DE Steve White's forced fumble against Washington was a key element in a typical Raymond James Stadium comeback win
It's unlikely that any two NFL teams created more buzz during the offseason than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Redskins. Keyshawn Johnson, Deion Sanders, Jeff Christy, Bruce Smith, Randall McDaniel, Jeff George, Les Steckel, LaVar Arrington...all the new faces in these two cities have the odds makers rolling up the numbers on the Bucs and Skins.
The Redskins open camp on July 20, the Bucs three days later. If that seems awfully soon, consider this: Tampa Bay and Washington will meet on the field in less than four weeks.
That's right; as we continue our efforts to preview training camp over the next few weeks, we should keep in mind that this potentially serious rivalry between the Bucs and Skins is about to kick off in Raymond James Stadium on August 4. Moreover, the teams will face each other again just five weeks into the regular season, on the first day of October, this time at the Redskins' FedEx Field.
And, even though that first game will not count in the standings, how the teams fare in those contests could be a good indicator of which, if either, will realize its ultimate goal of reaching the Super Bowl.
That's because defending your home turf seems to be essential in today's NFL. The last three Super Bowl champions each went all the way after putting up perfect home records; in fact, the last three Super Bowl losers were all undefeated at home as well. The combined regular and postseason home records of the last six Super Bowl participants (St. Louis and Tennessee in 2000, Denver and Atlanta in 1999 and Denver and Green Bay in 1998) is 56-0. Even conceding that these teams had excellent records overall, that is still a remarkable string of victories.
So, while the Bucs-Skins game in Raymond James Stadium in less than a month may not alter each team's path much, Tampa Bay's trip to the capital in October could ultimately swing the balance of power.
Tampa Bay has won its last two games against the Redskins, neither of which came during the regular season. The Bucs, as you surely recall, rallied from a 13-0 second-half deficit on January 15 to defeat Washington 14-13 in the playoffs to earn a spot in the NFC Championship game. Five months earlier, the Bucs had finished off a perfect 4-0 preseason with a similar rally, winning 16-13 on the final play of the game at FedEx Field on August 14.
The Redskins, however, are no strangers to home success. Since 1974, Washington owns a 129-71-1 record in home games, the fifth-best winning percentage in the NFL over that span. Though the Skins have left RFK Stadium behind, they continue to pile sellouts on top of each other and pack their games with energetic crowds.
If that sounds familiar, it may be because the Buccaneers are in the early stages of the same situation. Since Raymond James Stadium opened on September 20, 1998, the Bucs have become one of the league's best home teams, and the intense Tampa Bay game atmosphere has certainly contributed to that.
The Buccaneers are 14-3 in their new home, 16-3 if the preseason is included. Their 13-3 mark at Raymond James Stadium over the past two regular seasons is tied for third with Dallas for the best home record in the league during that time, behind only the 14-2 records of Jacksonville and Minnesota. That's better than such historically good home defenders as Green Bay, Buffalo, Kansas City and Denver.
The Bucs have also sold out every regular-season game in their new digs, certainly a factor in the team's increased home efficiency. The resulting emotional lift has allowed the team to engineer one dramatic comeback win after another, culminating in the playoff downing of Washington. Other notable comeback wins at Raymond James Stadium include the facility-opening victory over Chicago on September 20, 1998 as well as last year's rallies against Atlanta, Green Bay, Detroit and Minnesota.
Can the Bucs continue to feed off the crowd for such theatrical victories? Will they need to? Is the team's seemingly large home field advantage for real after just two seasons of evidence? The answers are on the way, sooner than you may have realized.