(It’s the final regular season game for the Buccaneers and the Saints. Two long time NFC South rivals meeting, yet again. Our resident Bucs historian, Paul Stewart of BucPower.com in London, is back one last time some of his favorite games in in Tampa the series. As always, click the score of the game for photos and videos on his site of the games he recaps.)
THE BUCS AT HOME TO THE SAINTS
This will be the Saints’ 23rd trip to Tampa dating back to the final game of the 1978 season with the Bucs currently trailing 8-14 in this home series. We looked at three of the best road games with the Bucs’ division rivals earlier in the year, so we now feature a trio of games played in Tampa.
Sunday 23 December 2001 at Raymond James Stadium
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 48 New Orleans Saints 21
The most well-known statistic about the Buccaneers for their first 30+ years was not being able to return a kickoff for a touchdown. Until Micheal Spurlock ended the great curse in 2007, this game with the Saints was the closest they came. RB Aaron Stecker took the opening kick and returned it 86 yards, weaving and dodgying multiple attempted tackles (and blatant blocks in the back) on his way to within 15 yards of the New Orleans goal-line. Close but no cigar.
“How many tackles did he break in that thing? It would’ve been easy for him to go down, he almost slipped the first part of the run,” Ronde Barber said. “The desire, the resolve, the urgency to make a play and do your part, it stood out today. He’s just one example of it.”
WR Karl Williams caught the first of Brad Johnson’s three touchdown passes to put points on the board from Stecker’s heroics and then it was all Tampa Bay as they tied their franchise records for points scored in a game set in the 1987 season opener against Atlanta. Mike Alstott had a 100-yard game, Ronde Barber had a pick six and after K Martin Gramatica was injured, S John Lynch found himself kicking off during the fourth quarter.
“Our death has been greatly exaggerated,” said Warren Sapp, who helped the defense allow one first down in the first half. “We’ve still got a lot of air in this ball club and a lot of good players, and we’re going to keep plugging. It was head to head. It was either them going or us going. You can’t have a better situation than that in this league. The team that you’re facing, for the last playoff spot, coming into your house and they’ve got to beat you? It’s not going down, daddy. It’s not going down.”
Sunday 8 September 2002 at Raymond James Stadium
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20 New Orleans Saints 26
Less than a year later, the two teams met again in Tampa but this time with a new Buccaneer coach on the sideline. Jon Gruden had taken over from Tony Dungy and was making his debut in front of expectant fans. The result did not go their way but in spite of losing the battle, the end of the season saw them win the war.
The Bucs found themselves down by 10 with under three minutes left but a Brad Johnson to Joe Jurevicius touchdown pass brought them to within a fieldgoal and Martin Gramatica delivered a 41-yarder to tie the scores as time expired. Overtime saw neither team able to move the ball put a potential punt block led punter Tom Tupa to attempt a left-handed pass out of his own endzone only to find James Allen catch the wobbly throw for the winning touchdown.
“All those flags, those penalties, those plays, they may not show up in the stat sheet,” Gruden said. “But they were costly. And I’m disappointed. But I’m not going to let this one fester for very long. We have a good football team and we’re going to come back from this.”
Sunday 21 October 2012 at Raymond James Stadium
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 28 New Orleans Saints 35
In 2009 the Buccaneers introduced an annual Throwback game in which they wore their original orange jerseys and Raymond James Stadium changed color scheme for one day. The NFL rule changes on helmets put an end to that after just four years but the final game (for now) in the Bucco Bruce throwbacks was against the Saints and turned into a true offensive shootout.
Josh Freeman had one of the greatest statistical passing games in Tampa Bay history throwing for 420 yards and three touchdowns with WR Vincent Jackson recording the third 200-yard game in team history. He though had the decisive play when he went 95 yards on a pass down the Buc sideline but was tackled at the one-yard line. The Bucs failed to score and those seven points proved to be the difference in the final scoreline. “You talk about a game-changing play,” Saints coach Aaron Kromer said. “An unbelievable individual effort,” QB Drew Brees.
The final play proved controversial as Mike Williams seemed to catch a Freeman pass in the endzone but was penalised for illegal touching despite having been clearly pushed out of the endzone by Saints’ DB Patrick Robinson. The rule was complicated but the call was unfortunately correct for Tampa Bay fans.
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