer in the postseason, with 18 points on three touchdowns. He and Bell (2) are the only Tampa Bay players with more than one touchdown, and Alstott has recorded all but two of his team's TDs in the Bucs' four playoff games since 1997.
Alstott also owns the longest run by a Buccaneer in the postseason, a 31-yard touchdown jaunt against the Detroit Lions on December 28, 1997.
1982: One Good Month
It's hard to imagine a scenario in which an NFL team has zero victories before November 29 but still makes the playoffs, but that's exactly what the Buccaneers did in 1982.
That 'accomplishment' was made possible by a 57-day players' strike, which wiped out seven of the seasons' 16 games. The Bucs' lost two games before the work stoppage, then dropped a 14-9 decision to Dallas as soon as the strike ended.
On November 29, Tampa Bay entertained down-state rival Miami and came away with a 23-17 victory, its first-ever Monday Night Football win, to move to 1-3. The rest of the way, the Bucs would win four more games by a total victory margin of nine points, including three straight home contests to finish the season.
Once again, the Bucs displayed a penchant for last-minute heroics, going to overtime against Chicago in the season finale before taking a 26-23 victory thanks in large part to James Wilder's 47-yard run.
Once again, however, that late-season surge bought the Bucs a ticket to Dallas, and the results were somewhat similar.
Dallas eliminated the Bucs for the second straight season, taking a 30-17 decision in the first round of what was being called the 'Super Bowl Tournament'. Though the final score seemed somewhat lopsided, the revenge-minded Buccaneers actually held a one-point lead entering the fourth quarter.
Despite being out-gained 456 yards to 218, allowing 29 first downs while recording just eight and holding the ball for less than 20 of the game's 60 minutes, the Bucs took a 17-16 lead thanks to a pair of long touchdowns. LB Hugh Green scored on a 60-yard fumble return in the second quarter and WR Gordon Jones caught a 49-yard pass in the third.
Tampa Bay kept the game close despite the stat disparity by recording three turnovers and sacking QB Danny White five times. Early in the fourth quarter, Dallas S Monty Hunter stepped in front of a Williams' pass and returned an interception 19 yards for the Cowboys' go-ahead touchdown. Dallas later added an 81-yard scoring drive, culminating in Timmy Newsome's 10-yard touchdown reception.
Did You Know?
The Bucs have never lost a playoff game in the month of December.
In 1979 and 1997, the team started its playoff run with wins on the last days of the calendar year before losing the following games in January. The Bucs didn't play until January in their other three playoff seasons.
This year's Wild Card round will fall on Saturday and Sunday of the week after the season finale. That would be December 30th and 31st.
1997: They're Ba-ack!
There were very early signs that 1997 might be the season to break the Bucs' 15-year playoff drought. Just as they had 18 years previous in 1979, the Buccaneers shot out to a 5-0 start, becoming the league's only undefeated team after five weeks.
The Bucs then lost three straight games and, as they had in 1979, found themselves at 8-3 with five games to go. This particular team didn't wait until the final weekend of the season to clinch a playoff berth, but they also did not come away with a division title. That honor would go to the 13-3 Green Bay Packers, who would eventually beat Tampa Bay three times on the way to a Super Bowl Championship
The Bucs did finish 10-6 to break a streak of 14 straight sub-.500 seasons and earn the top Wild Card berth. The playoffs started with a home game against the Detroit Lions, a contest that would serve as the team's good bye to Houlihan's Stadium (formerly Tampa Stadium). Tampa Bay sent its old stadium out in style, dominating the Lions en route to a 20-10 victory and a ticket to the Divisional Playoff round.
The Bucs beat the Lions with a balanced rushing attack – Warrick Dunn had 72 yards, Alstott 68 – and a swarming defense that shut down a red-hot Barry Sanders. Sanders entered the game with a streak of 14 consecutive 100-yard rushing games, but safety John Lynch led an aggressive defense that kept Sanders to just 65 yards on 18 carries.
The Bucs rushed out to a 20-0 third-quarter lead thanks to a nine-yard touchdown pass from Trent Dilfer to Horace Copeland and Alstott's 31-yard touchdown run. Detroit actually turned the game into a bit of a nail-biter, scoring 10 second-half points and then pinning the Bucs at their own five-yard line. However, Dilfer hit WR Robb Thomas for 52 yards on third-and-five and the rest of the game was a mere formality.
That may have been the oddsmakers' belief about the Bucs' next game, a trip to the Frozen Tundra to take on Green Bay. The Packers had won two close games over the Buccaneers during the regular season, including a 21-16 decision in Lambeau Field in early October. Green Bay was undefeated at home that season, as a matter of fact.
That wouldn't change on January 4, when the Bucs visited, though the contest was much closer than the final score of 21-7 would indicate.
Thanks to three sacks of QB Brett Favre by DT Warren Sapp and two interceptions of Favre's passes by CB Donnie Abraham, the Bucs trailed just 13-7 entering the final quarter. The Packers had a 13-0 lead in the third quarter and were driving for another score, but Abraham dove to intercept an errant pass caused by a Lynch interception.
Abraham's pick left the Bucs at their own six, but they then embarked on an inspiring 94-yard touchdown drive, their longest ever in the postseason and tied for their longest in any game. The drive was kept alive early when Dilfer once again threw a 52-yard completion on third down, this time hitting WR Reidel Anthony. Alstott swept in from six yards out to cut the lead, but Tampa Bay never got any closer.
Did You Know?
Tampa Bay, which exploded for 446 yards of total offense in its Monday night shootout with St. Louis, has never amassed more than 318 yards in a playoff game. Each time it has crossed the 300-yard barrier, the Bucs have won.
Typically, the Bucs' playoff games have been defensive struggles. While Dallas has been able to decipher Tampa Bay's defense, no other playoff opponent has scored more than 20 points against the Buccaneers.
1999: The Defense Never Rested
If 1997 reminded Buc fans of the beginning of that fabulous 1979 season, 1999 reminded them of the end.
After winning the NFC Central title for the first time in 18 years, the Bucs streaked to the NFC Championship Game, only to be knocked out by the Rams in a close-scoring scrum.
The Bucs struggled out of the gate in '99, falling to 3-4 thanks to narrow losses to Green Bay and the New York Giants. However, in a pattern that would seem very familiar in 2000, the Bucs then went on a tear, winning eight of their last nine to wrap up the division title and the second of two first-round byes.
The month of December was titillating in Tampa. It started with a 24-17 win over Minnesota on Monday Night Football that just happened to be the first NFL start of rookie QB Shaun King. King threw two TD passes and Alstott pitched in with 95 rushing yards to key the victory, which kept the Bucs in the running for the division title. The following week, still at home, the Buccaneers played in another first-place showdown, this time putting down the Lions, 23-16, thanks to two fourth-quarter touchdowns by Alstott.
Then came a puzzling 45-0 loss at Oakland that threatened to derail the streaking Bucs, who had won six in a row. Tampa Bay shook the effects off quickly, however, beating Green Bay 29-10 to clinch a playoff berth and following with a 20-6 drubbing of the Bears in Chicago to grab the division title.
Tampa Bay took a low profile into a postseason featuring a glut of high-scoring teams. The Bucs' ensuing two games would do nothing but validate the team's defensive-minded approach.
The December surge gave Tampa Bay its first-ever first-round bye. The rest was surely helpful, but the team seemed flat as its Divisional Playoff Game against Washington January 15 got under way. Washington scored the only points of the first half on a field goal, then stretched its lead to 10-0 when Brian Mitchell returned the opening kickoff of the second half 100 yards for a touchdown.
Mitchell's return was the longest in postseason history. Not long after, venerable CB Darrell Green picked off a Shaun King pass to lead to another field goal. Down 13-0, the Bucs were looking at a bleak situation before S John Lynch turned everything around by intercepting Brad Johnson near midfield. The Bucs, sensing a shift in momentum and feeling a rejuvenated crowd behind it, then drove downfield for an Alstott touchdown run.
Two series later, DE Steve White knocked the ball from Johnson's grasp in the backfield and Sapp recovered at the Redskins' 32. After the Bucs got down to the Washington one-yard line, King pulled another fabulous play out of his hat. A play-action fake failed to confuse Redskins DE Ndukwe Kalu, who bore down on an unsuspecting King as the Buc QB began to spin to the right. Upon getting back around, King saw Kalu almost upon him and leaped to throw a scoring pass to TE John Davis just before he was sacked.
Washington got close enough in the final minutes to give K Brett Conway a shot to win the game from 52 yards out, but long-snapper Matt Turk botched this snap and Conway never got a chance to try.
Tampa Bay's defense, which held Washington to 186 total yards, was even more impressive the following weekend in S. Louis. After taking the punch out of the Redskins' second-ranked offense, the Bucs now had to take on the first-ranked team in its own house.
St. Louis never scored under 20 points during its trip to the NFC Championship Game, but they found themselves trailing Tampa Bay 6-5 late in the final quarter.
CB Dre' Bly picked off a Shaun King pass near midfield in the last half of the final period, and the Rams' offense finally went to work. The scoring play was a 30-yard pass to WR Ricky Proehl in the left edge of the end zone. The Bucs intercepted stellar St. Louis QB Kurt Warner three times, including a Steve White pick on the Rams' second-pass of the game, which set up a Tampa Bay field goal.
Because the Bucs' defense proved it could counteract the seemingly unstoppable Rams offense, that game was a victory of sorts for Tampa Bay, but not of the sort it desired. Tampa Bay believes it has built a team that can contend for the Super Bowl for years to come, but knows that it is a difficult task to get to that game in any season, no matter how talented your squad is. The Bucs were so close last year they can still taste it.
The Bucs' playoff history is very much a work in progress. The 2000 squad would like to write the greatest chapter yet.