Last year, the Buccaneers finished the season with the NFL’s top-ranked run defense. That was the first time that had ever happened in franchise history. In addition, Josh Freeman recorded the first 4,000-yard passing season in team annals and the Bucs won a game in Oakland for the first time ever.
So what first-time accomplishments could be on the horizon for the NFL’s 27th franchise this coming fall? Here are a few possibilities:
1. First Road Win vs. the Jets
The Bucs crossed one zero off their table of head-to-head records against other NFL teams last year when, as mentioned, they won at Oakland. Before 2012, the Raiders were one of seven remaining teams, all in the NFC, against which Tampa Bay had not tasted road victory. The Doug Martin-led 42-point thrashing of the O.co Coliseum denizens in Week Nine took care of one of those seven. Of the other six – the Bills, Texans, Jaguars, Jets, Steelers and Titans – the only one that will welcome the Bucs to town in 2013 is New York. The Bucs’ 1-9 all-time mark against the Jets is, weirdly, their worst winning percentage (.100) versus any opponent, and it includes an 0-6 mark on the road.
That is not to say that the Buccaneers have never won in the Meadowlands. In fact, the Bucs got a road win against the Giants, who share a stadium with the Jets in 1997. Tampa Bay had to go to New York twice in a three-week span late in that season, handling the Giants easily on November 30 with a 20-8 decision, then losing just as emphatically to the Jets, 31-0, on December 14.
The Bucs could be helped somewhat by the schedule this time around as they try to knock that zero out of their Jets-on-the-road column. That matchup is on opening weekend, which means the team is less likely to encounter difficult weather. In addition, the Jets appear to have an unsettled quarterback situation, with 2013 draftee Geno Smith joining Mark Sanchez and several others, so it might be advantageous to catch them early in the season. And finally, there’s the much-anticipated (and awfully quick!) return of Darrelle Revis to New York, where he may have extra motivation to lead the Bucs to victory against his former squad.
2. First Consecutive Season-Ending Road Wins
If the Buccaneers are in a playoff race at the end of the regular season, they may have to be road warriors in order to nail down a postseason spot. In the ultra-competitive NFC South, it would be a surprise to see any team with the division crown fully in hand by Week 15, and thus the Bucs’ season-capping games against the Rams and Saints will likely be critical.
And both are on the road. Tampa Bay travels to St. Louis in Week 16 and then stays on the road for a Week 17 tilt in New Orleans. With another pair of road games at Detroit and Carolina in Weeks 12 and 13, the Bucs actually play four of their last six away from Raymond James Stadium.
If Tampa Bay is able to take down the Rams and the Saints on back-to-back Sundays, it would mark the first time in franchise history that the team won consecutive games on the road to finish a regular-season schedule.
Truth be told, the opportunities have been limited. This season will mark just the fourth one in nearly four decades of play that Tampa Bay has finished its regular-season schedule with two straight road games. That also happened in 1992 (at San Francisco and Phoenix), 1998 (at Washington and Cincinnati) and 2011 (at Carolina and Atlanta); the Bucs split those two games in ’92 and ’98 and dropped both in ’11.
Tampa Bay has won its last two games of the season on six different occasions, though none were a pair of road contests. That happened most recently in 2010, and before that in 2005, 1999, 1984, 1982 and 1977. The last of those six, 1977, is interesting in this discussion because the Bucs’ final two opponents that year – just like this year, though in reverse order – were New Orleans and St. Louis. That was the St. Louis Cardinals, of course, who later left for Arizona and created a void that the former Los Angeles Rams filled in 1995. Those were also the first two regular-season victories in Tampa Bay franchise history.
3. An Individual 15-Touchdown Season
The problem with choosing a specific statistical first-time achievement for a Buccaneer player is that there aren’t too many obvious milestones left, especially after Freeman’s 4,000-yard campaign last year. Doug Martin rather noisily chased 2,000 yards from scrimmage last year, and while that would have made him just the third rookie to hit that mark it wouldn’t have been a first time for the Bucs. James Wilder had 2,229 during his amazing 1984 season. 100 catches, 1,500 rushing yards, 25 touchdown passes, 200 tackles, 15 sacks, 10 interceptions – they’ve all been done.
We could go with 30 touchdown passes or 20 sacks or the next even number up on some of those lists, but we’ve chosen the 15-touchdown campaign – scoring 15 TDs, that is, not throwing them – for one good reason. The Buccaneers are the only team in the NFL who has never had a player hit that milestone. James Wilder’s 13 touchdowns in 1984 remains the franchise’s single-season record.
Obviously, Doug Martin would be the leading candidate. He had 12 touchdowns as a rookie, which is a pretty impressive opening salvo. If one assumes a little more development in his (already outstanding) game, and in the Bucs’ offense as a whole, it’s not hard to envision a jump of three more scores. Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams might have a shot, as well.