The 2019 preseason is over. We’re one week from real football that actually counts. In one week, the Buccaneers will play host to the San Francisco 49ers at Raymond James Stadium to start the regular season.
Every Sunday leading up to kickoff of the new season, we’ve be taking a look back at old Bucs seasons, correlating with how many weeks were left in the countdown. Last week, we returned to the 2002 season. So, with just one week to go now, we’re wrapping the series up with a look back at Tampa Bay’s 2001 season.
2001 Season in Review
After a 10-6 season in 2000 that ended with a 21-3 loss to the Eagles in the NFC Wild Card Round, the Bucs were looking to take a step forward in 2001. With Tony Dungy still leading the way, the team brought in a new quarterback. Shaun King lost his starting job to veteran Brad Johnson, with Johnson immediately getting a top-tier weapon in the form of Keyshawn Johnson. The defense, of course, was still full of the greats that every Bucs fan still remembers fondly today.
Tampa Bay started the season with a 10-6 road win in Dallas, but had to wait a while to play its next game. Tragedy struck the country on September 11, so the Week 2 slate of games was postponed to a Week 18. When the NFL resumed play the next week, the Bucs were on their bye week. When they returned to the field, they lost four of their next six games, dropping them to 3-4. After splitting their next two — with a 20-17 home win over Detroit and a 27-24 road loss to Chicago — they went on a run. A three-game winning streak (24-17 at St. Louis, 16-13 in OT at Cincinnati and 15-12 over Detroit) brought the team to 7-5, meaning a playoff berth was once again possible.
Despite a blowout home loss to the Bears in Week 14, the Bucs regained their momentum. A 48-21 win over the Saints and a 22-10 victory over the Ravens — both at home — got them into the playoffs. The season finale, a home game against the rival Eagles that was originally scheduled for Week 2, ultimately didn’t matter. Tampa Bay was already the No. 6 seed in the playoffs, while Philadelphia was the No. 3 seed. That meant the two teams would face off in the NFC Wild Card Round again one week after their regular season matchup. With starters resting on both sides, the Bucs lost 17-13.
Unfortunately for Tony Dungy and Tampa Bay, the next week was more of the same against Philadelphia. The Bucs lost 31-9, ending their season and Dungy’s tenure in Tampa. A couple of days after another playoff loss, he was fired. That led to the wacky coaching search that eventually resulted in the trade for Jon Gruden to become the team’s new head coach.
The Bucs’ roster was full of Pro Bowl and All-Pro players in 2001. Mike Alstott, Ronde Barber, Derrick Brooks, Keyshawn Johnson, John Lynch and Warren Sapp were selected to the Pro Bowl. Barber, Brooks, Lynch and Sapp were also All-Pro picks.
2001 Notes and Highlights
- With a fourth-quarter touchdown run, Brad Johnson led the Bucs past the Cowboys in Week 1 by a score of 10-6. The defense was dominant, with Dexter Jackson and John Lynch both intercepting Quincy Carter. Lynch’s pick sealed the game. Carter threw for just 34 yards, and Dallas was held to 127 total yards. The win was Tampa Bay’s first-ever in Dallas.
- Because of 9/11 and then a bye week, the Bucs didn’t take the field for the second time until 21 days had passed since their opener. They fell 20-16 to the Vikings after the long layoff. After taking a fourth-quarter lead, Tampa Bay gave up a 96-yard game-winning drive to Daunte Culpepper and the Minnesota offense.
- The Bucs’ home opener — played in Week 5 — was a success. They beat the division rival Packers by a score of 14-10. The defense intercepted Brett Favre three times, with one being returned 98 yards for a touchdown by Shelton Quarles, marking the longest in franchise history. Then, with Tampa Bay trailing 10-7 midway through the fourth, Mike Alstott ran for a 39-yard touchdown for the lead. From there, the defense held on late for the win.
- The following week, Brad Johnson led a furious comeback against the Titans, throwing two late touchdowns to force overtime. However, Tennesee won the game 31-28 with a field goal on its first overtime possession.
- After back-to-back losses Tennessee and Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay evened its record at 3-3 with a 41-14 win over the Vikings. Mike Alstott ran for 129 yards and three touchdowns in the game, while Chartric Darby, Alshermond Singleton, Brian Kelly and Ronde Barber all tallied sacks. Dexter Jackson also picked off a pass in the win.
- Despite being 4-5 in late November, the Bucs fought their way back into contention. That started with a record-evening road win over the Rams. St. Louis, led by Kurt Warner, came into the Monday Night Football matchup with an 8-1 record. It was a 17-17 game after three quarters, but Warrick Dunn broke the tie in the fourth with a 21-yard touchdown run.
- With less than three minutes to go, it was John Lynch who came up with a game-clinching interception to get Tampa Bay to 5-5.
- The Bucs kept up their momentum the following week with a 16-13 overtime win over the Bengals in Cincinnati. Tampa Bay led 13-6 with eight seconds to go, but a game-tying score sent the game to overtime. After pinning the Bengals deep in their own territory in overtime, John Lynch recovered a fumble to set Martin Gramatica for a game-winning field goal. He nailed it to get the Bucs to 6-5, putting them over the .500 mark for the first time since they were 2-1.
- The Bucs won their third straight game the next week, escaping the lowly Lions by a score of 15-12. Detroit, at 0-11, nearly had its first win of the season before Brad Johnson converted a late fourth down to Keyshawn Johnson. The two then linked up for the game-winning score with just 45 seconds left. The win brought Tampa Bay to 7-5.
- A setback against the Bears in Chicago dropped the Bucs to 7-6, but they responded with a crucial 48-21 win over the Saints. Tampa Bay led 30-0 at halftime, then went on to set the franchise record for points in a game with 48. Ronde Barber had a pick six, Mike Alstott ran for 101 yards and a touchdown and Brad Johnson threw for three scores. With the victory, the Bucs needed just one win and one Falcons loss over the last two weeks to clinch a playoff spot.
- The Bucs got that win they needed the very next week, beating the Ravens 22-10 at home. Mike Alstott and Brad Johnson ran for touchdowns to key the offense, while Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber came up with interceptions in the victory. Tampa Bay improved to 9-6, and just about wrapped up a playoff berth. Atlanta needed wins in its final two games and had to make up a huge point differential to earn a playoff spot. That didn’t happen.
- The Bucs met the Eagles in Week 18, a makeup of their matchup that was originally scheduled for Week 2 before the 9/11 tragedy occurred. The game was meaningless, as the teams were set to meet again the next week in the playoffs. With starters on the sidelines, Philadelphia won 17-13.
- Tampa Bay suffered another first-round exit in the postseason, losing 31-9 to Philadelphia at Veterans Stadium. That loss led to the firing of Tony Dungy and the eventual trade for Jon Gruden. The very next year, of course, the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl.
2001 Buccaneers Player of the Year
Keyshawn Johnson went for over 1,000 yards in his first season as a Buc, but his lack of touchdowns eliminate him from being selected here. Mike Alstott would be a valid choice from the offense. The A-Train ran for 680 yards, averaged 4.1 yards a carry and scored 11 total touchdowns (10 rushing).
The defense has some fair picks as well, but the one who stands alone as the top player of the 2001 season is Ronde Barber. The career Buccaneer had a dominant year, racking up 71 tackles (six for loss), a sack, 10 interceptions and 24 passes defended. His 10 interceptions is still a single-season franchise record in Tampa Bay. For his incredible efforts, Barber was named to the Pro Bowl and the All-Pro First Team — both career firsts.
Barber will go into the team’s Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium this year. There’s really no argument against the fact that he deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. We’ll see where that goes in due time. For now, let’s take a minute to celebrate one of the greatest Bucs of all time.
After an early playoff exit in 2000, which came at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles, Tampa Bay needed a big rebound in 2001. Instead, it was more of the same. An up-and-down regular season ended with a playoff berth, which was obviously a big deal. But that playoff run went nowhere once again, as the Bucs fell victim to the same team that knocked them out the year before.
A 31-9 playoff loss to a rival will always leave a bad taste in your mouth. It was an unfortunate end to the season and a tough end to Tony Dungy’s career in Tampa. Of course, the Bucs climbed to the top the next year and Dungy eventually won a Super Bowl with the Colts as well. All’s well that ends well, right?
The 2001 season featured some memorable late-game comebacks, some fun performances and a whole lot of defensive dominance. For that era of Buccaneer football, 9-7 and a first-round postseason exit was a disappointment. I think we would all be pretty OK with one of those years from Tampa Bay now. But 2001? It’ll always be remembered as the season that preceded the best year in franchise history.
Hang in there, Bucs fans. We’re one week away from a new season. Thanks for following along throughout the Countdown to Kickoff Rewind Series this summer!