Buccaneers fall far short of goals for Super season
Updated: Tuesday January 02, 2001 9:07 AM
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers figure the pain will really set in when the Super Bowl comes to town.
A season that began with expectations of becoming the first team to play for the title in its own stadium ended without the Bucs even scoring a touchdown in the playoffs, much less strutting its postseason stuff before the hometown fans.
An overtime loss to Green Bay in the regular-season finale cost Tampa Bay (10-7) the NFC Central championship, a first-round bye and at least one playoff game at Raymond James Stadium, where they've built one of the NFL's best home records the past three years.
Sunday's early exit from the postseason at Philadelphia was especially disappointing because management spent generously during the offseason to retool the offense after failing to get into the end zone against the St. Louis Rams in last season's NFC championship game.
"It's definitely disappointing," All-Pro safety John Lynch said. "I think we came in with the mindset that anything less than getting to the Super Bowl and winning it would be disappointing. We obviously fell far from that."
The Bucs may have been the best team in the league in September, opening the season with three dominating performances. But a four-game losing streak followed, quarterback Shaun King's confidence suffered and the club spent the rest of the season climbing out of the hole.
King found a way to get the ball to Johnson more, new offensive coordinator Les Steckel committed to giving Warrick Dunn more opportunities to contribute, and one of the league's top defenses went through a stretch of holding seven consecutive opponents to 17 or fewer points as Tampa Bay won seven of eight to clinch a playoff berth with an exciting 38-35 victory against the Rams.
But the club's performance -- on the road, in cold weather -- the past two weeks will haunt players and coaches this winter. The Bucs have never won a game (0-20) when the temperature at kickoff is below 40 degrees, but could have beaten the Packers if Pro Bowl kicker Martin Gramatica had made a 40-yard field goal in the closing seconds of regulation.
"It was a good year. Not as good as we would've liked," head coach Tony Dungy said. "It was a disappointing end, but I think we've got the type of guys who will bounce back."
But the Bucs led the NFC in turnover differential and set a club record for sacks. Sapp improved on a season in which he was NFL defensive player of the year by finishing with 16 1-2 - third-highest in league history for a tackle.
Ultimately, though, inconsistency on offense will be remembered as the main reason the season went sour.
While Dungy expects to improve as players become more comfortable with Steckel's system, questions linger about whether King is the answer at quarterback and if the team's conservative approach can get carry the team to a Super Bowl.
The Bucs were held to 199 yards in their 21-3 loss to the Eagles, yet Dungy said a defense that was not at top strength because of injuries was as just responsible for Sunday's result as the sputtering offense.
"Defensively we let them control the ball much, much too long and convert third downs. That's part of it, too. I don't think you can say, `Well they got three points, so the offense didn't play well.'"
Dungy and general manager Rich McKay also face offseason decisions about four starters -- offensive linemen Frank Middleton and Jerry Wunsch, safety Damien Robinson and cornerback Ronde Barber -- who will be unrestricted free agents.