The Bucs and Texans will meet in the preseason for the third season in a row
A year ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were hoping their 2003 season would end in Houston's Reliant Stadium, home to Super Bowl XXXVIII. That didn't come to pass, but now the Bucs hope that, for the second time in three years, they can use Reliant Stadium to launch a championship season.
The Buccaneers will end their 2004 preseason slate in Houston, just as they did in 2002, when a trip to Texas provided the final warmup before the first Super Bowl championship season in franchise history.
The NFL's preseason schedule was released on Monday, featuring a four-game slate for the Buccaneers, beginning the weekend of August 12-16. Specific dates and times are still to be determined, but Tampa Bay will play the following preseason contests:
|August 19-23||at Jacksonville|
|September 2-5||at Houston|
The NFL generally releases its regular season schedule in late March or early April. Specific preseason dates and times will follow shortly after that announcement.
The NFL's 2004 preseason slate will actually kick off on August 9 when Denver meets Washington in the annual Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio. The Buccaneers last played in the Hall of Fame Game in 1998, when they defeated Pittsburgh, 30-6, on August 1 to open a five-game preseason. Tampa Bay also played five preseason games last year when they were featured in the American Bowl in Japan, a game the Bucs won, 30-14, over the New York Jets.
The Bucs' preseason opponents are, of course, very familiar. Tampa Bay played three of the same teams (Houston, Jacksonville and Miami) both last year and in 2002. Matchups with the Jaguars and Dolphins take advantage of regional opponents to reduce travel and the Houston series is the result of a multi-year agreement. The Texans played at Raymond James Stadium in the final preseason week last year.
The Bengals, on the other hand, are on the Bucs' preseason docket for the first time since 1995, when the Bucs won at Cincinnati, 31-7, on August 11. However, the two franchises used to visit each other regularly in August; in fact only Miami and Atlanta have been more common preseason opponents for the Bucs than Cincinnati. In Tampa Bay's first 20 seasons (1976-1995), it played Cincinnati 11 times in August, with the Bucs winning seven times.
Not surprisingly, Miami ranks as the Bucs' most common preseason foe, with 18 games between the two teams, including 10 in the last 10 years (two in 1996, none in 1999). The Dolphins lead the preseason series, 12-6, but Tampa Bay has won the last two, one each in Miami and Tampa Bay. Last year, the Bucs played in Pro Player Stadium just six days after their Tokyo game and came away with a 20-19 victory.
This will be the third straight preseason game with a game against the Jaguars; Tampa Bay owns a 2-0 mark in that all-time series. The Bucs have also stand 2-0 against the Texans, who just began play in 2002.
Tampa Bay is 7-2 in preseason games under Jon Gruden, who became the head coach in 2002. A 3-1 record preceded the Bucs' championship run in 2002, and a 4-1 mark set the Bucs up for their title defense last year. Over the last five seasons, the Bucs are 15-6 in preseason games, including 8-2 at home.
The most common preseason schedule for the Buccaneers includes three games on Saturday evenings and the finale on a Friday evening. The Bucs played two of their five games on national television last year – the American Bowl and a Monday Night matchup in St. Louis – but will not have to schedule around such commitments this year. The Bucs are not involved in any of the 10 preseason NFL games that will be broadcast nationally by ESPN, FOX, CBS and ABC.
Several Buccaneers and Bengals will find the opening game of 2004 to have a familiar feel. New Bucs running back Brandon Bennett and guard Matt O'Dwyer were on Cincinnati's roster for the past five seasons, while new Bengals linebacker Nate Webster recently jumped over from Tampa Bay. In Week Two, Jacksonville tight end Todd Yoder will face his former team and in Week Three new Tampa Bay quarterback Brian Griese will get a shot at his 2003 employers. And fullback Greg Comella, formerly of the Houston Texans, will go back to Reliant Stadium with the Buccaneers in the preseason finale, when the Bucs try to duplicate their Super Bowl sendoff of 2002.