Don't Blame Shepherd; It was a Great Season

Bucs exceeded all expectations

By Jeff Berlinicke

TAMPA - This wasn't the way it was supposed to end.

Not with Chris Simms firing his first pass on a last-minute drive right into the arms of a Washington Redskins linebacker, ending the Bucs season much earlier than expected. The Bucs would have struggled as the post-season progressed; the Seattle Seahawks offense and Chicago Bears defense were both likely to much for the Bucs to handle, but to hold the Redskins below 140 yards in total offense and leave with a loss, at Raymond James Stadium of all places, was more than the Bucs were planning.

When you look back at the Bucs season, there were a lot of things to applaud. More on that in the coming days. It just seemed so much less than should have been expected before Saturday's loss, but also so much more than should have been expected back in August when the Bucs were trying to come back from two straight losing seasons.

One thing is for sure: Despite the lambasting Edell Shepherd if receiving all over talk radio and everywhere else Bucs fans gather to meet, Saturday's loss isn't on his shoulders alone.

When Shepherd dropped the best pass Simms has thrown all season late in the game, it pretty much cost the Bucs any chance they had to move on in the playoffs. The ball was perfectly thrown and all Shepherd had to do was hold on. Yes, it was a makeable catch and, yes, Joey Galloway probably would have held on. Shepherd didn't, and the season was over.

Still, the Bucs made incredible progress. At the start of the season, speculation was that Jon Gruden's job was in jeopardy and that Simms would never amount to anything more than a career backup. The defense was old and Mike Alstott was out of gas.

None of those things turned out to be the case. Instead, the defense was among the league's best, and when it faltered, the offense often came through. Cadillac Williams, of course, turned into the NFC Offensive Rookie of the Year, Simms had a breakout season, Galloway found new life, the offensive line stood tall most of the time, including free agent-to-be Kenyatta Walker.

If anything, it was year of promise for a team finally getting out of salary cap woes. Sure, Shepherd didn't make the catch – and he didn't, no matter what irate Bucs fans are saying, the replay didn't lie – but that doesn't destroy a season when a team that was considered too old gave Bucs fans a season to remember.

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