P Tom Tupa has 56 inside-the-20 kicks vs. just 18 touchbacks over the past two years
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2002 and 2003 seasons were, in retrospect, almost polar opposites. The first exceeded even the grandest expectations for the team; the second began with enormous expectations and didn't come close to living up to them.
Of course, the 2003 season, a 7-9 campaign to follow up a Super Bowl championship, wasn't a complete loss. Statistically, the Bucs were still among the league's elite, but they were repeatedly done in by penalties, injuries and special teams problems. Within the season were many outstanding individual performances. In fact, there are a handful of players who, over 2002 and 2003 combined had perhaps the best results at their position in a two-year span of the franchise's history.
Some of them are obvious. Quarterback Brad Johnson broke the team record with 22 touchdown passes in 2002, then topped it with 26 this year; in one year or the other Johnson broke virtually every passing record in the team's books. Defensive end Simeon Rice became the first Buc ever to post back-to-back 15-sack campaigns. Wide receiver Keenan McCardell scored 14 touchdowns over 2002-03, equaling the most ever by a Buc receiver in consecutive years.
Then there was Tom Tupa. Would it surprise you to learn that no Buccaneer punter has ever had two consecutive seasons as statistically outstanding as Tupa's 2002 and 2003?
In 2003, Tupa averaged 43.3 yards per punt on 83 punts, the best gross average in the Bucs' 28 seasons. The previous record was 43.1, set by Mark Royals in 1999. In his first year as a Buc, Tupa had been in a virtual tie with Royals' mark after 14 games but had just barely slipped to 42.8 over the final two games, posting what was then the third-best mark in Buc history.
During that 2002 campaign, Tupa did set the team record for punts placed inside the 20, doing so 30 times. He didn't break that mark in 2003, but he did tie the second-best mark ever with 26, equaling what Royals did in 2001. Many analysts consider a punter's ratio of inside-the-20 kicks to touchback to be his key stat, and in two seasons Tupa has a fantastic 56-18 ratio.
A closer look at Tupa's two seasons as a Buc does leave you with one nagging question: Should he have signed with the New Orleans Saints instead? Since joining Tampa Bay, Tupa has kicked twice in the Saints' Superdome; the first time, on December 1, 2002, he set the Bucs' record with a single-game average of 52.0 yards per punt (minimum four punts). This year, on December 7, Tupa tied his own standard with the exact same average. With a 50.7-yard average at Atlanta this past September, Tupa owns three of the top four single-game marks in team history.
All of this has made Tupa the most accomplished Buccaneer punter ever, as measured by average. In two years, Tupa has a 43.0-yard gross, having kicked for 7,446 yards on 173 tries. While six former Buc punters have punted more often and for more yards than Tupa – in order, Royals, Frank Garcia, Dave Green, Dan Stryzinski and Tommy Barnhardt – Tupa has enough punts to qualify and the best average ever.
No Score Zone
Over the final two games of 2003, the Buccaneers threw eight interceptions, and those eight turnovers resulted in 37 points for their opponents. Overall, Tampa Bay allowed 63 points in Weeks 16 and 17, the most the team had surrendered in a two week span since the last pair of games in 1995, in which it allowed 68.
Why bring up such an obviously negative note? Only to demonstrate how incredibly stingy the Buccaneers' defense has been for such a long period of time.
Even with hat shaky finish – fueled largely by a ridiculous string of injuries – the Bucs still finished fourth in the NFL in points allowed in 2003, giving up 264 points, or 16.5 per game. Only New England (14.9), Dallas (16.2) and Miami (16.3) proved harder to score against.
That hardly counts as a surprise. The Bucs allowed just 196 points in 2002, the fifth-lowest ever in a 16-game season and easily the best mark in the NFL that season. In fact, Tampa Bay has been denying access to its end zone on a regular basis since 1997.
Over the last seven seasons, the Bucs have, by far, the best scoring defense in the NFL.
Fewest Points Allowed Since 1997
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1802|
(excluding expansion teams Cleveland and Houston)
The Buccaneers were 2-7 in games decided by eight or fewer points in 2003. That means nine of their 16 games, or 56.3% of their outings, came down to that slim of a margin. If that seems unusually dramatic, it really wasn't.
Throughout the NFL, 51% of the games played in 2003 were decided by eight points or less, and that is right in line with the totals from recent years. Moreover, 48% of the games were decided by seven points or less and 23% were decided by three points or less.
There were a total of 23 overtime games in 2003, two involving the Buccaneers. There was at least one OT game each week from Week Two through Week 12, the longest such streak in NFL history. The Bucs contributed by taking the Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts to overtime in Weeks Two and Five; unfortunately, the Bucs were on the losing end both times.
In Week 12, the Buccaneers played on Monday night and edged the New York Giants, 19-13. That was the capper of one of the tightest weekends in NFL annals. All 16 games that weekend were decided by 13 points or less and 12 of those games were decided by seven points or less, tying the league record in that category.