Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tampa Bay Buccaneers... Your Decade is Over

This season, whenever I believe a team is eliminated from the playoffs, thus making their season (and decade) over, I will write their obituary.

Today I present to you the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the 00's.

The Buc's had every reason to begin the decade with Super Bowl aspirations. They were young, they barely lost to the Rams in the '99 NFC Championship game, and in Tony Dungy they had a coach they believed in.

The 2000 and 2001 seasons played out similarly for the Buc's. The team went 10-6 in 2000, 9-7 in 2001, and lost to Philadelphia both seasons on Wild Card weekend. Unfortunately for Tony Dungy, ownership believed that this wasn't enough, and after the 2001 playoff loss to the Eagles, the Buc's fired Dungy, eventually replacing him with Raiders head coach Jon Gruden via trade.

In 2001 a lot of people wondered why Dungy, who had taken the Bucs to the playoffs in each of the previous three seasons, and was seen as responsible for taking the franchise from the dumpster of the NFL towards the top, was fired. The logic was that any team with talent such as Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn, Mike Alstott, Keyshawn Johnson, Shelton Quarles, John Lynch, Ronde Barber, Simeon Rice, Warren Sapp, Anthony McFarland, and Marcus Jones, should be going deep in the playoffs year in and year out.

In 2002, Jon Gruden took over in Tampa and the team took on a new image. Brad Johnson was sworn in as the starting QB beating out Rob Johnson and Shaun King, pro bowl running back Warrick Dunn headed to Atlanta and was replaced by Michael Pittman, and Keenan McCardell was shipped down state from Jacksonville to complement Keyshawn Johnson at Wide Receiver. The defense even made progressions, and the team improved to 12-4, earning themselves a first rd bye.

The 2002 Buc's could easily be considered the most impressive playoff team of the decade. In the divisional round they dominated the 49ers 31 to 6, sending that franchise into a downward spiral. The next week the headed to the Philadelphia and silenced their torments, shutting down Donovan McNabb en route to a 27 to 10 victory; setting the stage for Gruden and the Bucs to face his old team the Oakland Raiders.

Super Bowl XXXVII turned out to be a no contest as Tampa Bay and their defense dominated Oakland's top ranked offense. The final score was 48 to 21, but the beat down was even worse. Dexter Jackson was the games MVP, and replacing Tony Dungy looked like, without question, the best move the franchise could've ever made. Almost seven years later, history has yet to be revised.

The Buc's fell of big time in 2003, going 7-9. The locker room became tumultuous, Brad Johnson's turnover ratio skyrocketed, and locker room issues lead to Keyshawn Johnson being asked to leave the team. In 2004, the Buc's fell even further to 5-11. Before the season Keyshawn Johnson headed to Dallas, Warren Sapp headed to Oakland, they drafted a QB in Chris Simms, and the Buc's brought in Brian Griese to take over for Brad Johnson.

Temporarily things worked out for the Buc's. In 2005 the team, lead by Chris Simms at QB, headed to the playoffs on Simms arm, and the legs of 2005 Rookie of the Year, Cadillac Williams. Unfortunately for the Buc's, their home field advantage against the Washington Redskins meant nothing as the team fell 10-17.

The 2006 season ended early for the Buc's. Chris Simms missed the season with spleen issues after week 3, he was replaced by a rookie in Bruce Gradkowski and journeyman Tim Rattay. A 4-12 finish was all the 2005 season would have for the Buc's.

The 2007 Buc's were given a face lift. By this point Ronde Barber and Derrick Brooks were the only members left from the team's lights out defense in 2002. The team added a pro bowl callibur QB in Jeff Garcia, added Cato June at LB, and developed Jermaine Phillips, Barrett Ruud, and Gaines Adams into solid players. The Buc's went 9-7, winning the NFC South for the third time under gruden, but for the second time were "one and done;" this time falling to eventual Super Bowl XLII champions the New York Giants.

2008 saw the Buc's hold on to much of their 07 core, and things looked great for the Buc's early on. Heading into week 14 the team was 9-3, needing only one win to clinch the playoffs, and in control of their own destiny. The team dropped their next 4, including a week 17 embarrassment to Gruden's former employer; After seven seasons, three playoff appearances, and one Lombardi trophy, the Gruden era had ended in Tampa.

The Buc's jumped on the Mike Tomlin wannabe bandwagon, and hired Raheem Morris, a very young coach without much experience under his belt. The team is currently 0-5, and firing Gruden in favor of Morris looks right now as the worst coaching move of the offseason. The team also parted with future Hall of Fame LB Derrick Brooks, a player who has meant everything to the franchises rise to prominence.

The team is currently without a face. In the off season they signed Byron Leftwich at QB and drafted Josh Freeman, neither of which is currently starting. The Buc's also acquired Tight End Kellen Winslow Jr. from the Browns.

Though things don't look good for the Buc's in the immediate future, Buc's fans will likely always look back on the early 00's as a great time, the greatest in the franchises history.

Personally, I never shy away from calling the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers the best Super Bowl team of the decade. When you take everything into account it's hard to go against them. The way the beat the teams that they beat was easily the most impressive playoff run of the decade.

It's a team that will also send anywhere from four to seven players to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I've got a feeling the '02 Buc's are gonna be to the Buc's what the '85 Bears are to the Bears franchise.

MVP of the Decade:
Derrick Brooks

Notable Players:
Warren Sapp, Mike Alstott, Simeon Rice, John Lynch, Derrick Brooks, Dexter Jackson, Brad Johnson, Cadillac Williams, Warrick Dunn, Michael Pittman, Jeff Garcia, Ernest Graham, Keyshawn Johnson, Antonio Bryant, Martin Gramatica, Shelton Quarles, Kenyatta Walker, Keenan McCardell, Ronde Barber, Josh Bidwell, Jermaine Phillips

Throwback Jersey That Will Be Cool in 15 Years: Super Bowl XXXVII Warren Sapp

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