This past week’s 13-10 OT loss to the Atlanta Falcons was a difficult pill for the Bucs to swallow. The loss coupled with victories by Carolina, Dallas and Philadelphia put the Buccaneers in a position where any slip-up at all in the final fortnight will mean no playoffs.
The loss especially hurt because by all rights the Bucs should have been blown out. It is a testament to the team’s unity that without Garcia, Graham and Galloway, Tampa Bay was able to take a division rival to overtime on the road.
The most galling thing about the defeat in the Georgia Dome was that the Bucs continually snatched defeat from the jaws of victory through shoddy play. Was there a single punt or kick return that didn’t involve an illegal block in the back? Did the offensive line think that the snap count was optional? Did John Gruden lose the section of the playbook detailing red zone offense? Considering how the team has played close to the end zone, does such a section even exist?
But to keep everything in its proper perspective this loss was but an anecdote in the overall history of the Buccaneers. There have been painful losses during the second half of the season before. Some of those losses knocked the Bucs out of the playoffs while others set them up for quick post-season exits. If you take the time to remember some of these previous losses, it should take the sting out of the Falcon game. Or, it could make you shudder a little bit at the thought of history repeating itself.
1978 Los Angeles 26 Tampa Bay 23
Just one year after snapping a 26-game losing streak, the Bucs were 4-5 and thinking playoffs due to some eminently winnable games down the stretch. Despite losing Doug Williams to injury the Bucs clawed back to tie the game in the final minute when Mike Rae hit John McKay, Jr. with a touchdown. Unfortunately, the defense gave up a couple of long passes to Pat Haden and lost the game on a Frank Corral field goal with just three seconds left. Without Williams, the Bucs lost five of their last six and “Worst to First” would have to wait one more year.
1980 Pittsburgh 24 Tampa Bay 21
The Super Bowl that could have been. At 4-4-1 the Bucs were starting to regain some of the magic from the 1979 season. For three quarters the Bucs and Steelers battled to a near draw, the exception being a blocked punt the Steelers recovered for a touchdown. Williams led the Buccaneers deep inside Pittsburgh territory late in the game but an interception doomed the comeback. The Bucs never recovered and would win only one more the rest of the way.
1989 Green Bay 17 Tampa Bay 16
Laugh if you will but the Ray Perkins coached Bucs of 1989 were thinking playoffs late in 1989. After back-to-back one-point victories over Chicago and Arizona on the road, Tampa Bay was 5-7 and could have made the playoffs if they won out. Leading 16-14 with less than a minute to play, the Bucs stopped Green Bay on 4th and 16. Before the celebration of a third straight win could begin, the referees called defensive lineman Shawn Lee for illegal use of hands giving the Packers an automatic first down. That led to a last-second Chris Jacke field goal and a 17-16 defeat. That defeat took the wind out of the Bucs sails and playoff talk would not be taken seriously again in Tampa Bay until Tony Dungy became coach.
1998 Washington 20 Tampa Bay 16
As members of Congress debated impeaching Bill Clinton, the Bucs were busy leaving a stain on a blue dress of a season at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium. At 7-7 the Bucs were having a bad go of living up to their pre-season hype. But a win against the Redskins and another the following week against the Bengals would get Tampa Bay in the playoffs for the second straight year. Leading 16-7 going into the fourth quarter, Tampa Bay looked good. But then again so did Monica Lewinsky to Clinton. Quicker then you could say, “It depends what the definition of ‘is’ is,” the Bucs blew the lead and the season, losing 20-16.
2000 Green Bay 17 Tampa Bay 14
This was the season finale that led many members of Bucs UK to nickname Martin Gramatica “FUAT,” for missing a potential game-winning field goal. In all fairness, how about a nickname for Tony Dungy for not trying to get a little closer than 40 yards when the temperature is sub-freezing? Tied at 14 the Bucs had first and ten at the Green Bay 19. A run up the middle and a kneel-down were the offensive calls. It almost seemed Dungy was daring the football gods. Of course Martin was going to miss if the team didn’t even try to move closer. In overtime Green Bay kicker Ryan Longwell kicked a 22-yarder (much closer!) to win the game. The dispirited Bucs put up all the resistance of papier-mache the next week in a blow out loss to Philly in the Wild Card. To me, this was the worst late season loss in team history.
2003 Atlanta 30 Tampa Bay 28
The season after the Super Bowl championship was not an easy one. However, the Bucs were in playoff contention at 7-7 when the Falcons came to town for a Saturday afternoon game. For the first three quarters it appeared that the Bucs thought the game should have started on Sunday. They were down 30-7 before kicking their game into high gear and getting the score to 30-28 in the final seconds. A desperation onside kick failed and the Bucs season for all intents and purposes was over. Making the loss even more painful was the sight of former Buccaneer GM Rich McKay enjoying the game from Arthur Blank’s luxury box. Just earlier that week McKay had signed on to be Atlanta’s GM.
Was last week’s loss a death knell? I don’t think so. I honestly expect the Bucs to defeat San Diego and Oakland. But if for any reason they don’t win both games and miss the playoffs, last week’s game with its myriad missed opportunities and bone-head penalties could make the list of most disappointing losses in team history.