The NFL suddenly has a vested interest in the final stragglers joining its playoff party.
The doomsday playoff scenario talked about in hushed tones at league meetings is likely to become a reality by Jan. 2, when one of the most bizarre regular seasons in the league's 85-year history concludes.
A widening disparity between the conferences has culminated in a madcap scramble for the NFC's final postseason berths - and the likelihood at least one playoff participant will enter with a losing record.
``The NFC playoff picture belongs on Comedy Central instead of ESPN,'' said former Bengals wide receiver Cris Collinsworth, now an NFL analyst. ``The NFC is not dead ... it's just not deep.''
No team with a losing record has reached the NFL playoffs in a non-strike season. Five 8-8 clubs have made it, and in 1982 two 4-5 teams advanced to the postseason while playing a strike-shortened schedule.
The NFC is so beaten down this season, a club below .500 could win the West.
Seattle (7-7) closes with home games against Arizona and Atlanta, and the Seahawks showed little pulse at the Meadowlands on Sunday in a 37-14 loss to the Jets.
The 6-8 Rams host the Eagles and Jets, who are a combined 23-5.
Even the 5-9 Cardinals, who close at home against the Bucs, could conceivably win the wicked West.
``When we went to eight divisions of four, the fear was you could have a down division or two, where you might end up with an 8-8 or 7-9 champion,'' said Falcons general manager Rich McKay, co- chairman of the league's competition committee.
Solid AFC teams Baltimore and Jacksonville could be left out of the playoffs at 9-7, even as a 7-9 Carolina club prepares for the wild-card round.
With six interconference games remaining in the final two weekends, the AFC holds a commanding 39-19 advantage. The NFC hasn't been on the plus side of .500 since 1995, when the Cowboys were capping a run of three Super Bowl titles in a four-year span.
``There's no simple explanation,'' Bucs general manager Bruce Allen said of the AFC's recent dominance. ``The most important thing to remember is our system works. There has never been a debate about who the world champs are in a given season ... and there won't be a debate this year. This could just be a quirk.''
Statistical evidence supports the disparity.
AFC teams crowd the top of the board in three significant categories - rushing attempts, rushing defense and turnover differential.
Except for Atlanta, which benefits from the unique mobility of quarterback Michael Vick, the nine teams with the most rushing attempts hail from the AFC.
``While the AFC's dominance seems to be at its peak right now, history tells us it won't last forever,'' said Giants running back Tiki Barber. ``The whole AFC-NFC debate is cyclical.''
Barber's point can't be dismissed.
From 1985-97, the NFC won 13 consecutive Super Bowls. Now the pendulum has swung back to the AFC, with both a vengeance and a question mark.
``I have come to the conclusion that I have absolutely no explanation for it,'' said McKay, whose Falcons went 3-1 vs. AFC opponents. ``It's a story, and it's real, but I can't explain it. I have seen it go the other way, too.''
McKay acknowledged there has been some sentiment among NFL executives to choose the 12 playoff teams based strictly on record, rather than select the top six from each conference.
``There wasn't much support for the idea,'' he said. ``Conference boundaries are part of our tradition, and this is a league that ties itself to tradition. We're not looking to make a first down 11 yards.''
For this season, at least, the NFC has some explaining to do. Only four of its 16 teams boast a winning record, compared to nine AFC clubs.
Leave it to the NFL's resident philosopher, Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice, to provide some perspective.
``You put us in the AFC,'' Rice said of 5-9 Tampa Bay, ``and we would have been gone a long time ago.''
Thursday, December 23, 2004
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Bucs quarterback Brian Griese completed passes to nine different receivers Sunday. Actually, 10 if you include the deflected pass he caught himself.
Even Tim Brown got in on the action. Brown snapped a five-game streak without a reception with two catches.
But it was rookie Michael Clayton and veteran Joey Galloway who benefited the most from Griese's most productive day as a Buc (36 of 50 for 392 yards and three touchdowns) in Tampa Bay's 31-24 loss.
Clayton caught a career- high nine passes for 145 yards and one touchdown. Galloway had five receptions for 78 yards and two touchdowns.
Former Bucs receiver Keenan McCardell, watching from the Chargers sideline with an injured hamstring, said he admired the job the newest members of the Bucs receiving corps are doing.
``Michael is having the same numbers that I had last year. He stepped in and played big,'' said McCardell, who led the Bucs with 84 receptions for 1,174 yards and eight touchdowns last year. ``Joey has come in, it's his first year of the offense and [he] is becoming more familiar with it.
``It's a wide receiver offense. It's a wide receiver's dream.''
It's a quarterback's dream to have receivers making big plays. Of Clayton's game-high nine receptions, seven were for first downs.
Galloway picked up two first downs and added two touchdowns to his Tampa Bay total (three). He scored his first Bucs touchdown last week against Atlanta.
``Joey made some great plays today,'' Griese said. ``On the first touchdown, it was just pure speed, speed over the top. I laid it out there for him and let him go get it. ... He did a great job. He's got quick feet.''
Those feet came out from underneath Galloway late in the fourth quarter. He slipped during a punt return and was helped off the field suffering from cramps.
``That hurt us,'' Coach Jon Gruden said. ``We ran out of gas a little bit. We had some penalties on early down run calls which put us behind in the down and distance, and Galloway's absence hurt us down the stretch.''
Clayton, who leads the Bucs and NFL rookies with 70 receptions, is 12 yards shy of a 1,000-yard season. He credits Griese for his success.
``You have to love the guy,'' Clayton said. ``If it weren't for him, I probably wouldn't have made it this far. He really sets the tone in the huddle and for a guy like me, I can feed off that.
``When he looks at you in your eye, it's confidence saying I'm coming to you, get open. It gives you a little bit more spunk running your routes.''
Clayton had to build up trust with Griese and is taking advantage of that dependability.
``He knows I'll catch,'' he said. ``I catch them in practice. I don't think I've dropped one catchable ball this season. He knows. He's pretty comfortable throwing the ball to me.''
Galloway also enjoys the benefits of Griese's confidence in the receivers.
``It's fun to play football when [Brian's] spreading the ball around,'' Galloway said. ``You know whenever a play is called, you better do your job because there's a chance he could find you.''
Thursday, December 09, 2004
Michael Pittman is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ leading scorer in 2004, with 60 points, and with Jay Taylor replacing Martin Gramatica (54 points) at kicker for the final five games, it appears certain that Pittman will take the lead to the end of the season.
How rare is that? The last non-kicker to lead the Buccaneers in scoring was Reggie Cobb in 1992, another season in which the Bucs switched kickers midstream. The only other such occurrence came in 1976, the first season for the Tampa Bay franchise. That year, WR Morris Owens scored six of the team’s 15 touchdowns and edged out kicker/punter Dave Green, 36 points to 35.
Moreover, Pittman wouldn’t have seemed a likely to join Cobb and Owens, given that he had exactly one rushing touchdown in his first two Buccaneer seasons, and just three scores overall. In addition, Pittman missed the first three games of the season on a suspension and was expected to share time in the backfield with free agent import Charlie Garner. In that role, he might have been used most extensively as a receiver.
But Pittman’s nose for the end zone has been about the most consistent thing in the Bucs’ rollercoaster season. Since returning in Week Four, he has scored 10 touchdowns in nine games, including at least one in six of the last seven contests. Suddenly he is only the fourth player in team history to hit double digits in TDs in a single season, joining James Wilder, Mike Alstott and Errict Rhett.
While Pittman took some heat in an otherwise excellent 2002 season for rarely putting the ball in the end zone, the main difference between that year and this one is the number of his opportunities. Pittman has gotten the call repeatedly in the red zone, and he has delivered.
“[Pittman has been used] especially inside the plus-five, goal-line area, where years past he hasn’t been utilized in that area,” said Head Coach Jon Gruden. “I think 10 touchdowns in nine games is pretty significant and hopefully he can find pay dirt a few more times.”
The team record for single season touchdowns is 13, by Wilder in 1984. Alstott in 2001 and Rhett in 1995 each had 11, and Alstott and Wilder had 10-TD campaigns in 1997 and 1995, respectively. Pittman, who played his high school ball in San Diego, could challenge the top spots as quickly as this weekend, though the Chargers possess the league’s second-best rush defense.
Because Garner got knocked out for the year just before Pittman came back and Alstott also missed a chunk of the season with a knee injury, Pittman has become the workhorse again. He has averaged 19 carries per game over the last six contests; compare that to his 13 carries per game in 2002 and his 12 per game in 2001.
All that has somewhat diminished his touches in the passing game, but he remains a very serious threat in that regard, too, with 292 yards and three scores on 27 catches. The Buccaneers still love to find ways to isolate him with a mismatched player in the secondary. Overall, Pittman has 954 combined yards from scrimmage, which puts him 12th in the NFC. He would obviously be much closer to the top had he not missed the first three games of the year.
“He’s got close to 1,000 all-purpose yardage in 10 weeks, nine games, so that puts him on the upper tier in terms of all halfbacks in football,” said Gruden. “He’s having a great year and we’re going to need him down the stretch, obviously.”
Pittman has averaged 106 combined yards per game this season, which does indeed put him in the conference’s upper echelon. The Giants’ Tiki Barber, having his best season, leads the way with 140 yards per game, but the second-place man, Seattle’s Shaun Alexander, is well behind Barber at 116 . Philadelphia’s Brian Westbrook is next at 115.5 and Clinton Portis follows at 107. Pittman is fifth in the NFC with his mark, ahead of such notables as Ahman Green, Marshall Faulk, Thomas Jones, Warrick Dunn and Deuce McAllister.
With 662 rushing yards and four games to play, Pittman would have to average 84.5 yards per game to reach the 1,000-yard mark, a recognizable goal for any back. He might not get there, and the truth is, his team doesn’t really care. As long as he continues to produce in the manner he has been all season – particularly in terms of finding the end zone – the Buccaneers will be extremely happy.
Monday, November 29, 2004
Head Coach Jon Gruden struggled to think of the right word to describe his Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ loss in Carolina on Sunday, but only briefly. He soon hit on the exact description.
“I guess ‘maddening’ is the word I’m looking for,” said Gruden. “Maddening. Not only to the players, not only to the coaches, but to our fans. You’re counting on certain aspects of your football team to come through for you, and clearly it’s been a problem.”
The Buccaneers have several ongoing issues that have plagued them in the two seasons since their Super Bowl XXXVII victory, including injuries, penalties, ill-timed turnovers and late-game big plays. Perhaps the team’s most damaging shortcoming, however, has been an inconsistent placekicking game; that was certainly a deciding factor in the 21-14 loss at Carolina, in which Martin Gramatica missed or was blocked on three field tries of less than 40 yards.
On the season, Gramatica has missed eight of 19 field goal tries, including seven of his last nine.
The time has come to address that problem, says Gruden. The Buccaneers will try out several kickers on Tuesday and could sign a new player at that position this week.
Gruden did not say for certain that the Bucs would sign another kicker, or whether or not Gramatica would retain his spot on the 53-man roster in the event of a signing.
“I don’t know what I’m considering right now,” said Gruden. “All I know is, I’m considering doing everything we’ve got to do to improve that aspect of our football team. Clearly, it’s been a sore thumb for us this season.
“We’re going to bring another kicker in and evaluate who’s available. If we can improve our football team, we’ll do everything we can to do that. I think the number one thing is, let’s address that area of our football team, to see if there is any way possible we can improve there.”
The Bucs have been scanning the list of available players for several weeks, ever since Gramatica appeared on the injury report with a hip strain following the November 7 win over Kansas City. The team actually signed another kicker, the Orlando Predators’ Jay Taylor, to the practice squad that week but released him the following week when Gramatica proved healthy enough to kick. Gruden says the team’s personnel department has ‘zoomed in’ on a few guys. The Bucs, however, rarely announce players they’ve brought in for tryouts unless they choose to sign them.
The Bucs would not necessarily have to release Gramatica to sign another kicker, but they would have to release somebody from the 53-man roster. If Gramatica has to cede either his roster spot or his placekicking job at any point, it will be a difficult decision for an organization that has enjoyed so much success as the result of his past kicking heroics.
In fact, the site of Sunday’s struggles was also the venue for perhaps Gramatica’s finest day as a pro, just two years ago. In a game that would eventually prove to be the turning point in the Bucs’ greatest season ever, Gramatica made three long fourth-quarter field goals to kick Tampa Bay to a 12-9 win over Carolina. Memories such as those are still fresh in Gruden’s mind, and Gramatica’s name appears over and over again in the Bucs’ record book.
“You pick up the media guide and you realize what this guy has done as a kicker in this league,” said Gruden. “At the same time, in the last year-plus, we have struggled there. He’s had injuries. Certainly, it’s easy to point fingers when you lose. The kicker is playing an individual game and it’s easy to sometimes point fingers when things don’t go well. A lot of things have to be considered, and [Gramatica’s history] is certainly one of them.”
Monday, November 08, 2004
TAMPA - Each time Vonnie Holliday thought about the final score, it hurt a little more.
An hour after the game, the veteran defensive end was still distraught the Chiefs came up on the short end of a 34-31 shootout at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, dropping Kansas City to 3-5 and undermining any momentum from two impressive home victories.
``Just when you feel like you've got this thing going, the Bucs come out with a good attack plan and give us all sorts of problems with misdirection,'' Holliday said after Tampa Bay rolled up 23 first downs and 418 yards. ``We thought they'd come out running, but [quarterback Brian] Griese picked his spots and played great. If you would have told me we'd get 31 points today, I would have said we'd win in a blowout.''
With an extra week to prepare, Bucs coach Jon Gruden submerged himself in game film and ripped a page out of the Denver playbook.
The Broncos confused the Chiefs in winning the season opener 34-24 as Jake Plummer rolled left and right off play action and kept finding targets open downfield.
On Sunday, it was Griese's turn to befuddle a defense that thought it had made some strides under new coordinator Gunther Cunningham.
``When you give up 34 points, you are not going forward,'' Coach Dick Vermeil said of a unit that yielded five touchdown drives of at least 67 yards and failed to force a turnover.
The Bucs threw on eight of their first 10 snaps and Kansas City defenders were repeatedly caught out of position.
Linebackers bit at run fakes, opening up the middle for crossing routes as Griese posted a quarterback rating of 111.9.
``Tampa Bay played extremely well, especially on offense,'' Chiefs president Carl Peterson said. ``When your offense scores 31 points on the road, you should win that game. I think the week off gave the Bucs more of a opportunity to look at plays that have hurt us in the past.''
Griese threw with poise and precision and Michael Pittman opened the second half with a 78-yard burst, scoring untouched on a simple run off right tackle.
``We didn't fit right on the play,'' Holliday said. ``He came though with a lead blocker and once Pittman gets going, you're not going to catch him.''
Despite yielding 9.0 yards a snap against the Colts last week, the Chiefs came away encouraged about their defensive effort.
Tampa Bay averaged 7.6 yards and the Bucs defense made enough second-half plays to provide confidence heading into Sunday's game against NFC South leader Atlanta.
``Unfortunately, they matched us for every score,'' said Chiefs running back Priest Holmes. ``The Bucs seemed like they were definitely ready for us.''
Holmes entered the game as the NFL's No. 1 rusher, but he was limited to 59 yards in 16 carries and suffered a bruise to his right knee late in the third quarter.
``Any time you lose someone of Priest's caliber, it's a huge loss,'' quarterback Trent Green said.
Holmes indicated he wanted to go back in, but Vermeil's postgame remarks suggested the Pro Bowl back said he was too hurt to return in crunch time.
Once again, the Chiefs will find themselves trying to defend a suspect defense that appears to lack play-makers.
``We just couldn't stop their bootleg pass ... couldn't stop it all day,'' defensive tackle John Browning said. ``We should be able to win with 31 points. That's just pitiful.''
Sunday, October 17, 2004
Tuesday, October 05, 2004
Some info from nfl.com:
Michael Pittman and John Lynch made their returns to Tampa Bay Sunday. Both nearly had a hand in helping the Buccaneers to their first win of the season. Tampa Bay, however, fell short in the end, losing to the Denver Broncos 16-13. The Buccaneers' lone touchdown came on a play in which Lynch, now a Bronco after spending the last 11 seasons with the Bucs, failed to tackle rookie WR Michael Clayton after he got up off the ground and scored on a 51-yard reception. "I feel for my guys," an emotional Lynch said of his former Bucs teammates. "There are some mixed emotions. I told them to just keep fighting, and I know they will." Pittman, in his first game back after a suspension, gave the running attack a jolt early but the club had to settle for field goals by Martin Gramatica of 28 and 30 yards on two possessions deep in Broncos territory
Monday, September 27, 2004
Sep 27, 2004 - For the second straight year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ best-laid plans are running aground against that great NFL equalizer, injuries.
On Monday at his day-after-the-game press conference, Head Coach Jon Gruden officially announced what he had feared on Sunday night: running back Charlie Garner will miss the rest of the season after suffering a torn patellar tendon in his right knee against the Oakland Raiders.
In addition, tight end Rickey Dudley broke his right thumb during Sunday’s game and will miss a significant if as yet undetermined period of time. This marks the second straight season marred by injury for Dudley, who missed the first nine games last year due to a severe ankle sprain suffered in the preseason finale.
It was a rough return to Oakland for a pair of former Raiders. Gruden said both men would likely undergo surgery on Monday.
This year, which is shaping up much like last year in terms of training-room capacity, Garner is the third of the Bucs’ major offseason acquisitions to go down with an injury. Guard Matt O’Dwyer, a projected starter on the left side of the line, sustained a torn pectoral muscle during a pre-camp weights workout and is currently on the physically-unable-to-perform list. Wide receiver Joey Galloway, a starter and the offense’s projected deep threat, suffered a groin injury in the season opener and is out for what could be another six weeks.
Dudley is also now out, and wide receiver Joe Jurevicius is still recovering from back surgery. The Bucs’ offense is struggling, and one of the major reasons is a lack of continuity caused by turnover at the skill positions, much of that caused by the two-year run of injuries.
The Bucs will get one offensive performer back for next week’s game, and just in time. Running back Michael Pittman’s three-game suspension is over, and he’ll rejoin the team in time to add some punch to the running attack. Like Garner, Pittman is also a gifted receiver out of the backfield.
Alstott, fullback Mike Alstott, one of the 2003 injury-bug victims, demonstrated on Sunday night that he can still be a valuable producer in the offense.
Despite a move across the country, Garner has run into injury problems for a second straight year. Prior to 2003, Garner averaged over 1,700 combined rushing and receiving yards per season from 1999-2002. Last year, a left knee injury slowed him in his final campaign with the Raiders, though he still ran for 553 yards, picked up 4.6 yards per carry and caught 48 passes for 386 yards. Given his productivity despite that nagging injury, and successful offseason surgery to correct the problem, the Bucs expected to get the Garner of 1999-2002. Obviously, for both the player and the team, this year’s injury is even more disappointing than last year’s.
Nevertheless, Gruden believes the Bucs can still develop into a good football team this season. The injuries and the three consecutive losses to start the season have taken the expected emotional toll on the coaches and players, but they haven’t dampened the team’s drive to succeed.
Monday, September 13, 2004
For Joey Galloway, it’s déjà vu of the worst kind.
On Sunday afternoon, in his first regular season game as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer, Galloway sustained a ‘significant’ tear in the left side of his groin in the second quarter and will miss four to six weeks.
Four years ago, in his first regular season game as a Dallas Cowboy, Galloway suffered a knee injury and was lost for the year.
In both cases, the injury dimmed the hopes of his new team to develop a significant new weapon in the offense. The Cowboys had sent two first-round draft picks to Seattle in 2000 to acquire Galloway; four years later, the Bucs traded Keyshawn Johnson to Dallas to get the speed receiver.
“It’s very disappointing, obviously, that the injury looks to be a little more serious than we had expected,” said Head Coach Jon Gruden.
In the Bucs’ case, at least, the team can look forward to getting Galloway back before the season is over. He will not undergo surgery but will have to rest for several weeks.
“It was a big loss for our team yesterday,” said Gruden. “Hopefully, he makes a quick recovery, because we need him. There will be no surgery, from what I understand, but he will be basically off his feet for two weeks, then continue his rehab.”
Galloway was to be the deep threat that Tampa Bay’s passing attack had lacked for some time. In fact, he was injured on a play in the end zone in which he had beaten his man but couldn’t quite haul in a long pass from quarterback Brad Johnson. Galloway had missed some time in the preseason due to a sore groin, as well, but he had recovered from the injury and it was not considered a problem going into the season.
Monday, August 30, 2004
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
On Tuesday afternoon, the Bucs began preparing for the Dolphins and a game that could prove very important in the team’s efforts to determine a regular-season roster
Aug 24 - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers practiced for two hours on Tuesday afternoon, beginning the minimal game-planning required for a preseason game. Brief but intense rainstorms...
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
Just to keep this blog going, here's some news from nfl.com:
The Buccaneers' preseason opener against the Bengals was delayed two days because of Hurricane Charley, which slammed ashore on Florida's Gulf Coast before heading up the middle of the state over Orlando, where both teams were waiting out the storm. But when it was time to play, the storm and its aftermath didn't seem to dampen the team's spirits as the Bucs defeated the Bengals 20-6. Rookie QB Chris Simms, who is competing for the No. 2 spot with Brian Griese, had a superb preseason debut. He completed 12 of 15 passes for 110 yards. "So far, so good," Simms said. "It was great to get out there and play someone else besides our defense. I had a lot of fun and definitely got some good experience." Bucs RB Ernest Graham scored two TDs and K Martin Gramatica added two field goals.
Wednesday, July 28, 2004
Date Opponent Time/Result
Aug. 14 Cincinnati 7:00 p.m.
Aug. 20 at Jacksonville 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 28 Miami 7:00 p.m.
Sept. 2 at Houston 8:00 p.m.
Date Opponent Result
Sept. 12 at Washington 1:00 p.m.
Sept. 19 Seattle 4:05 p.m.
Sept. 26 at Oakland 8:30 p.m.
Oct. 3 Denver 4:15 p.m.
Oct. 10 at New Orleans 1:00 p.m.
Oct. 18 at St. Louis 9:00 p.m.
Oct. 24 Chicago 1:00 p.m.
Oct. 31 Open Date
Nov. 7 Kansas City 1:00 p.m.
Nov. 14 at Atlanta 1:00 p.m.
Nov. 21 San Francisco 1:00 p.m.
Nov. 28 at Carolina 1:00 p.m.
Dec. 5 Atlanta 1:00 p.m.
Dec. 12 at San Diego 4:15 p.m.
Dec. 19 New Orleans 4:05 p.m.
Dec. 26 Carolina 1:00 p.m.
Jan. 2 at Arizona 4:05 p.m.
All times are Eastern