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.
Today we take a look at the frustrating 2008 season, which featured a strong start and a soul-crushing ending.
Record: 9-7 (Third in the NFC South)
Points scored: 361 (19th in NFL)
Points against: 323 (10th in NFL)
Where's Jeff?: Jeff Garcia would start 12 games for the Bucs in 2008, but the injuries that sidelined him (and his age) meant the late-season Jeff wasn't the same as the early season Jeff. He threw three of his six interceptions in his final two starts, and a late-season game against the Saints ended with a completion percentage of 39% for the veteran QB. Brian Griese, who filled in for Garcia, wasn't any better, and the Bucs were left without much to look forward to under center.
Surprising Receiver: Antonio Bryant would have one of the most surprising seasons in Buccaneer history, joining the team and posting career highs in yards, receptions and touchdowns in what would be the second-to-last year of his career. Bryant carried the offense, no matter who was under center, and helped account for a lacking rushing attack.
Pro Bowl Return Man: Clifton Smith brought back a punt and a kickoff for a score during the 2008 season, earning himself a spot on the Pro Bowl team as a return man. Smith's kickoff return touchdown was only the second in team history, and he became the first player in franchise history to return both a kick and a punt for a score in his career. (Original kickoff return hero Micheal Spurlock would match that feat a couple of years later.)
Four Game Winning Streak: The Buccaneers reached 9-3 after a Week 13 victory over the Saints. Despite a poor performance from Jeff Garcia, his touchdown pass to Antonio Bryant, combined with a Cadillac Williams run for a score, would be enough to keep the Bucs ahead of the Saints. But two second-half scores tied the game at 20, before a Matt Bryant field goal put the Bucs ahead for good, 23-20. This would cap a four-game winning streak, and the Bucs seemed to be in cruise control for a playoff spot.
Four Game Losing Streak: Tampa Bay would lose their next three games, and faced a 4-11 Raiders team in Week 17, with playoff hopes fading. The Bucs could still make the playoffs with a win, but Jon Gruden's old team spoiled that party. Leading 24-14 with 10 minutes to go, the Bucs allowed two touchdowns and a field goal to fall behind and give away the game 31-24. Michael Bush ran all over the Bucs, while Cadillac Williams would suffer yet another horrible knee injury. It literally couldn't get any worse for the Bucs, who would have made the playoffs had they won this game.
It was one of the most frustrating times to be a fan of the Buccaneers.
The team hadn't won a playoff game since their Super Bowl victory, and while that streak paled in comparison to the teams of the 80's and 90's, there were no excuses and no logical explanations for why Jon Gruden's Bucs couldn't progress further than the first round of the knockout tournament.
There was enough talent on the team to put forth impressive regular season performances, and that showed yet again in 2008, as the team stormed out to a 9-3 start. Things weren't perfect, but the Bucs found a way to win, with some new, young talent like Gaines Adams and Aqib Talib providing support for an aging Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber.
But the team fell apart, and that was all the Glazer family could take, as they fired Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen following the season.
The coach who won Tampa Bay its only Super Bowl was gone, and with him would go Derrick Brooks, leaving Ronde Barber as the team's lone surviving star from the 2002 team to journey with the franchise through a period of change.
And that change wasn't always for the better.