RB Michael Pittman has scored 10 touchdowns in just nine games in 2004
Michael Pittman is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' leading scorer in 2004, with 60 points, and with Jay Taylor replacing Martin Gramatica (54 points) at kicker for the final five games, it appears certain that Pittman will take the lead to the end of the season.
How rare is that? The last non-kicker to lead the Buccaneers in scoring was Reggie Cobb in 1992, another season in which the Bucs switched kickers midstream. The only other such occurrence came in 1976, the first season for the Tampa Bay franchise. That year, WR Morris Owens scored six of the team's 15 touchdowns and edged out kicker/punter Dave Green, 36 points to 35.
Moreover, Pittman wouldn't have seemed a likely to join Cobb and Owens, given that he had exactly one rushing touchdown in his first two Buccaneer seasons, and just three scores overall. In addition, Pittman missed the first three games of the season on a suspension and was expected to share time in the backfield with free agent import Charlie Garner. In that role, he might have been used most extensively as a receiver.
But Pittman's nose for the end zone has been about the most consistent thing in the Bucs' rollercoaster season. Since returning in Week Four, he has scored 10 touchdowns in nine games, including at least one in six of the last seven contests. Suddenly he is only the fourth player in team history to hit double digits in TDs in a single season, joining James Wilder, Mike Alstott and Errict Rhett.
While Pittman took some heat in an otherwise excellent 2002 season for rarely putting the ball in the end zone, the main difference between that year and this one is the number of his opportunities. Pittman has gotten the call repeatedly in the red zone, and he has delivered.
"[Pittman has been used] especially inside the plus-five, goal-line area, where years past he hasn't been utilized in that area," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "I think 10 touchdowns in nine games is pretty significant and hopefully he can find pay dirt a few more times."
The team record for single season touchdowns is 13, by Wilder in 1984. Alstott in 2001 and Rhett in 1995 each had 11, and Alstott and Wilder had 10-TD campaigns in 1997 and 1995, respectively. Pittman, who played his high school ball in San Diego, could challenge the top spots as quickly as this weekend, though the Chargers possess the league's second-best rush defense.
Because Garner got knocked out for the year just before Pittman came back and Alstott also missed a chunk of the season with a knee injury, Pittman has become the workhorse again. He has averaged 19 carries per game over the last six contests; compare that to his 13 carries per game in 2002 and his 12 per game in 2001.
All that has somewhat diminished his touches in the passing game, but he remains a very serious threat in that regard, too, with 292 yards and three scores on 27 catches. The Buccaneers still love to find ways to isolate him with a mismatched player in the secondary. Overall, Pittman has 954 combined yards from scrimmage, which puts him 12th in the NFC. He would obviously be much closer to the top had he not missed the first three games of the year.
"He's got close to 1,000 all-purpose yardage in 10 weeks, nine games, so that puts him on the upper tier in terms of all halfbacks in football," said Gruden. "He's having a great year and we're going to need him down the stretch, obviously."
Pittman has averaged 106 combined yards per game this season, which does indeed put him in the conference's upper echelon. The Giants' Tiki Barber, having his best season, leads the way with 140 yards per game, but the second-place man, Seattle's Shaun Alexander, is well behind Barber at 116 . Philadelphia's Brian Westbrook is next at 115.5 and Clinton Portis follows at 107. Pittman is fifth in the NFC with his mark, ahead of such notables as Ahman Green, Marshall Faulk, Thomas Jones, Warrick Dunn and Deuce McAllister.
With 662 rushing yards and four games to play, Pittman would have to average 84.5 yards per game to reach the 1,000-yard mark, a recognizable goal for any back. He might not get there, and the truth is, his team doesn't really care. As long as he continues to produce in the manner he has been all season – particularly in terms of finding the end zone – the Buccaneers will be extremely happy.
The Buccaneers added two players to their injury report on Thursday, bringing the total number on the list to seven.
Thursday's additions were two starters, left tackle Derrick Deese and strong safety Dwight Smith. Deese incurred an injury to his ribs and Smith is fighting knee soreness that has bothered him all season. Both players are considered probable to play on Sunday, though they did little on the practice field on Thursday.
The other four Bucs who were listed as probable – Pittman (knee), safety Dexter Jackson (hamstring), tight end Dave Moore (ankle) and defensive lineman Dewayne White (calf) – all remained the same.
"Most of the guys increased their reps today and hopefully will feel much better and ready to go tomorrow," said Gruden.
The team is even hopeful that safety Jermaine Phillips is nearing a return, though it almost certainly won't be this weekend. Phillips has missed the last three games after having surgery to repair a right forearm fracture.
"It doesn't look like he'll play this week, but he does have a chance next week," said Gruden of his starting free safety. "He's doubtful for this week; maybe we can upgrade him to questionable [next week]. He is practicing with the team, and that's a good sign."
The Chargers reported no changes to their injury report on Thursday.
Bucs Lend a Hand
The East Tampa Bandits Jr. Pee Wee football team will be able to compete in the Pop Warner Super Bowl tournament in part because the Buccaneers stepped in with some last-minute aid.
The Bandits qualified to compete in the Pop Warner Super Bowl after their win in the Pop Warner Southeast Regional Championship. The Super Bowl takes place at Walt Disney World's Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando from December 6-11.
The Bandits needed a total of $12,000 to cover food, lodging, travel and miscellaneous expenses associated with participating in the National Championships. After raising $3,000 from businesses and individuals in the community, the Bandits received another $5,000 from the NFL Youth Football Fund and the final $4,000 from the Buccaneers.
The NFL YFF Travel Fund for National Youth Football Championship Games allows local teams of NFL National Youth Football Partners to apply to the YFF via their market's respective NFL team for donations of up to $5,000. Those donations help offset travel and hotel accommodation costs associated with national youth football championship games and tournaments. With their additional $4,000 donation, the Buccaneers were able to provide the East Tampa Bandits with the remaining funds needed to compete in the tournament.
The Pop Warner Super Bowl features 64 football teams from across the country who all compete for the right to be named National Champion. En route to the Super Bowl, the East Tampa Bandits finished the regular season with a 7-0 record. Entering the championship tournament, the team had notched a perfect 6-0 record in the postseason. The Bandits lost their first game in the tournament and will play on Friday, December 10 as a member of the consolation bracket.