Season by Season History of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2002

Al Messerschmidt

The Bucs overcame their nemesis and rose to the top of the NFL.

Before the start of training camp and the official kickoff of the 2014 Buccaneers season, Bucs Nation will take you through every season in Buccaneers history, one by one, to paint the whole picture of how the Buccaneers got to where they are today.

It's 2002 time. Find the closest Eagles fan and invite them to read along with you.

Season Recap

Record: 12-4 (First in the NFC South)

Playoff Result: Won the Super Bowl (Playoff Record: 3-0)

Points scored: 346 (18th in NFL)

Points against: 196 (1st in NFL)

The Greatest Defense of All-Time?: Most Buccaneer fans will argue that the 2002 Bucs were the best defense in NFL history, and they certainly have some claims to back that up. The 2002 Tampa Bay defense led the league in points allowed by almost 50 points, and allowed 104 fewer points than the fourth-best defense in the league. The Bucs gave up the fewest yards in the league (by 600 yards), allowed the fewest first downs, and had the most interceptions.

Who's Our Favorite Player?: Derrick Brooks won Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2002 thanks to his five interceptions (three returned for touchdowns), one fumble recovery (returned for touchdown), and one fumble forced to go with 87 solo tackles and 30 assists.

You Go Joe!: Despite not being a starter, newly acquired Joe Jurevicius would catch four regular season touchdowns, adding to Keyshawn Johnson and Keenan McCardell to form the best trio of receivers in Tampa up until that point (and possibly since.) But it's what Jurevicius would do during the playoffs that would cement his place in team history.

Key Games

Setting the Tone: The Buccaneers lost a heartbreaker in Week 1 against the Saints, so in Week 2, they exacted revenge on the Baltimore Ravens in a 25-0 beatdown. The Bucs held the Ravens to 173 total yards of offense and scored twice on defense (a safety and a 97-yard Derrick Brooks interception return) and four times on special teams (three Martin Gramatica field goals and a Karl Williams punt return) to earn their first of twelve victories.

Motivation for Revenge: The Eagles had become the Buccaneers biggest nemesis, and they struck again in 2002, handing the Bucs their second loss in a Week 7 20-10 victory over Tampa Bay. Philadelphia would run wild against the Bucs, who failed to score on offense, but give the Bucs all the motivation they needed for a rematch to come just a couple of months later.

Major Storylines

The Buccaneers traded away four premium draft picks and a big stash of cash for the right to sign Jon Gruden as their head coach, replacing the departed Tony Dungy, fired the year before.

Gruden brought a strong offensive background and a history with the organization (his dad was an assistant with the team earlier in his career), and seemed to be exactly the type of big-name coach to use the incredible talent in Tampa the right way and win a championship.

So while the Bucs definitely mortgaged their future for the rights to Gruden, they had the right roster to win it all under his command before the lack of draft assets caught up to them.

They would finish the regular season 12-4, with one of those losses coming at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles again. And after blowing out the 49ers in the second round of the playoffs, those very same Eagles would face off with the Bucs once again.

The Eagles would jump out to an early lead thanks to a Duce Staley touchdown run, but the Bucs would claw back with a Martin Gramatica field goal.

But on their next offensive possession, the Bucs would start at their own four yard-line, facing a nearly impossible task against the very tough Eagle defense. Yet on 3rd-and-2 in their own territory, the Bucs pulled off one of the most famous plays in franchise history.

Joe Jurevicius caught a short pass over the middle from Brad Johnson and pulled away from his defender, galloping down the field for a 71-yard gain. This put the Buccaneers on the front foot, as they would punch the ball in via a Mike Alstott touchdown and take the lead 10-7.

The Eagles didn't give up, and tied the game at 10, only to fall behind 20-10 after two second half scores by the Bucs. But Donovan McNabb tried to go to the well one too many times on a fourth-quarter drive to narrow the deficit, and it would lead to another of the greatest moments in team history.

After completing two straight passes to Antonio Freeman to extend what was their longest drive of the game so far (by over 40 yards), well, I'll let Gene Deckerhoff explain it as he saw it.

"First down and goal, from the ten. Come on Bucs! 3:27 to go, McNabb dropping, throwi-IT'S INTERCEPTED! At the 10! To the 20! Going coast-to-coast, Ronde Barber!... Nobody's gonna touch him!"

As NFL Films points out, Barber lined up in the same position as he had earlier in the game, when he blitzed Donovan McNabb and forced a fumble. This time, Barber snuck back and held inside leverage on Freeman's side of the field, read McNabb's eyes, and caught the pass in stride while breaking toward the end zone.

This prompted Barber's famous sideline rant, caught by an NFL Films camera, when he exclaimed "Pro Bowl my ass baby. I'm going to San Diego!"

And to San Diego the Bucs went, where they'd face Jon Gruden's old team, the Oakland Raiders, led by Gruden's QB-revival project, Rich Gannon.

After trading field goals to start the game, safety Dexter Jackson would intercept a Gannon pass late in the first quarter to set up the Buccaneers at midfield, and an eventual go-ahead field goal early in the game.

Just a couple of drives later, Gannon would unload a Tim Tebow-esque duck deep down the field which Jackson would step in front of again, and the Raiders were rattled.

The Bucs would score for the first time after a defensive stand deep in Oakland territory and a 25-yard Karl Williams punt return set the team up with a very short field, and a Mike Alstott touchdown would become the first Super Bowl touchdown in Tampa Bay history.

And at the end of the first half, the Bucs would orchestrate a beautiful scoring drive, keyed by two big passes to fullback Mike Alstott, and would enter the locker room up 20-3.

To begin the second half, the Bucs got the ball back quickly from the Raiders and put together an 89-yard drive, fueled by a 33-yard reception by the very same Jurevicius who provided a spark in the NFC Championship Game. Keenan McCardell would score his second touchdown to cap off the drive.

Dwight Smith would return an interception for a touchdown on the second play after the previous Bucs score, and it seemed at that point like the Buccaneers were already Super Bowl champs. But the Raiders put up a bit of a fight, clawing back to a 34-21 deficit in the fourth quarter.

But a Derrick Brooks interception return for a touchdown and another Dwight Smith interception return for a score (both in the final two minutes of the game) would seal the deal for the Bucs, who would be crowned as NFL Champions for the first and only time.

Dexter Jackson was named MVP, as his two early interceptions helped to dash the hopes of the Raiders, but the defense as a whole was truly the most valuable part of the 2002 Buccaneers. Combined with the creative spark of Jon Gruden on offense, the Bucs accomplished a feat that would have seemed unthinkable just 10 years earlier, when the team was stuck in a decade-long streak of losing seasons.

The Buccaneers were the best football team in the world, less than three decades after being the winless, hopeless expansion team that made every blooper reel in the NFL Films vault.

The Bucs were Super Bowl champions. Just savor that for a moment, because it's more than any fan of the Vikings, Browns, Texans, Jaguars, Panthers, Lions, Cardinals, Falcons, Chargers, Titans, Bengals and Eagles can say.

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