Well, after seven games, Tampa Bay has managed to start this season off just like they have the three seasons before it. They're 3-4, again.
For some reason, head coach Tony Dungy, who has a regular season record of 48-39 since he was hired in 1996, has failed to motivate his troops in the first half of the season for the fourth year in a row. Why?
Dungy has always preached about getting his players to have a sense of urgency week in and week out, but the truth is Dungy has not done a good job of getting this message across to his players in the locker room.
Well, with the exception of the 1998 season, the last two seasons would suggest the Buccaneers will recover from their 3-4 start. But this isn't like 1999 and 2000. Something feels different about this season. It has the same expectations and the record is identical, but something's missing. In the past, when things were not going well, Tampa Bay could count on the one thing that could dig them out of the hole they had dug themselves in-a dominant defense. Well, the dominant defense that has bailed the Bucs lackluster offense out of trouble so many times before is missing in action. And if Tampa Bay's defense cannot find a way to be dominant again, chances are this team will not recover like it has the past two seasons.
In 1998, the Buccaneers started off 3-4 and went 5-4 from that point to finish the season 8-8 and miss the playoffs. The remaining nine opponents the Bucs faced had a combined record of 70-74 that season and only four of the nine games were on the road.
In 1999, Tampa Bay started off 3-4 and went 8-1 against their remaining opponents to finish the season at 11-5 and win the NFC Central Division. Their remaining nine opponents had a combined record of 66-78. The eventual Super Bowl Champion Rams later eliminated the Bucs in the NFC Championship Game in St. Louis. The Bucs had four of those last nine games on the road in 1999.
Last season (2000), the Buccaneers started off 3-4, again, and went 7-2 against their remaining opponents to finish the season at 10-6 and secure a Wild Card spot in the playoffs. Those opponents had a combined record of 72-72. The Bucs would go on to be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Philadelphia Eagles. Four of those nine games were on the road.
This season, the Bucs are 3-4, again and their remaining opponents have a combined record of 34-29. This record is deceiving, seeing as it includes Detroit's 0-7 record twice. If you don't count Detroit, the combined opponents' record is 34-15.
While the Buccaneers ultimately control their own destiny, their remaining schedule does not look promising. Take a look for yourself.
at Detroit 0-7
at St. Louis 6-1
at Cincinnati 4-3
at Chicago 6-1
NEW ORLEANS 4-3
No, it's not a misprint. With the exception of Detroit, all of the Buccaneers' remaining opponents have winning records. So, right about now, you're either scrolling down to find the good news in this article or getting ready to jump off of the nearest bridge. Well, believe it or not, there is some hope for yet another turnaround.
Tampa Bay will face the first place Chicago Bears (6-1) two times in the last nine games. This will either make or break the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay will certainly need to win both of these games if they have a prayer of winning the NFC Central Division.
With that said, the Buccaneers cannot afford to drop either one of the two remaining games with the winless Detroit Lions. Two wins against the Lions could serve the Bucs well in the division standings and with tiebreakers at the end of the season.
Four of their last five regular season games are at home, which also bolds well for the Pewter Pirates. But the last three games are against 2000 playoff teams and teams which look like they will be contending for playoff spots at the end of this season.
Back to the bad news…
Even if the Buccaneers miraculously turn their season around and make the playoffs like they did in 1999 and 2000, Tampa Bay will likely be looking at playoff games on the road. If you go by the current NFL standings, the Bucs could be looking at playoff destinations that include Chicago, Green Bay, Philadelphia, New York, St. Louis and New Orleans. While St. Louis and New Orleans are domed stadiums, the other four stadiums are not. A visit to Chicago, Green Bay, Philadelphia and/or New York in January would guarantee temperatures below 40 degrees, where the Buccaneers have posted an embarrassing 0-23 record.
Under Dungy, Tampa Bay is 2-3 in the playoffs, and all three losses have come on the road.
Only time will tell if the Buccaneers will make anything of their season at this point, but the bottom line is even if Tampa Bay manages to make the playoffs after another 3-4 start, odds are they will still fall far short of their Super Bowl expectations.
Copyright 2001 Buccaneer Magazine/BucMag.com
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