Last November in Oakland, in one of the most memorable individual performances in franchise history, Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie running back Doug Martin ran for 251 yards and four touchdowns. Martin's yardage total broke a Buccaneer single-game record that had stood for almost exactly 29 years, and his quartet of scores tied another club mark that had been established 27 years before.
Martin didn't exactly erase James Wilder (219 rushing yards at Minnesota, Nov. 6, 1983) or Jimmie Giles (four touchdowns at Miami, Oct. 20, 1985) from Tampa Bay's record books, but he did assault several franchise records that had stood the test of time. Similarly, Vincent Jackson's 216 receiving yards against New Orleans in October broke Mark Carrier's single-game Buccaneer record of 212, set way back in 1987. And Josh Freeman's 4,065 passing yards and 27 touchdown tosses in 2012 surpassed Brad Johnson records that had been around for almost a decade.
Records are made to be broken, as they say, and as such there aren't too many entries remaining in the Buccaneers' record books from the franchise's earliest years. Still, it's always particularly noteworthy when a mark that has resisted being overtaken for a long time finally falls, such as Steve Christie's single-season record 85.2% field goal percentage from 1990 did in 2011, after more than two decades at the top. Connor Barth hit 26 of 28 field goal tries two seasons ago, a mark of 92.9%, and now it's his name and not Christie's that graces that particular entry in the books.
With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the most enduring Buccaneer records that still stand and discuss the chances they will finally fall in 2013. To be included, a record needs to be at least 10 years old and needs to be at least fairly prominent. That is, we're not going to focus on the longest fumble return in team history (Cedric Brown, 80 yards against Houston on Oct. 19, 1980) but we're definitely interested in some of the rushing and scoring records that still belong to Mr. Wilder. The list below is ordered in terms of how strong we believe the chances are that they will fall, from most likely to least likely.
- 13 total touchdowns, season, by James Wilder in 1984
Considering that Doug Martin just missed this mark by one touchdown in 2012, in his very first NFL season, we would definitely consider Wilder's 29-year-old mark under siege in 2013.
It's true that Martin got one third of his total in that one amazing game in Oakland, and that's not likely to be duplicated considering it was just the second four-TD in the Bucs' 37 seasons of football. However, after a slow start from a scoring perspective, Martin found the end zone in six of the Bucs' last 11 games. If he scores in, say, 10 of the Bucs' 16 games next season he will only need a few multi-TD efforts to catch Wilder's mark.
It's also true that Tampa Bay's offense was the most prolific if it's ever been, from both a yardage and a scoring standpoint in 2012, and there's no reason to expect it to take a step backward in 2013. All of the principle figures return, plus the offensive line will get Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph back and everybody will likely feel even more comfortable in coordinator Mike Sullivan's second season. The Bucs scored 44 touchdowns last year, which was tied for 10th-best in the NFL; if they can add another five to that total in 2013, it's not far-fetched to predict that at least two of them would go to Martin.
- 1,422 receiving yards, season, by Mark Carrier in 1989
This is another mark that came perilously close to falling in 2012. Vincent Jackson went into the team's season finale in Atlanta needing 89 yards to break the mark. Jackson had been averaging almost exactly 89 receiving yards per game through the first 15 weeks, so there was definitely reason for optimism. As it turned out, he finished with "only" 50 yards as the Bucs pulled off an upset win using a strong rushing attack and very good defense.
It may be difficult to maintain his league-leading 19.2 yards per catch figure from 2012 this coming season, but that number is also not likely to fall precipitously. Jackson set single-season career highs in catches, yards and yards-per-catch in 2012, suggesting that he has formed a very good bond with his new quarterback, Josh Freeman. Jackson made a lot of very impressive catches in traffic in his first year as a Buccaneer – despite his big yards-per-catch number, he was not simply a deep threat – so one would expect that Freeman will continue to look his way most frequently in 2013.
- 486 passing yards, game, by Doug Williams on Nov. 16, 1980
Josh Freeman established his own single-game best with 420 passing yards against New Orleans on Nov. 21 of last season. That was the third-highest total in team history, behind Williams' big game from 1980 and a 469-yard outing by Vinny Testaverde at Indianapolis on Oct. 16, 1988.
Neither Williams nor Testaverde ever threw another 400-yard game for the Buccaneers (though both did elsewhere), so why do expect that Freeman can cross that mark again, which he obviously has to do to approach the team record? The key is in how the game has changed over the past two decades.
In the five season from 1993-97, all NFL quarterbacks combined to post 21 400-yard passing games. Over the next five-year period (98-02) that total went up to 33 such games, then it stayed pretty steady during the next five-year segment (03-07), at 28. However, over the last five years alone there have been a whopping 59 400-yard passing games by NFL passers, which is almost exactly as many as there had been over the previous 10 years. Even casual NFL observers understand that the game is more offensive-oriented in the current era, especially in regard to passing attacks. Freeman is at the helm of a top-10 offense with some very strong weapons at his disposal. He likely hasn't seen his last 400-yard day, and if things break just right on one given Sunday this fall he might catch Williams' mark.
- 1,544 rushing yards, season, by James Wilder in 1984
One of the most prominent records in the Bucs' entire database, this one has stood for nearly three decades but got its most serious test by Martin just last fall. In fact, Martin's 1,454 yards as a rookie not only missed the record by just 90 yards but also immediately become the second-best season in team annals. Previously, that had also belonged to Wilder thanks to his 1,300-yard campaign in 1985.
Again, there is no reason to expect Martin to fall significantly back from that total in his second year, barring injury. He had all five of his 100-yard rushing games in the last 10 weeks of the season, suggesting that he became more comfortable in Sullivan's offense as the season went on. Now he'll have a full offseason to prepare in that system and, more importantly, he'll have both Nicks and Joseph in the lineup in front of him. Joseph missed the entire season due to a preseason knee injury and Nicks played in only seven games before a toe injury put him on injured reserve; healthy, those two might be the best guard tandem in the league, and that should provide Martin with a significant boost. Smart money on Martin for the 2013 season is somewhere in the 1,200-1,600 yard rushing range; if he's in the upper part of that range, he could overtake Wilder.
- 2,229 combined rushing and receiving yards, season, by James Wilder in 1984
This one will be a little tougher for Martin. His 1,454 rushing yards last year were 94.2% of Wilder's single-season record, but his 1,926 combined yards were 86.4% of the above mark, set in that same amazing campaign by the former Buc great. That was still an incredible achievement by Martin – he came close to joining Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James as the only 2,000-yard rookies ever – but it leaves a wider gap he has to make up to catch the record.
There have been only 21 2,200-yard seasons in NFL history, including Wilder's 2,229 in 1984. There have been only three since 2006. Martin is clearly capable of hitting that mark, but predicting that he is likely to do so would be a stretch.
- 22.1 yards per catch, season, by Kevin House in 1981
The problem with this one is that the long-accepted minimum to hold this mark in the Buccaneers' record books is just 20 catches. Meanwhile, the league observes a minimum of two receptions per team game, or 32 over a full 16-game season. House set his mark in a season in which he caught just 24 passes, which wouldn't qualify using the NFL's standard.
Jackson is obviously the most likely candidate to break this record, unless a new weapon of note arrives via the draft. He is almost certain to catch far more than 24 passes, which will make it harder to maintain such a high average. It was already an incredible accomplishment for Jackson to put up 19.2 yards per catch last season; it's unfair to expect him to go up from there.
- 106 receptions, season, by Keyshawn Johnson in 2001
This record is just such an outlier from everything else that has happened in franchise history. Wilder broke Mark Carrier's record of 86 catches, set in 1989, but that season by Carrier still ranks second on the Bucs' list, even a dozen years later. The next best season since Johnson's mark was set was the 84 grabs Keenan McCardell had in 2003. Antonio Bryant, Joey Galloway and Michael Clayton have all had wonderful single seasons since but none even got to Carrier's 1989 total.
It's also worth noting that Johnson's 2001 season, while record-setting, is not generally considered one of the four or five best campaigns by a Buccaneer receiver. Jackson last year and Galloway in 2005 had more yards, and Johnson amazingly scored just one time in 2001. That's not to put the blame on Johnson for his scoring drought; the Bucs' 2001 passing attack was quite one-dimensional. The Bucs are obviously better off on the current squad with both Jackson and Mike Williams on hand, but each of those players will keep the other's reception total down somewhat.
- 214 tackles, season, by Hardy Nickerson in 1993
- 16.5 sacks, season, by Warren Sapp in 2000
- 10 interceptions, season, by Ronde Barber in 2001
- 31 special teams tackles, season, by Shelton Quarles in 1997
We're lumping these four defensive/special teams marks together because it is quite unlikely that any of them will fall in 2013, but for different reasons.
Nickerson's 214 tackles in 1993 were a bolt from the blue. The Bucs' expected him to be good when they signed him away from Pittsburgh in the first year of free agency, but it's unlikely anyone expected him to complete and immediately take charge the way he did. Nickerson's single-season high during his six years in Pittsburgh was 114 tackles. Since that 1993 season, only Barrett Ruud with 205 in 2009 has joined Nickerson in going over 200 stops in a season.
The bigger reason that Nickerson's record is likely unassailable, however, is a change in the way such numbers are compiled. Tackles have long been considered an unofficial statistic, and as such teams have been allowed to compile and publish them as they wish each season. Many teams, including the Buccaneers for most of their 37 years of existence, have used the numbers that coaches compile while grading each game the following week. These numbers tend to be somewhat higher than what the stat-keepers in the press box come up with during the process of an actual game.
In 2011, using coaches' totals, Mason Foster led the Buccaneers with 126 tackles. In 2012, using press box totals, Lavonte David led the team with 139 tackles during a campaign that was universally praised. It's likely that David's total would have been superior to Foster's from 2011 if the team were still using data from coaches' film. Moving forward, the use of press box statistics – which does make for more universal reporting across various platforms, such as NFL.com – should keep any player, no matter how good, from approaching Nickerson's mark.
Sapp's 16.5 sacks in 2000 would appear to be safe simply because there is currently no one on the Bucs' roster who has ever had a double-digit sack season. That doesn't mean that Adrian Clayborn, Gerald McCoy or Da'Quan Bowers – to name a few – are incapable of having a huge breakout season, but a jump all the way to 17 sacks would be quite amazing.
As for Barber's interception total, that just happens to be too fickle of a stat to feel good about any predictions. Barber, for instance, is considered one of the best cornerbacks of his generation, but that 10-pick season marks the only time he's had more than five in a year. Many of the NFL's best cornerbacks put up low-interception seasons, presumably because their strong coverage skills discourage quarterbacks from throwing their way. There have been only three individual seasons of at least eight interceptions in Buccaneer history, so it seems illogical to predict another 10-pick campaign for any of the Bucs' 2013 players.
And finally, the new kickoff return rules make it unlikely that anyone will ever approach Quarles' mark of 31 special teams tackles in a single year. The Bucs are simply facing far fewer returns than they have in previous years, which produces fewer tackling opportunities. Last year, Erik Lorig and Dekoda Watson tied for the team lead with seven kick-coverage stops, which is not even a quarter of Quarles' record from 16 years ago.