Earlier this week, in celebration of the upcoming reunion of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2002 Super Bowl Championship team, Buccaneers.com presented a list of the 10 greatest plays of that season, including the playoffs. From Derrick Brooks' tone-setting tackle of Michael Vick in Week 14 to Ronde Barber's unforgettable sprint to the end zone in the NFC Championship Game, we looked at the moments that most surely come to mind for Buccaneers fans as they reminisce about the greatest season in franchise history.
A highlight reel of those plays would be a very good way to tell the story of the Buccaneers' 2002 campaign. There are other ways to spin the tale, however. One way to demonstrate how dominant that team was is to take a dive into the stats, which quantify some of the more amazing ways the Buccaneers turned their championship dreams into reality.
Exactly how did the Buccaneers dominate the NFL in 2002? Well let the 20 most impressive stats generated by those Bucs – some team, some individual – do the talking.
#20: A Sack and a Turnover, Without Fail
Tampa Bay's 2012 defense has been quite good at forcing turnovers, but it didn't manage to come up with one in a narrow loss to Washington in Week Four. No shame in that. In the Bucs' other 11 games this year, the defense has taken the ball away at least once.
The current Buc defense hasn't been quite as good at sacking the quarterback, though it has hit double digits in that category four of the last six games, and that's fairly decent. Still, at no point in the last three years have the Bucs gone more than seven straight games with at least one sack on defense.
Imagine a defense that you knew was going to take the ball away and get to the quarterback every single time out. There simply was no doubt. That was the 2002 Buccaneers defense. In every game of that season, the Bucs forced at least one turnover and sacked the quarterback at least once…and that continued a streak of 41 straight games in that vein, dating back to the 2000 season. That is simply remarkable.
This stat would rank much higher on the list if not for the fact that the more impressive part of it covers four different seasons. The Bucs eventually extended that streak nine games into 2003, reaching an NFL-record 50 in a row.
19. Don't Let The Get Started
In 2002, opponents of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers averaged 4.22 yards per play on first down. That might seem like a healthy start to a set of downs, but in fact that is far below the norm. The league average that year was 5.25, and all but seven teams in the league were over 5.00. The Bucs were a huge outlier on this list; the next lowest team had a mark of 4.81. All year, the Bucs gave up 1,697 yards on first down; no other team was below 2,000.
18. Possession Is Key
Tampa Bay's average time of possession in 2002 was 34:58 per game. That might seem somewhat obvious – a good team with a strong offense that outscores its opponents by 150 points is going to have the ball more often. But consider this: The Buccaneers' defense and special teams had an unusual penchant for scoring that year, adding six touchdowns to the team's mix. That's as many TDs as the Bucs had in the running game, even with Mike Alstott pounding away inside the 10. When you score on defense, you give the ball right back to the opponents' offense. Despite that, the Bucs finished the year with an enormous edge in time of possession.
17. +21 turnover ratio
The Buccaneers tied for the NFL lead in this category, equaling the mark of the Green Bay Packers. In 2002, that was a good sign for both the offense and the defense.
Consider that in 1999, with a defense that many still believe was almost as good as the one that won a championship in 2002, the Bucs had a turnover ratio of -4. That's because, while the defense grabbed 31 takeaways, the offense unfortunately gave it back 35 times, including a stunning 19 fumbles. In 2002, by contrast, Tampa Bay secured 38 turnovers – seven less than the Packers, but also turned it over just 21 times.
16. Kelly Picks a Good Time to Go Pick-Crazy
Brian Kelly, the Buccaneers' starting left cornerback, had a total of three interceptions during his first four seasons in the league. That stat was certainly thrown about when the Buccaneers chose to re-sign Kelly, an unrestricted free agent, to a six-year deal in March of that year. It was all but forgotten 10 months later.
In 2002, Kelly secured eight interceptions, tying for the NFL lead in that category and marking the third-highest total in franchise history. He obviously led the Bucs' defense in picks and was a big part of the reason that Tampa Bay's pass defense ranked first in the NFL.
15. Double Zero
In 26 season, from 1976 through 2001, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense pitched exactly four shutouts. It got two more in 2002.
That marked the first time in team history that the Bucs had shut out two opponents in the same season. They did it to Baltimore in Week Two, blanking them 25-0, and then again in the season-finale victory at Chicago, a 15-0 decision that clinched a first-round bye.
Note that both of those games were on the road. To that point in franchise history, the Bucs had secured exactly one road shutout, a 35-0 victory at Cincinnati in the last game of 1998.
14. Rice Peaks at 15.5
Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon is the Buccaneers' all-time sack leader with 78.5, and future Hall of Famer Warren Sapp is second at 77.0. But nobody in franchise history has had a run at taking down the quarterback as consistently excellent as Simeon Rice from 2001-05.
In that span, Rice hit double digits every single season, the only Buc ever to do that. He had at least 14 in three of those years. But it was in 2002 that Rice hit his high-water mark as a Buccaneer, racking up 15.5 sacks to have more than double the next man on the list (Sapp, 7.5). If that wasn't impactful enough, Rice also led the team with four sacks in the three playoff games, including two in the Super Bowl.
13. No Comebacks Allowed
During the regular season, the Buccaneers had the lead heading into the final period in 10 of their 16 games. Every single time, they made that lead stand up. As a contrasting example, the 2001 playoff team won six of the eight games in which it had a three-quarter lead. That might seem like a pretty good figure, but those two losses were likely pivotal. Just one more loss in 2002 and the Bucs would not have had a first-round bye.
12. Solid Line
For much of the 2002 regular season, Tampa Bay's offensive line was the media's whipping boy. In some corners, the five-some of LT Roman Oben, LG Kerry Jenkins, C Jeff Christy, RG Cosey Coleman and RT Kenyatta Walker was thought to be the team's weak link. The Bucs did rank 20th in sacks allowed per pass play, as a matter of fact.
Whether or not that criticism was deserved, this much is unassailable: Tampa Bay's offensive line was excellent in the postseason. Despite facing two of the top six pass-rushing teams in the NFL (Philly and Oakland), the Bucs allowed a total of one sack in the postseason. One. That one came in the divisional round blowout of San Francisco; neither the Eagles nor the Raiders touched Brad Johnson.
11. Time to Run
For the balance of the 2002 campaign, the Buccaneers were not a strong running team. They were actually held below 75 rushing yards in seven of their first 12 games, which is somewhat remarkable in itself. At the end of the year, Tampa Bay ranked 27th in the NFL in rushing yards per game.
But it could have been worse. Somewhere around when the calendar flipped to December, the Bucs figured out how to pound away on the ground. With the exception of a rough game against Pittsburgh in Week 16, Tampa Bay's rushing attack was fantastic for a five-week stretch.
Even including that Steelers game, the Bucs ran for an average of 125.8 yards per game and 4.3 yards per carry from Week 14 through the first round of the playoffs. After an NFC Championship Game that was won by defense and the passing game, the Bucs once again pounded away in the Super Bowl, gaining 150 yards on a season-high 42 carries.
10. Turning Them Away at the Door
At this point, you're not going to be surprised to hear any impressive stat about the Buccaneers' 2002 defense, which was clearly one of the greatest crews in NFL history. Still, this is impressive: No team was better at shutting down opponents in the red zone that year than Tampa Bay.
Red zone defense is generally ranked by touchdown percentage – that is, how many drives that penetrate the opposing 20-yard line go on to reach the end zone – and the Bucs' mark that year was 34.3%. That was the best in the NFL, and only two other teams were even under 40.0%
The Bucs were particularly good at thwarting opponents when a turnover or a long return gave them outstanding field position. During the 2002 regular season, Buc opponents started 20 drives on Tampa Bay's side of the field. Only five of those resulted in touchdowns, and 10 of them came up with no points at all.
9. The Cruelest Month
October of 2002 must have felt like one long Halloween for Buccaneer opponents.
In four games during that month – at Atlanta, vs. Cleveland, at Philadelphia and at Carolina – the Buccaneers allowed a total of just two offensive touchdowns (both by the Eagles). Two.
That is obviously spectacular, and the Bucs won three of those four games. But consider this: Tampa Bay's defense also scored two touchdowns that month. That's right: An entire month, and the Buccaneer defense scored as many TDs as it allowed. Wow.
8. No One Close
Tampa Bay's defense ranked #1 in the NFL in 2002, which is of course no surprise. The NFL rankings are sorted by yards allowed, which can sometimes be misleading. Not in this case.
That year, the Buccaneers allowed just 252.8 yards per game. Since 1990, that is the 10th-lowest single-season total. What makes it particularly remarkable, however, is how far ahead of the rest of the field the Buccaneers were.
The next best defense in 2002, Carolina, allowed 290.4 yards per game. In the last three decades, only one defense has been farther out in front of the second place team in this category: the 1984 Chicago Bears.
7. Playoff Blowouts
There really isn't a lot of extra analysis necessary for this one: In defeating San Francisco, Philadelphia and Oakland to win the 2002 NFL title, the Buccaneers outscored their playoff opponents 106-37. That's an approximate average game score of 35-12.
6. Long Range Bomber
Jon Gruden on Martin Gramatica in 2002: "We have the best kicker in the league."
Tampa Bay's 2002 season might have turned on a Week Seven game in Carolina in which, without QB Brad Johnson, the offense sputtered. Gramatica nailed four field goals, including two from beyond 50 yards, and the Bucs won in the last minute, 12-9.
On the season, Gramatica incredibly made five of his six attempts from 50 or more yards. The fact that Gruden had ultimate confidence in his kicker in clutch situations, even from long distances, proved critical in his late-game management.
5. No Points Allowed
Again, there isn't much analysis necessary with this one. The Buccaneers allowed just 196 points in 2002, an average of 12.3 per game. Only four other teams in league history have allowed fewer points over a 16-game schedule.
4. Bullish on the Bucs' Passing Attack
QB Brad Johnson was known as "The Bull" because of his toughness, but he was also the type of bull you would comfortably let loose in your china shop. In 2002, Johnson was phenomenally good at avoiding game-turning mistakes.
Johnson's touchdown/interception ratio in 2002 was a fantastic 22/6. This is especially impressive given that the Buccaneers' line allowed 41 sacks that season. Johnson could have been pressured into many more mistakes, but he didn't let that happen. That TD/INT ratio is the main reason that Johnson put up a 92.9 passer rating in 2002, which was a team record at the time and was also the best mark in the entire NFC.
3. DB Makes the End Zone His Home
Derrick Brooks was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 2002, and it's no wonder. There simply haven't been many seasons like the one he put up in leading the Bucs to their first league title.
Most notably, Brooks scored four touchdowns on turnovers that season, only the fourth player in league history ever to do so. He was the first linebacker to join that list, and his three interception returns at the time were not only a Buccaneer single-season record, but as many as any other Tampa Bay player had ever had in his career.
To top it off, Brooks scored again in the playoffs, clinching the Super Bowl victory with a 44-yard interception return in the fourth quarter.
2. No Passing Zone
Joey Harrington was the lowest-ranked qualifying passer in 2002, with a rating of 59.9. Imagine if your defense got to face Harrington every week of the season, but with one hand tied behind his back.
That's essentially the situation the Buccaneers' pass defense created in 2002. Combined, Tampa Bay's opponents put up a passer rating of 48.4, throwing 31 interceptions and just 10 touchdowns. Lest you think this was a fluke – and you probably do not – the Bucs' three postseason opponents put up a combined passer rating of 45.9.
1. Offensive Defense
We touched on this a few paragraphs above with Derrick Brooks. The Buccaneers' 2002 defense wasn't just satisfied to stop opponents from scoring…it wanted to score itself.
Members of that '02 defense will swear that Head Coach Jon Gruden challenged them to score nine defensive touchdowns over the course of the season. They had "only" five at the end of the regular season, but they were far from done. Ronde Barber hard a pick-six return called back against San Francisco, but nothing erased his 92-yard interception return in the NFC Championship Game in Philly. In the Super Bowl, Dwight Smith returned two picks for scores and Brooks added a third – a Super Bowl record – and boom, there was your ninth score.