Every Sunday leading up to kickoff of the new season, we’ll be taking a look back at old Bucs seasons, correlating with how many weeks are left in the countdown. Last week, we returned to the 2009 season. So, with eight weeks to go now, we’re taking a look back at Tampa Bay’s 2008 season.
2008 Season in Review
Considering 2009 was the start of a new era in Tampa Bay, the 2008 season marked the end of one. The thing is, no one really saw it coming. The season started with some major headlines for the Bucs. First, it was the announcement that head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen had been signed to contract extensions through the 2011 season. Then, shortly before the season, the Bucs were involved in Brett Favre rumors. Favre, coming out of retirement, was reportedly about to be sent to Tampa Bay in a trade, but it never happened. Instead, he landed with the Jets.
Despite rumors about a rocky relationship between Gruden and quarterback Jeff Garcia, the veteran signal-caller was named the starter for Week 1. Tampa Bay lost its season-opener in New Orleans. In Week 2, Garcia was inactive with an ankle injury as rumors continued. Brian Griese stepped in and led the Bucs to three straight wins (vs. Atlanta, at Chicago, vs. Green Bay). They fell to 3-2 with a road loss to the Broncos before Garcia came back in Week 6.
Garcia led Tampa Bay to back-to-back home wins, beating Carolina 27-3 and Seattle 20-10. That left the Bucs at 5-2 heading into a road game against the Cowboys. They took a loss in Dallas, but rebounded to win four straight. At 9-3, Tampa Bay was pretty much a lock for the playoffs... Right?
Well, no. December was an absolute disaster for the Bucs. They lost road matchups to Carolina and Atlanta before dropping back-to-back home games to San Diego and Oakland. That dropped the team to 9-7, which meant no playoff berth. Shortly after the season ended, Gruden and Allen were both fired. Remember those contract extensions they signed before the season? Yeah... Disaster. This season was the start of the franchise’s current playoff drought, which is at 11 seasons heading into this fall.
2008 Notes and Highlights
- The Bucs’ loss to the Saints in Week 1 was their third straight season-opening loss.
- In Week 2, Derrick Brooks kept his consecutive starts streak alive. He extended it to 209 in Tampa Bay’s 24-9 win over Atlanta at Raymond James Stadium.
- In the win over the Falcons, Earnest Graham ran for 115 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries, putting the game away late with a 68-yard touchdown run.
- Week 3’s victory over the Bears featured an impressive fourth-quarter comeback by the Bucs. Trailing 24-14 with 3:11 left, Matt Bryant delivered on a 35-yard field goal to cut the deficit to seven. Then, Griese led an 11-play drive and capped it with a one-yard touchdown pass to Jerramy Stevens with seven seconds left. With the extra point, the game went to overtime. In overtime, Griese eventually set up Matt Bryant for a game-winning field goal by finding Antonio Bryant (who finished with 138 receiving yards) for a 38-yard gain. Matt Bryant’s 21-yard field goal was successful, giving the Bucs a 27-24 road win.
- Week 4 saw another 100-yard rushing game by Earnest Graham and another Tampa Bay victory over an NFC North opponent. After that Week 1 loss, the Bucs had gotten themselves to 3-1.
- Jeff Garcia was back under center as the starter in Week 6, when the Bucs beat the Panthers 27-3. Warrick Dunn ran for 115 yards on 22 carries, and the Buccaneer defense forced three turnovers.
- The Bucs hosted the Seahawks on Sunday Night Football in Week 7. They honored Mike Alstott at halftime of their 20-10 victory. Garcia threw for 310 yards and one touchdown, while Antonio Bryant went for 115 yards and a touchdown on six catches.
- Tampa Bay earned another overtime win in Week 9, beating the Chiefs 30-27 in Kansas City. Garcia threw for 339 yards, Graham ran for 62 and Bryant finished with another 115. It was Bryant’s third 100-yard receiving game of the season.
- The Bucs initially fell behind 24-3, but cut the deficit to 24-13 by halftime. They outscored the Chiefs 14-3 in the fourth quarter to send the game to overtime. The game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion came with under 30 seconds to go. Garcia connected with Bryant for a 24-yard touchdown before hitting Alex Smith for the tie. Matt Bryant’s 34-yard field goal in overtime gave Tampa Bay the win.
- In Week 11, the Bucs and Vikings entered the fourth quarter in a 13-13 tie. Two field goals from Matt Bryant and a strong effort from the defense capped off Tampa Bay’s second straight win.
- A third straight win for the Bucs came in Week 12, though a rocky start had the team down 17-0 to the Lions in Detroit. Tampa Bay followed with a 35-0 run and eventually won 38-20. The defense forced three turnovers, with two of the three coming on interceptions by Ronde Barber. In the third quarter, Clifton Smith recorded a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown to extend the lead to 28-17. The Bucs never looked back. At 8-3, Tampa Bay was in position to earn a first-round bye in the playoffs.
- The Bucs coughed up a 20-10 lead against the Saints in Week 13, but the defense stepped up late. With the game tied 20-20, Jermaine Phillips intercepted Drew Brees to set up a go-ahead field goal by Matt Bryant with two minutes left. On the next drive, Phillip Buchanon picked off Brees to finish the game and earn Jon Gruden his 100th win in the NFL. The Bucs moved to 9-3, further cementing themselves as one of the top teams in the NFC.
- Week 14 was the start of everything going downhill. On Monday Night Football, Tampa Bay hit the road to face Carolina for first place in the NFC South. The two teams were tied 17-17 heading into the fourth quarter, but the Panthers went on a 21-6 run to end the game. Carolina ran for 299 yards behind the legs of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.
- In the loss to the Panthers, Antonio Bryant caught nine passes for 200 yards and two scores, including this ridiculous catch:
- Tampa Bay came up short yet again in Week 15 in what was another matchup with playoff implications, this time against Atlanta. Jeff Garcia was sidelined with an injury, which led to Brian Griese returning as the starting quarterback. There wasn’t much scoring for either side, but a clutch 38-yard field goal by Matt Bryant with 48 seconds left in the game sent the teams to overtime tied at 10. From there, the Falcons eventually won on a 34-yard field goal by Jason Elam.
- Antonio Bryant recorded another 100-yard receiving game in Week 15, going for 108 and a touchdown on eight receptions.
- The Bucs were up 24-20 on the Chargers at the end of three quarters in Week 16, but got outscored 21-0 in the fourth quarter to drop a third straight game. It was yet another shot to Tampa Bay’s playoff hopes, though Bryant recorded his third straight 100-yard game. He caught six passes for 127 yards and a score.
- The loss in Week 16 meant the Bucs needed a win and a Cowboys loss in Week 17 to make the playoffs. Dallas lost 44-6, but Tampa Bay couldn’t secure a win. Gruden’s team led Oakland late, but the Raiders came back with a 67-yard touchdown run by Michael Bush to take the lead. The Bucs eventually fell 31-24, failing to make the playoffs.
2008 Buccaneers Player of the Year
This has been telegraphed all throughout this piece, so let’s get to it. Tampa Bay’s top player in the 2008 season was none other than Antonio Bryant. He finished the year with 83 catches for 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 15 yards per catch. He totaled six 100-yard receiving games, with one of those being a 200-yard performance. The Pitt product provided the Bucs with a steady option at receiver regardless of who was under center, whether it was Jeff Garcia or Brian Griese. His season was largely overlooked on a national scale, but Buccaneer fans know just how special the 2008 season was for Bryant.
The 2008 season is another big “what could’ve been” for the Bucs. Had they not imploded and lost four straight to end the season, who knows what would’ve happened? Gruden and Allen would have surely kept their jobs, and the entire course of Buccaneer history would’ve been changed. It was a pretty fun season up until Week 14, but it will only be remembered by the late-season collapse, and perhaps Bryant’s breakout year. Here’s a good look at the 2008 season:
We’re eight weeks away from kickoff, Bucs fans. Stay tuned to this rewind series every Sunday until Week 1 of the 2019 season.