With only one more preseason game left to play, the Buccaneers are just about ready for the 2019 regular season. They return to Raymond James Stadium in TWO weeks to host the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1.
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 2003 season. So, with two weeks to go now, we’re taking a look back at Tampa Bay’s 2002 season.
2002 Season in Review
After another disappointing playoff exit in 2001, the Bucs fired Tony Dungy and began a coaching search that was eventful, to say the least. The search went on for two months. Bill Parcells rejected them. Trade talks with Oakland for Jon Gruden’s contract broke down. Rich McKay wanted Marvin Lewis for the job, but the Glazers didn’t. Steve Mariucci became a candidate and was on the fence before things finally flipped. Trade talks with the Raiders picked back up. By the end of the search, the Bucs were able to hit a home run. Sure, it took two first-round picks and two second-rounders to get Gruden to Tampa Bay. But as we all know, it paid off.
Gruden was the offensive mind that the Bucs needed, considering the defense was already championship material. Keenan McCardell and Michael Pittman were brought on board for the 2002 season, as was Joe Jurevicius. The offense improved, and the defense remained as dominant as ever. The unit arguably got more dominant, scoring nine touchdowns on the year.
In the newly-established NFC South, things didn’t start well for the Bucs. A season-opening home loss to the Saints was frustrating, but it was quickly forgotten. The team won five straight and nine of its next 10, entering December at 9-2. A 3-2 month gave the Bucs a 12-4 finish — still their best ever — and an NFC South title.
After a first-round bye, the Bucs hosted the 49ers in the NFC Divisional Round and blew them out by a score of 31-6. A huge showdown with the Eagles in Philadelphia was next, which appeared to be a nightmare scenario for the Bucs, considering their past struggles in the rivalry. Instead, Tampa Bay won 27-10 and earned a spot in Super Bowl XXXVII. It was Jon Gruden and his new team against his old team, the Oakland Raiders in San Diego. The No. 1 offense (Oakland) against the No. 1 defense. It wasn’t close. The Bucs scored three defensive touchdowns en route to a 48-21 victory, earning the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in franchise history.
It goes without saying that trading for Gruden was a worthwhile move. He became the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl at the time. Tampa Bay had Brad Johnson, Mike Alstott, Simeon Rice, Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Shelton Quarles and John Lynch earn Pro Bowl honors, though none of them made the trip due to being in the Super Bowl.
2002 Notes and Highlights
- The Bucs trailed the Saints 20-10 heading into the fourth quarter of their Week 1 matchup, but a 10-point comeback forced overtime. Martin Gramatica kicked a 40-yard field goal as time expired in regulation, but considering how the game ended, it might’ve been better for the Bucs to lose in four quarters. Punting from his own end zone, Tom Tupa faced pressure from a Saints defender and tried to throw, but he threw it directly to another defender IN THE END ZONE for the easiest game-winning touchdown ever.
- Tampa Bay responded to its Week 1 loss with a 25-0 road win over Baltimore in Week 2. Karl “The Truth” Williams returned a punt for a touchdown and Derrick Brooks came up with a 97-yard pick six in the win.
- A 26-14 win over the Rams on Monday Night Football came next, with the defense picking off Kurt Warner four times. Derrick Brooks added another late pick six to run the defense’s touchdown total to two in three games. The pick halted any hope of a St. Louis comeback and got Tampa Bay to 2-1.
- The Bucs didn’t need any late heroics in Week 4, beating the Bengals 35-7 in Cincinnati to improve to 3-1. Brad Johnson threw for three touchdowns and Shelton Quarles came up with a pick six, marking the defense’s third score of the season.
- The Bucs won their fourth straight game in Week 5, knocking Michael Vick out of the game early before winning 20-6 in Atlanta. Brad Johnson and Keyshawn Johnson connected for a 76-yard touchdown and yes, the defense scored again. This time, it was Warren Sapp with the interception, but he pitched the ball to Brooks, who ran it the rest of the way. That was the fourth defensive score of the year.
- The Bucs moved to 5-1 in Week 6 with a 17-3 win over the Browns in Tampa, and Mike Alstott was the one who stole the show. He ran for 126 yards and two scores, but this was the highlight of the day:
- Despite another defensive touchdown from Derrick Brooks, the Bucs couldn’t keep it rolling in Week 7 against the Eagles. They fell 20-10 in Philadelphia.
- With Brad Johnson injured and Rob Johnson knocked out of the game, the Bucs were saved in Week 8 by Shaun King. The third-stringer came off the bench and completed a big pass to Karl Williams before Martin Gramatica kicked the game-winning field goal.
- Brad Johnson’s return in Week 9 was a big one. In a 38-24 win over the Vikings at Raymond James Stadium, he threw for 313 yards and five touchdowns on 24-of-31 passing. Keyshawn Johnson caught nine passes for 133 yards and two scores in the victory. The Bucs improved to 7-2 heading into their bye week.
- The 8-2 Bucs hosted the 8-2 Packers in Week 12, a matchup between two rivals that no longer played in the same division. Tampa Bay came away victorious, winning 21-7. Brad Johnson threw touchdowns to Joe Jurevicius and Ken Dilger in the victory. Brett Favre threw four interceptions, with two going to Brian Kelly and one going to both Ronde Barber and Dexter Jackson.
- The Saints finished a season sweep of the Bucs in Week 13, winning 23-20 in New Orleans.
- Tampa Bay held on to its lead in the NFC South with a 34-10 Week 14 win over Atlanta. They kept Michael Vick — who had led the Falcons on an eight-game winning streak — in check. The dual-threat star threw for 125 yards and ran for just nine yards. Derrick Brooks was the designated spy for Vick in the game, and he played that role to perfection.
- In Week 17, the Bucs beat the Bears 17-0 in Chicago. The win earned them a first-round bye and home-field advantage for the second round. It was also their first-ever win in temperatures under 40 degrees.
- With flags waving all around Raymond James Stadium, the Bucs rolled over the 49ers in the second round of the playoffs. Tampa Bay rode a 21-point second quarter to a 31-6 win. Mike Alstott ran for two touchdowns and the defense harassed Jeff Garcia all day. He was sacked four times, threw three interceptions and fumbled once. Ronde Barber, Dwight Smith and Derrick Brooks came up with picks for the Bucs.
- The NFC Championship Game didn’t get off to a great start for Tampa Bay. The Eagles returned the opening kickoff to the Buccaneer 25-yard line, then scored shortly after. With the team’s history in Philadelphia, it was a tough scene early on. But the Bucs bounced back. After a Martin Gramatica field goal, it was Joe Jurevicius who sparked the offense.
- Jurevicius, who nearly missed the game due to complications with the premature birth of his son, came up with one of the most memorable plays in Buccaneer history. He caught a pass across the middle and took it 71 yards to set up an eventual Mike Alstott touchdown. The “YOU GO, JOE!” radio call is still one of the best ever from the legendary Gene Deckerhoff.
- The Bucs later took a 20-10 lead into the fourth quarter, but Donovan McNabb and the Philly offense threatened late. Ronde Barber stopped whatever hope the Eagles had left with a 92-yard pick six to send Tampa Bay to its first-ever Super Bowl.
- That Bucs victory over the Eagles was the last game ever played at Veterans Stadium.
- Tampa Bay and Oakland squared off in San Diego for Super Bowl XXXVII. The game was all about the Bucs. Their No. 1-ranked defense matched up with the Raiders’ top-ranked offense, and it wasn’t even close.
- Mike Alstott scored the first Super Bowl touchdown in franchise history in the second quarter, then Brad Johnson connected with Keenan McCardell for another score. Tampa Bay led 20-3 by halftime. Another Johnson-to-McCardell score in the third made it 27-3. From there, the defense got in on the scoring. A Dwight Smith pick six made it 34-3 in the third and after a hint of an Oakland comeback, Derrick Brooks put a stamp on it. His 45-yard pick six made it 41-21 late before another Dwight Smith score made it 48-21 with 34 seconds left.
- Dexter Jackson had the other two interceptions for Tampa Bay, making it a total of five off of Rich Gannon. Jackson was named the game’s MVP.
- Gannon was also sacked five times, twice by Simeon Rice.
- The Bucs outgained the Raiders 365-269, but it was the 5-1 turnover advantage that made the big difference.
2002 Buccaneers Player of the Year
When your team wins a Super Bowl, it isn’t the work of any one player. Brad Johnson, Keyshawn Johnson, Keenan McCardell, Joe Jurevicius, Mike Alstott and Michael Pittman were all huge for the offense. Warren Sapp, Ronde Barber, John Lynch and Simeon Rice, among others, were key in the defense’s dominance. But when narrowing it down to just one MVP from that championship season, it’s Derrick Brooks.
Brooks totaled a team-high 117 tackles (87 solo), a sack, five interceptions, a fumble recovery and four defensive touchdowns. He iced the team’s first-ever Super Bowl victory with a pick six. He was named to the Pro Bowl and was a first-team All-Pro selection. And to cap it all off, Brooks was named the 2002 Defensive Player of the Year. He of course went on to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and his single greatest season just happened to come when his defense led the way to a Lombardi Trophy.
There’s no easy way to wrap all of this up. The 2002 season is still talked about to this day, and it always will be. The Bucs climbed to the top of the NFL world that year. The defense was absolutely dominant, playing at such a high level that they are in the conversation for being the best defense of all-time. And the trade for Jon Gruden? It was a good one. The offense took a step forward thanks to Gruden’s direction and Brad Johnson’s play. There were countless memories to be had all throughout the season. Heck, there were a ton of memorable moments in the team’s three playoff games in January 2003 alone.
If you’re like me, you’ve seen all of these highlights and documentaries before. You’ve probably seen them more times than you can count. But they just never get old, do they?
We’re two weeks away from kickoff, Bucs fans. Next week, we hit our last installment of the Countdown to Kickoff Rewind Series.