Entering this season, Tampa Bay had gone 12-20 since winning the Super Bowl in 2002 and their biggest problem over that span was an inept offense that had trouble putting points on the board. Much wasn't expected from the Buccaneers offense coming into this season either but the team got off to a fast start, winning their first four games.
Then, in a 27-13 victory over the Miami Dolphins, veteran quarterback Brian Griese was lost for the season. Head coach Jon Gruden was forced to hand the reigns of his offense over to untested Chris Simms. The Bucs were 5-1 at the time and the pressure was on the young quarterback to keep the team winning.
Things started off rocky for Simms. Tampa suffered an embarrassing loss at San Francisco and then the Carolina Panthers beat them badly at home. Despite throwing for 523 yards in the two games, Simms tossed four interceptions and only two touchdowns.
Then came the turning point of the season for Simms and the Bucs. Playing a good Washington Redskins defense, the young quarterback threw for 279 yards and three touchdowns. He led his team down the field in the final minute for what looked to be a tying touchdown but his good game was overshadowed by Gruden's decision to not kick the extra point, opting to go for a two-point conversion and the win instead. The 36-35 victory over the Redskins was a coming out party for Simms, who is now 4-1 as a starter since that game.
Simms doesn't have eye-popping numbers but he's completing over 60 percent of his passes on the season and he's cut down on the mistakes that plagued him is his first couple of starts. The bottom line is Simms is managing the offense well and he has the Bucs in position to win the NFC South.
In the Buccaneers 20-10 victory over the Panthers last Sunday, Simms was an efficient 20-out-of-27 and he has thrown only one interception in his last five starts.
"Chris has stepped in and managed the team well," Bill Belichick said. "He is a smart kid with a lot of poise. He's tough and he'll stand in the pocket and deliver the ball."
The biggest addition to the Bucs offense has been rookie Cadillac Williams. The explosive back out of Auburn is on his way to the NFL's Rookie of the Year award with 924 yards rushing, despite missing two starts because of a foot injury.
Williams topped the 100-yard mark in his first three games but his injured foot slowed him down until mid-November. Now, the Cadillac appears to be rolling once again. In his last four starts, Williams has run for 408 yards and looks to be 100 percent healthy.
Veterans Michael Pittman and Mike Alstott have helped spell the rookie. Pittman is averaging almost six yards a carry for the season and Alstott has six rushing touchdowns this year. Running the football is important for Tampa Bay under Gruden. The team is 7-1 this season and 22-5 overall when they reach the century mark since Gruden took over.
The Bucs aren't known as an aerial circus but with the resurgence of Joey Galloway, Tampa Bay has provided some big plays through the air this season.
The veteran is clearly Simms' favorite target. Galloway has three 100-yard receiving games since the youngster became the starter and leads the team in receiving with 1,114 yards and eight touchdowns. Even at 34, Galloway can still run by most NFL corners.
"They can throw the ball and make plays, headed by Galloway," Belichick said. "He can do it all. He's fast. He's quick. He's great after the catch. He's a hard guy to press because of his vertical speed and he's a hard guy to back off because of his quickness. He's as good as any receiver we've played against."
Belichick said Gruden is one of the toughest coaches to prepare for because he runs just about every offensive formation there is. Whether it's throwing the ball deep, playing power football or throwing short, possession passes, the Bucs are flexible enough to do whatever it takes on offense to expose an opponent's defense.
"I think Jon has a hatred or detest for defense," Belichick joked. "He's not just going to stick the knife in, he's going to twist it a couple of times…He just hates defense. He takes it very personally."
With their defensive stars getting older and a strong core of talented young players on offense, the Bucs could finally become a team where scoring more than 20 points in a game becomes the norm, not the exception. As for this week's game against the Patriots, Tampa has the kind of physical, ball-controlling offense to be successful in the frigid Foxborough weather. The Patriots have been outstanding on defense of late, allowing only 10 points in their last two games. They will need another solid performance from their defense this Saturday against the Bucs in what figures to be a tough, low-scoring game.
Patriots sign offensive lineman Ross TuckerThe Patriots signed free agent offensive lineman Ross Tucker on Tuesday. To make room for Tucker, running back Mike Cloud was released and the team also announced Ryan Krug has been released from the practice squad.
Tucker is in his fifth NFL season and has played in 41 games with 24 starts. He has played for the Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills. Tucker saw his most extensive action with the Bills, starting 17 games in two seasons for Buffalo. He saw playing time in all 16 games with the Bills last year.
Cloud played in six games with the Patriots but only carried the ball 23 times for 59 yards. This is the second time in less than a month that the Patriots have released the former Boston College running back.
The Patriots signed Krug as an undrafted free agent in April of this year. The team released Krug but then signed him to the practice squad on Sept. 28. Krug never played in a regular season game for the Patriots.
NotesThe 14 rushing yards allowed by the Patriots against the Bills was the second lowest allowed in franchise history. The lowest total was two rushing yards by San Diego on Dec. 17, 1961…The Patriots set a franchise record against the Bills by converting 32 first downs…This Saturday's game will only be the sixth ever meeting between the Patriots and Bucs, with New England leading the all-time series 3-2. The last time the two teams met was in 2000 when Tampa Bay came to Foxborough and beat the Patriots 21-16.