The Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise has come a long way since entering the NFL in 1976. Now, on the brink of a Super Bowl, helmed but the consensus Greatest-Quarterback-of-All-Time, it’s strange to think this club went 0-14 with a record-worst -287 point differential in it’s inaugural season. Of course, they’ve had a couple great teams since then, including a Super Bowl championship squad in 2002. The question is, though, was that champion Bucs team better than the one they have right now?
This Tom Brady-led edition came into the year with plenty of hype, and delivered with an 11-5 record and an NFC Championship, at least. That 2002 Super Bowl team, however, finished with a better record (12-4) and had a better point differential (150 to 137). Given the sheer amount of talent on Tampa’s current team, with Brady as their ultimate trump card, it seems hard to imagine that the ’02 version quarterbacked by Brad Johnson could truly be better.
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So, in order to determine which of the two Buccaneer Super Bowl teams is best, let’s compare them in five major categories.
The ’20 Bucs rank third in total points and seventh in yards. In ’02, the Bucs finished 18th and 24th in those stats respectively. That type of stark differential pretty much ends the debate before it begins. But to put a finer point on it, this year’s Tampa team scored over 20 points in all but two of their games. That 02′ squad, on the other hand, scored 20 or fewer points in half their games. Today’s team is even safer with the ball despite doing so much more with it, as it commited 17 regular-season turnovers to the ’02 team’s 21.
Scoring points may not have been the ’02 squad’s forte, but preventing them sure enough was. The 2002 Buccaneers defense looms as one of the greatest of all time. That year’s unit finished first in both yards and points against, and held opponents to 10 or fewer points in a whopping nine of a possible 16 regular season games.
The ’20 defense is nothing to sneeze at, but it can’t hold a candle to that legendary 02′ unit. This year’s squad finished eighth in points against and sixth in yards against, but it’s real calling card is run defense. Tampa Bay wound up first in rushing yards allowed this season, but it’s bottom-third passing defense was it’s achilles heel.
That 02′ team was coached by the notorious Jon Gruden, who came over from the Oakland Raiders to juice the Buccaneers’ lagging offense. He didn’t turn the team into a high-scoring juggernaut, but he improved the offense enough to allow the defense to carry them to a championship. Their defensive coordinator was the venerable Monte Kiffin, one of the NFL’s best ever assistants. The rest of the staff featured some pretty prominent names, including future head coaches Jay Gruden, Mike Tomlin, and Rod Marinelli.
This year’s iteration is of course coached by Bruce Arians, who’s been a highly successful offensive coordinator and head coach for well over a decade now. Todd Bowles, the team’s defensive coordinator, is former head coach with the New York Jets, and has done a tremendous job scheming up the Bucs’ aggressive, smothering defense.
Perhaps it’s only thanks to the benefit of hindsight, but we’ll give the coaching edge to the 02′ team.
Tom Brady vs. Brad Johnson. Enough said.
Big names aren’t hard to find on either of these rosters. For the ’02 squad, most of their stars were found on defense. Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Ronde Barber, Derrick Brooks, and Simeon Rice were all Pro Bowl-calibre players that populated that dominant unit. Keyshawn Johnson was pretty much the only high-profile player on their offense, but Mike Alstott deserves an honorable mention for being the NFL’s last prominent fullback.
This year’s Buccaneers team, though, might be the most star-studded team in recent memory. Of course there’s Brady, but Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski are all household names in their own right. Not to mention, Chris Godwin and Leonard Fournette as secondary offensive stars is pretty ridiculous. On defense, the front-seven is chock-full of familiar names. Jason Pierre-Paul, Shaquil Barrett, Lavonte David, and Ndamukong Suh are all established football-celebrities. Second-year linebacker Devin White is an emerging star as well.
So there you have it. The ’02 Buccaneers were a great team, the culmination of the best era in Tampa Bay football history. But this year’s team, thanks to their elite offense, hall-of-fame quarterback, and glittering star-power on both sides of the ball, is just a bit better. No matter if they win or lose on Sunday, Buccaneers fans are looking at the best their franchise has ever had to offer.