TE Dave Moore scored his 21st career touchdown Sunday, capping yet another lengthy Buccaneer drive
Perhaps the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just like to do things the hard way.
That's the impression you get when the team starts off with a 3-4 record for three consecutive seasons yet still finishes those three campaigns 8-8, 11-5 and 10-6. This pattern could become relevant again if the 2-2 Bucs of 2001 cannot put together an immediate winning streak.
But that's looking ahead a bit. In this case, we're looking at a more immediate situation, and that is the Buccaneers' propensity to succeed on long drives and come up empty on short ones. It was a pattern that quarterback Brad Johnson recognized and spoke about after the team's first three games, in which it beat Dallas and Green Bay and lost to Minnesota, and it repeated itself Sunday in Tennessee.
"The number one problem we've had (on offense)," said Johnson, "is not taking advantage of the short field."
The Tennessee game provided ample evidence of this. The Buccaneers started seven drives 70 or more yards away from paydirt and scored touchdowns on three of them. There were four Buc drives that started closer to the end zone, but only one of them, a 62-yarder, went the distance. The average distance of the Bucs' four touchdown marches was 79.5 yards. That's a remarkable figure, given that coaches usually preach the importance of turnovers and special teams in providing better field position.
Overall this season, Tampa Bay has started 14 drives from 69 yards or closer to the end zone and netted just one touchdown and one field goal. On the other hand, it has begun 24 drives from 70 yards or farther away and come away with six touchdowns and three field goals. Those are numbers that hardly seem to make sense.
Perhaps that's why Head Coach Tony Dungy offered no specific reasons for that seemingly backwards trend when asked why the Bucs have been so much better from long distance.
"Really, it comes down to doing your job, whether you're backed up at your five-yard line, which we were a few times, whether you're in their zone, whether it's third down on defense or first-and-ten," he said. "It comes down to performing on that play and we've got to get that consistency of performing 60 plays on offense, 60 on defense and 30 on special teams. When we do, I think we have the capability to be a good team."
There is, of course, much comfort to be taken in the fact that Johnson and the Bucs' offense can traverse most of the field when necessary. Already this season, Tampa Bay has put together the longest drive in team history (a 97-yarder at Tennessee) and the third-longest (a 95-yarder against Green Bay), both in the fourth quarter with Tampa Bay trailing.
The Tennessee game was somewhat bizarre in other ways for the Buccaneers, who turned in one of the best comebacks in team history – certainly the best since a second-half rebound from a 13-0 deficit to Washington in the 1999 playoffs – yet still lost in overtime.
There were many things seen on the field Sunday that hadn't been witnessed in some time. For instance: