In Week 15 of the 1999 season, the Buccaneers went to Oakland feeling confident and, in a completely unexpected turn of events, lost 45-0, their worst shutout defeat ever. The very next week, back at home, the Bucs rebounded to defeat their archrivals at the time, the Green Bay Packers, 29-10.
On Sunday, in Week 15 of the current season, the Buccaneers went to New Orleans feeling confident and, in a completely unexpected turn of events, were shut out, 41-0. In six days, they’ll be back on the field at Raymond James Stadium to take on the St. Louis Rams.
The two situations are not exactly the same. The ’99 squad rode a six-game winning streak into Oakland and was still 9-5 after the loss, squarely in the playoff race. It wouldn’t lose again until the NFC Championship Game. The 2002 team had lost three straight heading into New Orleans and almost certainly needed a win to keep its slim playoff hopes alive.
But the pride of the players is the same, and the follow-up game may be just as critical, even if it doesn’t lead to the postseason.
“These last two games are very important for us,” said RB D.J. Ware. “We’ve got to go out there and show our next two opponents what we are all about. We’ve got a lot to prove and we are going to have to do that to finish the season strong. We have a lot of pride here in this locker room and now we have to prove it on the field.”
Safety Ronde Barber is the only current Buccaneer who experienced that strange bump in the road in 1999. He might have thought he’d never have that same experience again, but he obviously knows how to handle it.
“You don’t expect this to happen but it did,” said Barber. “But looking ahead we have two games left to play; and every game we play is important. You sign up for 16 games every year and you have to play 16. And we are going to go out there and play hard because tomorrow is not promised to anyone.”
Just as obviously, rookie RB Doug Martin has not had an NFL experience like the one his team endured on Sunday. Even in college, his Boise State Broncos never lost a game by more than three points during his tenure. Furthermore, the Saints shutout was his own least productive game of the season, largely because the early deficit took the Bucs out of their rushing attack. But Martin is ready to turn the page and get back on track against the Rams.
“We’ve just got to forget about this game and move on” he said. “All eleven guys on the offense need to come together and finish out the season strong. We still have a lot to play for.”
The Bucs will turn that page on Monday and work hard to make sure that Sunday’s game in the Superdome was an anomaly, just like the Oakland trip in ’99.
“[The Saints game] is a different animal and it will be addressed,” said Head Coach Greg Schiano. “We will do everything in our power in the next six days to get things straight and get them back on track. There is a lot of work to do.”