The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2020 schedule, just released last week, is chock full of prime-time games and intriguing quarterback matchups (thank you, Tom Brady). There are potential instant classics just within the Bucs' division, particularly when Brady and Drew Brees share the field. There's also the team's first trip ever to Nevada, visits from Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers and a rematch of the highest-scoring game in franchise history, recorded just last year.
Will any of these games deliver on their promise. We'll find out (hopefully) in the fall. In the meantime, we're setting the bar by identifying the best Buccaneers game ever played in each week of the season, from Week One to Week 17. On Tuesday, we counted down from Weeks 1-9; now here's the rest.
Week 10: Buccaneers 36, Redskins 35, Nov. 13, 2005
Also known as the Jon Gruden gamble game, as his decision to eschew a tie and go for two in the final minute of regulation was essentially an all-or-nothing roll of the dice. Mike Alstott made it pay off, powering his way just over the line with a trademark second effort on a run that everybody in the stadium knew was coming. That two-pointer followed a 30-yard touchdown pass down the middle of the field that a diving Edell Shepherd grabbed as he flew across the goal line. Simms threw three touchdown passes and no interceptions and Joey Galloway caught seven passes for 131 yards and a score. For the defense, Simeon Rice had two sacks, two forced fumbles and even an interception.
Honorable Mention(s): 2010 – a 31-16 win over Carolina includes a big effort by LeGarrette Blount (91 yards and a touchdown), though it is Cadillac Williams who seals the game with a called-shot 45-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Week 11: Buccaneers 45, Eagles 17, Nov. 22, 2015
This was simply one of the best offensive performances in franchise history, in a wide variety of ways, as the visiting Buccaneers rolled over the Eagles by the second-biggest winning margin in team history in a road game. At the time, it was the most points the Bucs had ever scored in a road contest, though they have since topped that at New Orleans in 2018 and at the L.A. Rams last year. Tampa Bay's 521 yards of offense were also its second-most ever in a single game at the time, and its most in a win, and Doug Martin had another huge game with 27 carries for 235 yards. Lavonte David led the defense with two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown.
Honorable Mention(s): 1989 – the Bears' Mike Tomczak nearly leads a big comeback in relief but the Bucs completed the surprising season sweep of Chicago with his 28-yard field goal as time expired in a 32-31 decision; 2001 – another in the memorable series of Bucs-Rams Monday night games in the early 2000s, this one a 24-17 Bucs win in St. Louis won by Warrick Dunn as he dived to the pylon to complete a 20-yard touchdown run; 2012 – the Bucs rally from 10 points down in the game's final four minutes, with Vincent Jackson's acrobatic touchdown catch tying it and Dallas Clark scoring the first overtime touchdown in franchise history to win the game at Carolina, 27-21.
Week 12: Buccaneers 25, Chargers 17, Nov. 17, 1996
This is famously the game that is considered the turning point between the Bucs' decade-and-a-half of struggles and their mid-'90s turnaround under Tony Dungy. The Buccaneers, who had only won one game on the West Coast in their first 20 seasons, were 2-8 in Dungy's first season as head coach but could sense things turning around. Offended by an ESPN broadcast referring to the Buccaneers as "The Yuks," the defensive trio of Derrick Brooks, John Lynch and Warren Sapp vowed the night before the game to change the perception of the franchise. On Sunday, the Buccaneers quickly fell behind, 14-0, but big interceptions by Lynch and Donnie Abraham led a furious comeback and the Bucs took their first lead in the fourth quarter on an Errict Rhett touchdown run. The Bucs held on for a 25-17 win, finished 1996 on a 5-2 tear and went back to the playoffs the very next season.
Honorable Mention(s): 1981 – Cedric Brown got the rout started with an 81-yard interception return for a touchdown, Morris owns had a 156 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown and the Bucs battered the Packers, 37-3, in the most lopsided win in team history to that point; 1999 – five different Buccaneers intercepted Seattle's Jon Kitna and the Buccaneers won a signature 16-3 decision on the West Coast in their best season to date.
Week 13: Buccaneers 33, Saints 14, Dec. 11, 1977
Tampa Bay could win a Week 13 game 100-0 in the future but nothing will ever unseat this game from the top of the list. It is, after all, the first victory in franchise history after a record 0-26 start in a difficult era for expansion teams. The Buccaneers set a team record with three interception returns for touchdowns in the Superdome on their way to a 33-14 victory that kicked off a celebration in the streets back in Tampa. That record has never been matched in the regular season for Tampa Bay…but it was fittingly equaled in the team's win over Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII. Buccaneers Head Coach John McKay called it "the greatest victory in the history of the world." Saints Head Coach Hank Stram called it "the worst experience of my coaching career." The Bucs were met by a party when their team plane returned to Tampa.
Honorable Mention(s): 2000 – Warrick Dunn broke off a 70-yard touchdown run on the first play of the Bucs' second drive, and Brian Kelly followed not long after with a pick-six in a rousing 27-7 win over the Cowboys during a four-game late-season winning streak; 2016 – a five-game winning streak is kept alive by Lavonte David's pick-six and Keith Tandy's game-sealing interception on the goal line with three minutes left.
Week 14: Buccaneers 34, Falcons 10, Dec. 8, 2002
The Buccaneers were tied atop the NFC standings heading into Week 14 in their Super Bowl season but were barely holding off Atlanta, which had not lost a game in eight weeks. The matchup of young QB phenom Michael Vick against the Buccaneers' swarming defense was so attractive that the NFL commissioner chose to come to Tampa for the game. As it turned out, Derrick Brooks and the Bucs' defense ruled the day, holding Vick to 12-of-15 passing, 125 yards through the air and – thanks in large part to the shadowing of Brooks – just nine yards on six carries. Tampa Bay's defense held the high-powered Falcons to 181 total yards while the Bucs' offense racked up 421 yards and Brad Johnson threw four touchdown passes.
Honorable Mention(s): 1977 – a week after getting its first-ever victory, the Buccaneers followed up with their first home win over the St. Louis Cardinals, a 17-7 decision that was followed by the fans storming the field and tearing down the goalposts; 1998 – the first Monday Night Football game in Tampa in 15 years, this one was a showcase for a rising defense, which sacked Brett Favre eight times and forced him to fumble six times in a 24-22 victory; 2005 – the Bucs win at Carolina, 2010, and it's largely remembered as the game in which Ronde Barber had a sack and an interception and became the first cornerback in the NFL's 20/20 Club (sacks and interceptions) but it was also a huge win in the middle of a critical three-game road swing that in the end was what gave Tampa Bay the '05 division title.
Week 15: Buccaneers 48, Saints 21, Dec. 23, 2001
New Orleans was 7-6 and still in the playoff hunt in late December of the 2001 season, but the Buccaneers changed that in a hurry. Tampa Bay rolled out to a 30-0 lead by halftime with Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn both scoring touchdowns. Ronde Barber spent the afternoon terrorizing Aaron Brooks (something of which he made a habit), picking him off three times and returning one of them 30 yards for a touchdown. Brad Johnson also threw three touchdown passes as the Buccaneers matched their record (at the time) for points in a single game.
Honorable Mention(s): 2007 – the Buccaneers clinched a playoff berth on this mid-December day at Raymond James Stadium and absolutely demolished the Falcons, 37-3, but the game is most remembered for Micheal Spurlock's 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, the first score of its kind in franchise history.
Week 16: Buccaneers 38, Rams 35, Dec. 18, 2000
To be clear, this game was so good that it wins the top spot here for Week 16 over not one but two contests that won the franchise its first two division titles. See the honorable mentions below for more, because those 1979 and 1981 season finales deserve almost equal attention. This extreme shootout with the Greatest Show on Turf Rams, however, might be the most exciting regular-season game the Bucs have ever played. The signature play was Warrick Dunn's pitch-back to Shaun King after he had been trapped in the backfield by Kevin Carter late in the fourth quarter. King took the ball and juked several Rams defenders to gain 15 yards and a first down, with an unnecessary roughness penalty at the end adding 15 more. That kept alive a drive that led to Warrick Dunn's third touchdown of the game, a one-yard run that led to the game's final score and was followed by John Lynch's game-sealing interception of Kurt Warner. This was also a revenge game for the 1999 NFC Championship Game…oh, and it was on the Monday Night Football Stage.
Honorable Mention(s): 1979 – this is the famous 3-0 win over Kansas City in a torrential downpour at old Tampa Stadium, with the conditions suppressing almost all offense except Ricky Bell's 137 rushing yards and Neil O'Donoghue's 19-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter; 1981 – this was a winner-take-all game at Detroit, with the victor getting the NFC Central title and the loser watching the playoffs from home, and the Bucs won it with big plays, including Kevin House's 84-yard touchdown catch and David Logan's 21-yard fumble return touchdown after a big Lee Roy Selmon sack; 2005 – one of the more exciting and consequential late-season games in team history, this one against Atlanta went to overtime at Raymond James Stadium…and nearly to the last second of overtime, which included a blocked field goal by Dewayne White and a game-winner by Matt Bryant.
Week 17: Buccaneers 20, Bears 6, Jan. 20, 2000
The 1999 season finale was in Chicago's Soldier Field, which was long a house of horrors for Tampa Bay, so it was fitting that the Bucs dominated to win their first division title in 18 years. There was a bittersweet moment, as franchise left tackle Paul Gruber saw his career end in a broken leg, but he still got to experience the big win as Mike Alstott and Dave Moore scored the game's only touchdowns. Donnie Abraham intercepted a pass and the Bucs didn't allow a single third-down conversion by the Bears in 12 tries. This weekend started with the Buccaneers flying to Chicago on Friday night just in case the Y2K scare proved to have teeth, but it ended in an even bigger celebration than New Year's Eve.
Honorable Mention(s): 1997 – season-capping wins over Chicago will be a theme here, and this one included both a receiving and a punt return touchdown by Karl "The Truth" Williams as the Bucs rolled to a 31-15 decision and made sure they would be playing their first postseason game at home the following weekend; 1998 – Tampa Bay kept its playoff hopes alive in overwhelming fashion, demolishing the Bengals 35-0 on the road on the strength of three Mike Alstott touchdowns, though they would be denied their playoff hopes during their flight home; 2002 – another Bears game, though not in Chicago, and it wasn't exactly pretty as the Bucs won 15-0 on five Martin Gramatica field goals in a howling wind at the University of Illinois' Memorial Stadium, a victory that clinched an all-important first-round bye.