What Happened?: The post-Super Bowl fall of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
On January 26th, 2003, the greatest day in Buccaneers history happened. The Buccaneers hoisted up the Lombardi Trophy, winning their very first Super Bowl over the Oakland Raiders 48-21. That night in San Diego is a night Bucs fans will never forget. However, that is their last playoff win to date. They have only made the playoffs three times since that day, with their last appearance being in 2007. Today we are here to examine what led to the decline, why have the Buccaneers been out of the postseason for so long?
2003 Season : (7-9) (no playoff berth)
In 2003, The Buccaneers failed to make the playoffs with a 7-9 record. With the Oakland Raiders going 4-12, this was a rare occasion where both team who played in the Super Bowl would miss the playoffs. This wouldn’t happen again until 2016 with the Broncos and Panthers. Head Coach Jon Gruden and GM Rich McKay’s relationship began to implode during the season. Keyshawn Johnson became a locker room cancer and was deactivated after 10 games. He was eventually traded to Dallas for WR Joey Galloway. Brad Johnson, despite starting all 16 games, would struggle mightily and be benched at the end of the season. Injuries were big for the Bucs this year with names like Mike Alstott, Joe Jurvicius, Greg Spires and Brian Kelly all on injured reserve. Injuries were so bad that by November, WR Charles Lee and RB Thomas Jones were both starting. McKay would leave Tampa for Atlanta in December and watched the Atlanta Falcons officially eliminate the Bucs from playoff contention in Week 16. First playoff miss since 1998.
2004 Season: (5-11) (no playoff berth)
In 2004, one of the biggest problems in Tampa Bay was the salary cap. They would choose not to re-sign two of their defensive captains, John Lynch and Warren Sapp. Both had expiring contracts and they wanted to get younger. To make matters worse, WR Keenan McCardell refused to play until he got a better contract. The Bucs would ship McCardell to San Diego for draft picks. Tampa Bay opted for more of a veteran presence on offense signing aging WR Tim Brown, RB Charlie Garner and T Derrick Deese. Brown and Deese would play one season before retiring and Garner was injured after 3 games, sent to IR and he never played again. K Martin Gramatica’s accuracy issues didn’t help the team either. Brad Johnson continued to struggle which led to him being benched. QB Brian Griese would take over when starter Chris Simms got injured and would finish out the season. Rookie WR Michael Clayton did set a rookie record for receiving with 1,193 yards and 7 touchdowns. Tampa Bay would lose 8 games that season by a touchdown or less. The Bucs became the 1st team in NFL history to finish a Super Bowl season with back to back losing seasons.
2005 Season: (11-5) (WildCard berth)
In the 2005 NFL Draft, the Buccaneers selected Auburn RB Carnell “Cadillac” Williams in the 1st round. Williams gave the Bucs a running game they hadn’t had since the 1980s. He would rush for 474 yards in his first 3 games, an NFL record. Williams would go on to win the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year. Starter QB Brian Griese would go down Week 4 with a season ending injury and QB Chris Simms would finish out the season. Simms struggled at first but eventually found his rhythm. In the Wild Card game against the Washington Redskins, it was largely a defensive game. With both Mark Brunell and Chris Simms playing poorly, the game came down to defense. Edell Shepherd dropped the game tying touchdown and Simms was picked off by LaVar Arrington to end the game. This was also the Bucs 30th year anniversary.
2006 Season: (4-12) (no playoff berth)
Injuries would plague the 2006 season. IR took Michael Clayton, Carnell Williams, Brian Kelly, Chris Simms and Simeon Rice at one point or another. The Bucs started 0-3, Chris Simms played terribly throwing 7 interceptions during that span. The Bucs didn’t score a touchdown in either of the first 2 games. With Simms injured again, the Bucs had to turn to 6th round QB, Bruce Gradkowksi. Gradkowski played decently but would eventually be benched for QB Tim Rattay. Other rookies like G Davin Joseph and T Jeremy Trueblood saw playing time due to the injuries. The Bucs defense looked unrecognizable, being ranked in the low 20s, first time since 1996 where they weren’t TOP 10. This was also Mike Alstott’s last season before a neck injury forced him to retire. From Week 8 to Week 15, the Bucs lost 7 out of 8.
2007 Season: (9-7) (Wild Card berth)
GM Bruce Allen and Head Coach Jon Gruden made it their mission to get the Bucs back to the postseason. They would sign 2 QBs, Jeff Garcia and Jake Plummer. Plummer would retire later that day. They would lose a number of players to free agency such as CB Juran Bolden, G Sean Mahan, LB Cato June, DE Dewayne White and Shelton Quarles. After 32 years, Tampa Bay made history finally returning a kickoff for a touchdown when Micheal Spurlock did it Week 15 against Atlanta. QB Jeff Garcia played great and was named to the Pro Bowl. Gruden and Allen were given extensions. This is the Bucs last playoff appearance to date. The Buccaneers lost to the eventual Super Bowl Champion New York Giants. Mike Alstott announces his retirement.
2008 Season: (9-7) (no playoff berth)
The 2008 season showed a lot of promise. The Bucs would bring back RB Warrick Dunn and former starter QB Brian Griese. Although Jeff Garcia was named the starter after preseason, he dropped the 1st game and was benched for Brian Griese. Griese would win the next three games before Garcia was named starter again. The Bucs were 9-3 and were undefeated at home at a perfect 6-0 record. A Week 14 blowout to Carolina ruined the Bucs division title hopes. To make matters worse, longtime Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin left to coach at Tennessee with his son, Lane. The Bucs wouldn’t win again after November ended, dropping the last 4 games. Both Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen were fired after the season.
2009 Season: (3-13) (no playoff berth)
The 2009 season was a new era in Tampa Bay. Mark Dominik was named GM and former defensive backs coach Raheem Morris was named Head Coach. The Bucs decided to start over and release many fan favorites such as K Matt Bryant, RB Warrick Dunn, WR Joey Galloway, QB Brian Griese and even LB Derrick Brooks. The Bucs would bring in QB Byron Leftwich, TE Kellen Winslow II (via trade), RB Derrick Ward and P Dirk Johnson. The Bucs also decided to use the 17th overall pick to select Kansas State QB Josh Freeman. With a new GM, Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator, the Bucs were rebuilding. It was trouble from the start. In August, FS Tanard Jackson was suspended 4 games for violating the substance abuse policy and CB Aqib Talib was arrested the next day. Right before the season opener, Offensive Coordinator Jeff Jagoszinski was fired. The Bucs started the season 0-7. Although they would beat Green Bay, they would drop the next 5 games after that and only win 2 more games the whole season. In the 2009 season, the Bucs would put together a Ring of Honor to honor the 30th anniversary of the 1979 team and induct Lee Roy Selmon as its first member.
2010 Season: (10-6) (no playoff berth)
The 2010 Buccaneers had a great season but bad luck sent them out of the playoffs. They were the first team since the 1970 merger to start 10 rookies and have a winning season. After a strong season from Josh Freeman and an improved defense, the Buccaneers were finally eliminated from playoff contention in Week 17 after Green Bay defeated Chicago. Rookie RB LeGarrette Blount rushed for 1,007 yards and averaged 5.0 yards a carry. John McKay, the team’s first ever Head Coach, became the 2nd man inducted into the Ring of Honor.
2011 Season: (4-12) (no playoff berth)
The 2011 season was disappointing to say the least. During a lockout season, they tried to build off the success of 2010 but couldn’t. 2011 saw RB Carnell Williams, LB Barrett Ruud, WR Maurice Stovall move on from the team. The Bucs would sign DT Albert Haynesworth and P Michael Koenen to help the team. The Bucs defense was among the league’s worst. They allowed 494 points to be scored, 2,497 rushing yards, 26 rushing touchdowns and 356 total first downs on them. Going into Week 7, the Bucs were doing okay at 4-3. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t win another game all season, dropping the last 9 games. Turnovers, penalties and poor play from Josh Freeman took its toll. Freeman threw 22 interceptions and the Bucs had the 30th ranked defense. Raheem Morris was fired at the end of the season. TE Jimmie Giles was inducted into the Ring of Honor.
2012 Season: (7-9) (no playoff berth)
The 2012 season saw noticeable change in the team. Greg Schiano was hired as Head Coach. The Bucs would sign Pro Bowlers WR Vincent Jackson and G Carl Nicks in free agency. They would draft future Pro Bowlers, Doug Martin 31st overall and Lavonte David 58th overall. After starting 2-4, the Bucs would win 4 straight, improving to 6-4. Then they would lose 5 straight, falling to 6-9 before winning the final game. While the Bucs had the #1 rush defense in the NFL, they had the #32 pass defense also. The 2002 Super Bowl team would attend the Week 14 game vs Philadelphia. T Paul Gruber was inducted into the Bucs Ring of Honor. This is also CB Ronde Barber’s Final season. While the 2002 Super Bowl team was attendance for the Eagles game, Barber was the only member of that team still playing with the team.
2013 Season: (4-12) (no playoff berth)
In the 2013 season, the Bucs were starting fresh. Without Ronde Barber for the 1st time since 1996, The Bucs needed a new lockdown corner. The Bucs traded their 2013 1st round pick and a conditional pick in 2014 to the New York Jets to get CB Darrelle Revis. Despite Revis and the rise of LB Lavonte David, the Bucs had a lot of drama. Greg Schiano and Josh Freeman’s relationship was at an all time low. Schiano drafted QB Mike Glennon in the 3rd round of the 2013 draft. The tension was rising every week. Freeman was in the final year of his rookie contract. Allegedly, Schiano wasn’t high on Freeman and didn’t want to work with him. Trade rumors began swirling. Also allegedly, Schiano rigged the team captain voting to prevent Freeman from being picked. Josh Freeman missed team picture the next day, which he blamed on oversleeping. Freeman also had been involved with the NFL’s drug program. After an 0-3 start, Freeman was benched for rookie Mike Glennon. Freeman has only completed 45% of his passes, had 2 passing touchdowns and 2 interceptions. After the benching, he asked for and was granted his release. The team also had a MRSA outbreak. The MRSA outbreak affected G Carl Nicks, K Lawrence Tynes and S Johnthan Banks. The Bucs would get to 0-8 before winning the next 3 games and only winning one more game for the rest of the season. DT Warren Sapp was inducted into the Ring of Honor in 2013. GM Mark Dominik and Head Coach Greg Schiano were both fired at the end of the season.
2014 Season: (2-14) (no playoff berth)
The 2014 season was an abysmal season. Owner Malcolm Glazer would pass away in May and his family would run the Bucs. Jason Licht was named the new GM. Former Bears Head Coach Lovie Smith was brought in to coach the team. Smith wanted to bring back Tampa 2 and bring back the success of the late 90s and early 2000s. Players like G Davin Joseph and CB Darrelle Revis were released. The Bucs brought in DE Michael Johnson, QB Josh McCown and G Logan Mankins. Many thought the Bucs would be surprise contenders, but that was quickly put to rest following an 1-5 start. Mike Glennon was benched for Josh McCown, who didn’t fare much better. The Bucs were embarrassed Week 3, losing to Atlanta 56-14. Because of the lackluster 2-14 season and a tiebreaker, the Bucs were awarded the 1st overall pick. Rookie 1st rounder, WR Mike Evans, did catch for 1,000 yards though. LB Derrick Brooks was inducted into the Ring of Honor in 2014.
2015 Season: (6-10) (no playoff berth)
In 2015, the Buccaneers selected QB Jameis Winston in the 1st round of the 2015 NFL Draft, 1st overall. He was about to usher them into a new era. This was the team’s 40th anniversary. Winston showed a lot of potential in his first year, winning Pepsi Rookie of the Year and being named to the Pro Bowl. However, kicking woes and poor defensive play lost them the season. K Kyle Brindza struggled with consistency the whole year. The Bucs had TOP 5 in total offense for the first time in franchise history. The Bucs were 6-6 but dropped the last four games, finishing last in the NFC South for the 5th year in a row. Jameis Winston threw for over 4,000 passing yards, Doug Martin was second in rushing and Mike Evans caught for 1,000 yards again. Head Coach Lovie Smith was fired at the end of the season. FB Mike Alstott was inducted into the Ring of Honor in 2014.
2016 Season: (9-7) (no playoff berth)
The 2016 season was full of pleasant surprises. The Bucs hired Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter to be the new Head Coach. Although injuries took their toll early, the Bucs went on an unprecedented 5 game winning streak to stand at 8-5 in mid-December. The Bucs hadn’t had a 5 game winning streak since 2002. They would drop the next two and win the final game. They finished 9-7 and tied with the Detroit Lions for the final NFC playoff spot but lost the tiebreaker. Winston would break Josh Freeman’s record for single season passing touchdowns with 28. This was the first winning season the Bucs had since 2010. S John Lynch was inducted into the Ring of Honor.
2017 Season: (5-11) (no playoff berth)
The 2017 season brought underachieving once again. It didn’t help that this was the year the team was featured on HBO’s Hard Knocks. Kicking woes would again hurt the team. Nick Folk couldn’t get it together and was released in February. The Bucs gained the additions of WR DeSean Jackson, DT Chris Baker, RB Jacquizz Rodgers, S T.J. Ward and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick but it wasn’t enough. The NFL Draft however, brought some notable names to the team. TE O.J. Howard, S Justin Evans and WR Chris Godwin were the first 3 picks. Injuries would also plague this season. With names like Demar Dotson, Ali Marpet, Vernon Hargreaves III, Noah Spence and O.J. Howard all being on IR at some point. The Bucs would have two different 5 game losing streaks during the season. Former HC Jon Gruden and owner Malcolm Glazer would be the next to be inducted into the Ring of Honor.
2018 Season: (5-11) (no playoff berth)
This brings us to the 2018 season. Last year, the Bucs started out with bad news after news broke that QB Jameis Winston would be suspended the first 3 games for a 2016 incident in an Uber. Many fans figured that the season was lost upon hearing that and that the Bucs would start 0-3. Ryan Fitzpatrick took the league by storm by not only going 2-1 but for throwing for 400 yards in three straight games to open the season. However when Winston got back Week 4, he was renamed the starter. He would remain the starter until a four interception performance against the Cincinnati Bengals which saw him get benched. Fitzpatrick would start the next two weeks before going downhill and being benched for Winston again. Winston would remain the starter for the rest of the season. Although he did vastly improve, the Buccaneers overall did not, finishing at 5-11 again. Head Coach Dirk Koetter was fired after the season. Former HC Tony Dungy was inducted into the Ring of Honor.
Over the last 17 years, I’ve noticed one huge thing that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have issues with. CONSISTENCY! The Bucs have no consistency. The Bucs have only had one back to back winning season. Bruce Arians is the Buccaneers fifth Head Coach since 2008. The Bucs haven’t had a 1,000 yard rusher since 2015. The Bucs have had a top 20 defense twice since 2010. We need to do a better job of building off momentum. I believe in BA. I think he’s just the right choice to build that consistency. Let’s see what the 2019 season has in store.