Midway through November, we noted in the Captain’s Blog that former NFL star-turned-studio analyst Marshall Faulk had begun referring to Josh Freeman, Doug Martin and Vincent Jackson as the Bucs’ new “triplets.” It was an obvious reference to the Cowboys’ 1990s trio of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin, who spawned that term and who are all now in the Hall of Fame.
Freeman, Martin and Jackson are indeed one of the most prolific QB-RB-WR combinations in Buccaneers history, perhaps the team’s best trio at those positions ever. As of the end of Sunday’s game in Denver, with one quarter of the season to go, they are already just the second combo in franchise history to hit 3,000 passing yards, 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards all in the same season.
The only other such occurrence in Buccaneers history came in 1984, when Steve DeBerg passed for 3,554 yards, James Wilder ran for 1,544 yards and Kevin House caught 76 passes for 1,005 yards. That was an impressive achievement by those three and should still be celebrated by Buccaneers fans. Wilder, of course, is still the top running back in franchise history, though one can certainly imagine Doug Martin eventually making a run at his records. DeBerg had several strong years during two different stints with the team and House is one of the best big-play receivers in Buc annals.
By many measures, however, the Bucs’ current trio is operating at a higher level.
Again, it’s hard to find much to criticize in Wilder’s 1984 efforts, given that he set the still-standing Buccaneer record with 1,544 yards; set a then-NFL record with 407 carries; caught a team-leading and then franchise-record 85 passes (for another 685 yards) and scored 13 total touchdowns. His 2,229 yards from scrimmage remains a team record by a margin of almost 600 yards.
Martin is keeping pace, however. He has 1,106 rushing yards through 12 games, which is a pretty reliable pace for 1,475 yards at the end of the season. He is also on pace for 13 touchdowns and 1,973 total yards from scrimmage. That means he would tie one of Wilder’s records and get far closer to the other two than anybody has in the last 28 years. In addition, Martin’s mark of 4.7 yards per carry is far better than the 3.8 that the workhorse Wilder put up in 1984.
DeBerg’s 3,554 passing yards were also a team record at the time and they still rank fourth on the team’s single-season list (Freeman is one of the QBs to top it since, with 3,592 last year. Otherwise, DeBerg threw 19 touchdowns versus 18 interceptions, took 35 sacks and had a yards-per-pass-attempt mark of 6.98. He also was not the starter to open the season, as Jack Thompson had that job.
Freeman is at 3,003 yards through 12 games, which means he is almost exactly on pace to become the first 4,000-yard passer in franchise history. With his next two games coming against the 17th and 32nd-ranked defenses in the league – earlier this year he torched New Orleans for 420 yards – there’s reason to be optimistic about Freeman keeping up that pace. He also already has 23 touchdowns while throwing just eight interceptions, and his passer rating is 92.1, well above DeBerg’s mark of 79.3. Freeman is on pace for 30 touchdown passes this year but needs just four more to break Brad Johnson’s single-season Buc record of 26.
Jackson has already surpassed his 1984 counterpart, too, with 1,014 receiving yards to House’s 1,005. House had several seasons in which he put up a very high yards-per-catch average, but in ’84 it was just 13.2 House also scored five touchdowns that season, while Jackson already has seven. The Bucs’ current number-one receiver is averaging a league-best 20.3 yards per catch and is thus on pace for 1,352 yards, which would be the second-highest total in franchise history.
DeBerg, Wilder and House established one of the landmarks in franchise history with their matching milestones in 1984. The team’s newest set of triplets is establishing another one, and perhaps in more impressive fashion. The best part: With Martin and Jackson in their first seasons with the team and Freeman still just 24 years old, this looks like just the first chapter for this prolific set of triplets.