LB Derrick Brooks and the Buccaneers will start their 2004 season at Washington's FedEx Field, where they won handily in 2003
The National Football League knows a good thing when it sees one.
The NFL released its 2004 regular season schedule on Wednesday, a 17-week slate that, for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will begin in the nation's capital on September 12. (Scroll down to see the Bucs' entire 2004 schedule.)
One of the highlights of the schedule for Tampa Bay – and, if history is any indication, for the league as a whole – is an October 18 Monday Night Football matchup in St. Louis between the Bucs and the Rams.
An unlikely Bucs-Rams rivalry was first kindled in January of 2000, when the two teams met in the 1999 NFC Championship Game in St. Louis. The Rams won that contest, 11-6, in the game's final minutes, then went on to win Super Bowl XXXIV over Tennessee. The NFL then saw fit to pit the Bucs and Rams on Monday night each of the next three seasons, twice in Tampa and once in St. Louis. Tampa Bay won all three of those games, all of them in thrilling fashion, highlighted by a 38-35 shootout on December 18, 2000 that is considered one of the best games in MNF history.
This year's Bucs-Rams rematch is one of two prime-time games scheduled for Tampa Bay, indicating that the league is still convinced of the Bucs drawing power despite a 7-9 finish in 2003. Winners of Super Bowl XXXVII in January of 2003, the Bucs have made the playoffs five of the past seven seasons.
Tampa Bay's first prime-time game falls on the season's third week, when the Bucs travel to Oakland on September 26 for a Sunday night game on ESPN. The Buccaneers defeated Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII, less than a year after acquiring Head Coach Jon Gruden from the Raiders. Since that game, the Bucs have also hired former Raider executive Bruce Allen as their general manager and signed several former Oakland players, including running back Charlie Garner.
The Bucs' Monday-nighter against the Rams is also one of six games the team will play against 2003 playoff teams: Denver, Kansas City, St. Louis, Seattle and Carolina twice.
Tampa Bay opens the season on the road for the second straight year, taking on Washington on September 12. The Bucs also finish on the road, visiting Phoenix for the first time in eight years to play the Arizona Cardinals. Four of Tampa Bay's first six games will be away from home, but the team will have to travel just once – a short hop to Atlanta – in a five-week span beginning October 24. The Bucs' bye week falls in that span, on Halloween.
"I'm sure this will be a very challenging and exciting schedule, just as it is every year," said Gruden. "We're in the middle of our offseason preparations, so it's good to get some idea of what we're working toward. We'll have our sights set on Washington now."
|**2004 Buccaneers Regular Season Schedule**|
|Sun.||Sept. 12||at Washington||1:00 p.m.||FOX|
|Sun.||Sept. 19||SEATTLE||4:05 p.m.||FOX|
|Sun.||Sept. 26||at Oakland||8:30 p.m.||ESPN*|
|Sun.||Oct. 3||DENVER||4:15 p.m.||CBS*|
|Sun.||Oct. 10||at New Orleans||1:00 p.m.||FOX|
|Mon.||Oct. 18||at St. Louis||9:00 p.m.||ABC*|
|Sun.||Oct. 24||CHICAGO||1:00 p.m.||FOX|
|Sun.||Oct. 31||-- Bye Week --|
|Sun.||Nov. 7||KANSAS CITY||1:00 p.m.||CBS|
|Sun.||Nov. 14||at Atlanta||1:00 p.m.||FOX|
|Sun.||Nov. 21||SAN FRANCISCO||1:00 p.m.||FOX|
|Sun.||Nov. 28||at Carolina||1:00 p.m.||FOX|
|Sun.||Dec. 5||ATLANTA||1:00 p.m.||FOX|
|Sun.||Dec. 12||at San Diego||4:15 p.m.||FOX|
|Sun.||Dec. 19||NEW ORLEANS||4:05 p.m.||FOX|
|Sun.||Dec. 26||CAROLINA||1:00 p.m.||FOX|
|Sun.||Jan. 2||at Arizona||4:05 p.m.||FOX|
* Nationally-televised game All Times Eastern
The Buccaneers will also play four preseason games in August and early September, with home contests against Cincinnati and Miami and road trips to Jacksonville and Houston. That schedule was announced last week.
Not only will Tampa Bay be starting its season on the road for the fourth time in the last five years, but they seem to have become a popular opponent for 'event games.' Last year, the Bucs were sent on the road – a rare occurrence for the reigning Super Bowl champs – to help open Philadelphia's new stadium, Lincoln Financial Field. This year, they'll be on the visiting sideline at Washington's FedEx Field when Washington's Hall of Fame coach, Joe Gibbs, makes his heavily anticipated return.
That will be an intriguing task for the Buccaneers and Head Coach Jon Gruden, one with little precedent. The last time a team faced an opponent whose head coach was already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame was 1967, when George Halas directed his final game for the Chicago Bears. On December 16, 1967, Norb Hecker's Atlanta Falcons took on Halas' Bears and lost, 23-14.
Of course, the Bucs won't necessarily be complaining about opening up away from home. The last two times Tampa Bay started a season at home, in 1999 and 2002, they lost, the former game to the New York Giants and the latter to the New Orleans Saints. In contrast, the Bucs have won their last three openers that fell on the road, at New England in 2000, at Dallas in 2001 and at Philadelphia last year.
Other notes regarding the Buccaneers' 2004 schedule:
- The Bucs have also become used to finishing their seasons on the road in recent years. Since 1998, Tampa Bay has been scheduled to play its final regular season game on the road in six of seven campaigns, including 2004. The Bucs won at Cincinnati in 1998 and at Chicago in 1999 and 2002, all in season finales. They lost their final games on the road at Green Bay in 2000 and at Tennessee in 2003. * Tampa Bay has now been included in the Monday Night Football schedule for seven consecutive years. That follows a 15-season drought in which the Bucs did not show up on the ABC showcase. The Bucs were 2-1 on Monday night in 2003 and are 8-6 all-time on that evening. (Those totals do not include a Saturday night win on ABC on December 29, 2001 that replaced that week's Monday night game. * Strangely, the January 2 game in Arizona will mark the fourth time in 29 years that the Bucs have had the Cardinals as their opponents in the season finale. Tampa Bay finished its 1992 season in Phoenix, and also played the Cardinals to round out the 1997 and 1986 seasons when the Cards were still located in St. Louis. The only team that has been a more common finisher for the Bucs than the Cardinals is the Chicago Bears (six times) and the Bears and Bucs were in the same division for 25 years. * The NFC South title may be decided late. The Buccaneers play five of their six division games in the season's second half, including all three of its NFC South home games in December. The Bucs were 5-1 in division games when they won the Super Bowl in 2002, and 2-4 last year. * One of the Bucs' eight home opponents will be making its first visit to Raymond James Stadium, which opened in 1998. Seattle last came to Tampa in 1996. San Francisco has never played a regular season game in Raymond James Stadium, but did come into town on January 12, 2003 for a playoff game, which the Bucs won 31-6. * A home game against Carolina in Week 16 means the Bucs will not have to travel on Christmas Day. It also gives Tampa Bay home field advantage on what has already been a very successful date in team history. Interestingly, the Bucs are 3-0 all-time when playing on the day after Christmas, with wins over Green Bay in 1999, Denver in 1993 and Detroit in 1982. The only spot on the calendar more successful for the Bucs, all-time, is November 10, on which the team is 4-0. * The home opener against Seattle will pit Gruden against Seahawks Head Coach Mike Holmgren. Gruden served as an offensive assistant in Green Bay during Holmgren's tenure as the Packers' head coach. * Immediately after sparring with Holmgren, Gruden will take his team to Oakland to face the Raiders, the team Gruden helmed from 1998-2001. The game will mark the first trip back to Oakland for the Bucs' coach, and the Bucs first visit to the Raiders' park since 1999. In that season, during an otherwise flawless November and December, the Bucs lost to Gruden's Raiders, 45-0, on December 19. * The Bucs will log some serious frequent flyer miles in 2004. For the first time since 1992, the team will make two different trips to California during the regular season. In '92, the Tampa Bay jetted to San Diego and San Francisco, and also finished the year in Phoenix, as it will this winter. * On November 14, the Bucs will attempt to win their fifth straight game in Atlanta's Georgia Dome. The Bucs' four-game winning streak in Georgia dates back to 1997 and was extended last year with a 31-10 victory on September 21. The Bucs won those four games by an average score of 27-10. Of the 12 teams on the Tampa Bay's regular-season schedule, the Bucs' best head-to-head record is its 12-9 mark against the Falcons.