|2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers season|
|Head coach||Jon Gruden|
|General manager||Rich McKay|
|Home field||Raymond James Stadium|
|Division place||3rd NFC South|
|Playoff finish||Did not qualify|
|AP All-Pros||LB Derrick Brooks, DE Simeon Rice (both 2nd team)|
|Team MVP||WR Keenan McCardell|
The 2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers season was the franchise's 28th season in the National Football League the 6th playing their home games at Raymond James Stadium, and the 2nd under head coach Jon Gruden. The season began with the team trying to defend its Super Bowl XXXVII title of 2002. Despite high expectations, several last-minute losses led to locker room tension and front-office struggles. The Buccaneers finished 7-9, and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1998.
The season started out on a positive note, as the Buccaneers defeated their bitter rival from the three previous postseasons, the Philadelphia Eagles. It was the first game in Lincoln Financial Field, and with a 17-0 shutout victory, it appeared Tampa Bay had picked up right where they had left off the season before. Their home opener against Carolina in week 2 was a disappointment, however, as special teams woes thwarted what would have been a game-winning touchdown as time expired. The go-ahead extra point was blocked, and Tampa Bay lost in overtime. The worst was yet to come, however, in week 5. The team blew a 35-14 lead in the final four minutes and lost to the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football, the night that former coach Tony Dungy returned to Tampa. The team began to unravel, both on the field and off the field, with injuries piling up, and locker room tensions mounting.
Combined with the Oakland Raiders' dismal 4-12 performance, neither Super Bowl team reached the playoffs that year. This situation would not happen again until the 2016 season when both the Broncos and the Panthers, the two Super Bowl contenders for the 2015 season, would miss the playoffs. As of 2020, this is the most recent season that the Super Bowl champion had a losing record following the Super Bowl.
Soon after the team's victory in Super Bowl XXXVII over the Oakland Raiders, a growing number of press reports had indicated Gruden's lack of patience with general manager Rich McKay. McKay was a major architect of the Buccaneers' rebuilding effort over the previous ten years, and he, like Gruden, had long-established ties to the Tampa Bay area. However, as the 2003 season wore on, the Gruden/McKay relationship deteriorated as the Buccaneers struggled on the field. In November, Keyshawn Johnson was deactivated by the team ten games into the season for his conduct, which included sideline arguments with coaches and players. Johnson was eventually traded to the Dallas Cowboys for wide receiver Joey Galloway.
Along with the Johnson de-activation, injuries sidelined several players during the season. The starting roster from Opening Day looked drastically different by November, particularly on offense. Opening day starters such as Mike Alstott, Brian Kelly, Greg Spires, and Kenyatta Walker, along with Joe Jurevicius, John Howell, Tim Wansley, Darian Barnes, and Ellis Wyms all ended up on injured reserve. By Thanksgiving, the starting running back became lesser-known Thomas Jones, with on-again, off-again third-string receiver Charles Lee elevated to starter. Though quarterback Brad Johnson started all 16 games - a feat he did not accomplish in the Buccaneers' Super Bowl season the previous year - he was benched while losing in the final week during a "meaningless" game against Tennessee.
In December, the Glazers allowed McKay to leave the Buccaneers organization before the end of the regular season. He promptly joined the Atlanta Falcons as president and general manager. Thus, McKay watched his first game as a Falcons executive sitting next to owner Arthur Blank in a Raymond James Stadium skybox in week 16, in which the Falcons defeated the Buccaneers 30-28, thus eliminating them from playoff contention.
|1||New York Jets||W 30-14||1-0||Raymond James Stadium||Recap|
|2||Miami Dolphins||W 20-19||2-0||Pro Player Stadium||Recap|
|3||St.Louis Rams||L 16-26||2-1||Tokyo Dome||Recap|
|4||at Jacksonville Jaguars||W 10-6||3-1||Raymond James Stadium||Recap|
|5||at Houston Texans||W 34-3||4-1||Raymond James Stadium||Recap|
|1||at Philadelphia Eagles||W 17-0||1-0||Lincoln Financial Field||Recap|
|2||September 14||Carolina Panthers||L 9-12 (OT)||1-1||Raymond James Stadium||Recap|
|3||September 21||at Atlanta Falcons||W 31-10||2-1||Georgia Dome||Recap|
|5||Indianapolis Colts||L 35-38 (OT)||2-2||Raymond James Stadium||Recap|
|6||October 12||at Washington Redskins||W 35-13||3-2||FedExField||Recap|
|7||October 19||at San Francisco 49ers||L 7-24||3-3||3Com Park||Recap|
|8||October 26||Dallas Cowboys||W 16-0||4-3||Raymond James Stadium||Recap|
|9||November 2||New Orleans Saints||L 14-17||4-4||Raymond James Stadium||Recap|
|10||November 9||at Carolina Panthers||L 24-27||4-5||Ericsson Stadium||Recap|
|11||November 16||Green Bay Packers||L 13-20||4-6||Raymond James Stadium||Recap|
|12||New York Giants||W 19-13||5-6||Raymond James Stadium||Recap|
|13||November 30||at Jacksonville Jaguars||L 10-17||5-7||Alltel Stadium||Recap|
|14||December 7||at New Orleans Saints||W 14-7||6-7||Louisiana Superdome||Recap|
|15||December 14||Houston Texans||W 16-3||7-7||Raymond James Stadium||Recap|
|16||Atlanta Falcons||L 28-30||7-8||Raymond James Stadium||Recap|
|17||December 28||at Tennessee Titans||L 13-33||7-9||The Coliseum||Recap|
Note: Division games in bold text.
The Buccaneers appeared to start the 2003 regular season where they left off. The Buccaneers opened on Monday night, against the Eagles, at the new Lincoln Financial Field. It was a rematch of the previous season's NFC Championship. The Buccaneers impressively beat the Eagles 17-0. Joe Jurevicius led the team with two touchdown catches. His second came via a "circus catch" in which he tipped the ball up into the air, rebounding it to himself, and making the reception.
The Buccaneers home opener against division foe Carolina turned into an embarrassment. A defensive-oriented game saw young Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme held to only 9-for-23, 96 yards and two interceptions. Meanwhile, Brad Johnson threw for 339 yards. Unfortunately, special teams breakdowns cost the team dearly. Contributing to the frustrating day, the Buccaneers committed 17 penalties for 168 yards.
After two earlier botched field goal attempts, the Buccaneers trailed 9-3 late in the fourth quarter. On the last play of regulation, Brad Johnson connected to Keenan McCardell for a dramatic game-tying touchdown pass in the back of the endzone time expired. The extra point would have given Tampa Bay the win. Martin Gramatica's extra point attempt, however, was blocked. The game went to overtime tied 9-9.
Both teams traded possessions, and with just over 6 minutes left in the overtime period, Tampa Bay punted to Carolina. Steve Smith returned the punt 52 yards to the Tampa Bay 40-yard line. Five plays later, Carolina won 12-9 after a 47-yard field goal.
Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was sidelined due to an injury in the preseason. Doug Johnson took over, and the Buccaneers dominated. They held Doug Johnson to only 95 passing yards, and three interceptions. His fourth quarter replacement, Kurt Kittner did not fare any better.
The Tampa Bay offense rebounded with Warren Sapp playing tight end and scoring his first career offensive touchdown catch. Mike Alstott put the game well out of reach with two third-quarter touchdown runs.
On October 6, the Buccaneers hosted the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football. It marked former coach Tony Dungy's return to Tampa Bay, and he was well received by fans. During pre-game warm-ups, Warren Sapp stirred up controversy when he skipped through the Colts players, who were spread out over the field stretching. It was Sapp's second such "skipping" incident (the first in 2002 against the Steelers), and he drew considerable criticism.
Most of the game was one-sided, with the Buccaneers dominating the first half. On the first play of their second drive, Brad Johnson connected with Keenan McCardell for a 74-yard touchdown, and a 7-0 lead. On the next drive, at their own 33-yard line, Johnson was intercepted by Mike Doss at the Colts 41-yard line. Doss, however, was tackled by John Wade, who punched the ball out and forced a fumble. The ball bounced into the hands of Keenan McCardell, and McCardell ran 57 yards for an improbable fumble recovery touchdown and a 14-0 score. Tampa Bay entered halftime leading 21-0.
With most of the fans beginning to head for the exits, Indianapolis started an improbable rally. Tampa Bay kicked off, and the ball was returned 90 yards to the 11-yard line. Four plays later, with 3:37 remaining, Indianapolis scored a touchdown on a fourth-down play, to narrow the lead to 35-21. Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt then attempted an onside kick, which sailed airborne and was caught by Colts safety Idrees Bashir at their own 42-yard line. It was later determined by NFL officials that the onside kick was recovered illegally, since it never touched the ground, nor was touched by a Tampa Bay player. The critical error by the officiating crew led by referee Johnny Grier was overlooked, and the game continued.
The Colts scored another touchdown, and narrowed the margin 35-28. Another onside kick attempt was made, but this time it was recovered by Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay attempted to run the clock down to the two-minute warning, but a personal foul by Kenyatta Walker stopped the clock at 2:04 remaining. The Buccaneers were forced to punt with 1:48 to go. Manning then led the Colts on an 87-yard touchdown drive to tie the score 35-35 with 0:35 remaining. In overtime, kicker Mike Vanderjagt missed a 40-yard field goal, but umpire Ed Coukart called a penalty on Simeon Rice for leaping, a rarely seen unsportsmanlike conduct infraction for running and jumping to block a kick and landing on other players. Vanderjagt's subsequent kick was batted and hit the upright, but fell in good, winning the game for the Colts.
It was the largest comeback in NFL history (21 points) in that little amount of time (under 4 minutes to go). With the game-winning field goal, Vanderjagt went on to become the first kicker in NFL history not to miss a kick attempt in a complete season, including the playoffs. The game was named #3 on NFL Top 10's Top Ten Comebacks.
The devastating loss to the Colts seemed to start a downward trend for the team. Injuries sidelined several players, including Mike Alstott and Brian Kelly. Before the game, Warren Sapp was involved in his second "skipping" incident in two weeks, and third overall, as he bumped into an NFL referee. The incident drew a $50,000 fine.
Despite the growing trouble, the Buccaneers managed to beat Steve Spurrier's slumping Redskins. Brad Johnson threw four touchdown passes, and Derrick Brooks iced the game with a 44-yard interception return touchdown.
Brad Johnson threw three interceptions, and the Buccaneer defense gave up 212 yards rushing, falling to the San Francisco 49ers. Tampa Bay's only highlight, and only score, was a 75-yard touchdown pass to Keenan McCardell in the first quarter.
In a largely defensive game, so-called "Buc Ball" prevailed. Tampa Bay shut out Bill Parcells' Dallas Cowboys by a score of 16-0. The defense forced three turnovers, and held the #4-ranked Dallas offense to just over 200 total yards and no points.
After a touchdown pass, and an interception return, the New Orleans Saints held a 14-0 lead. With under 8 minutes to go in regulation, Brad Johnson threw two touchdown passes (26 and 30 yards) to Michael Pittman and Keenan McCardell to tie the score at 14-14. With 2:08 to go New Orleans took over. The Buccaneer defense failed to hold ground, and the Saints kicked a game-winning field goal with 8 seconds left.
Carolina broke out to a 20-7 lead through three quarters. Brad Johnson led the Buccaneers on a rally, scoring two touchdown passes of 23 yards and 36 yards. One each to Keyshawn Johnson and Keenan McCardell, and Tampa Bay took a 21-20 lead with 4:52 remaining.
Two plays later, Tim Wansley intercepted Jake Delhomme for the second time in the game. The turnover led to a Martin Gramatica field goal, and a Tampa Bay lead of 24-20 with 2:45 to go. The Buccaneer defense, however, failed to keep Carolina at bay, and Delhomme swiftly led the Panthers to a game-winning touchdown with 1:11 left.
The longtime rival Green Bay Packers came to town in November, and Tampa Bay appeared to be poised for a win. A 17-play, 98-yard fourth-quarter touchdown drive by the Packers wore out a tired Buccaneer defense, and Tampa Bay lost to Green Bay for the first time at Raymond James Stadium. The loss dropped Tampa Bay to 4-6, and severely hampered their playoff chances.
During the game, Martin Gramatica became the franchise's all-time scoring leader. One distinction came to an end, however. The Tampa Bay defense had, one week earlier, set the all-time NFL record for consecutive game with a quarterback sack. They achieved no sacks in this game, and the streak ended at 69 games.
Wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson finished the game with only three catches for 34 yards. He was also heckled and booed by fans during the game. The following day, after several weeks of growing intra-team tension, Johnson was deactivated with pay from the playing roster for the balance of the season.
On Monday Night Football, Tampa Bay hosted the New York Giants in their return to Tampa since Super Bowl XXXV. Thomas Jones scored early in the second quarter, and Charles Lee scored a touchdown catch. Just when they thought the season was finished a week before, the Buccaneers pulled out an important victory and moved to 5-6, snapping a three-game losing streak.
With the victory, the Buccaneers swept all four NFC East teams for the season.
An uninspired performance against in-state rival Jacksonville (who had a 2-9 record going into the game) on Sunday Night Football saw 80 yards of penalties, turnovers, and blown chances. Tampa Bay fell to 5-7 on the season
The Buccaneers took on division foe New Orleans, and beat them for the first time since December 2001. The Tampa Bay defense sacked Aaron Brooks seven times and forced three fumbles, meanwhile running back Deuce McAllister was held to just 88 yards.
Tampa Bay's offense performed well, with Brad Johnson throwing two touchdown passes. The second of which was to tight end Warren Sapp, his second touchdown reception of his career. After losing the ball in the lights, he grabbed it and was able to pull it in as he fell to the turf.
New Orleans was in the game until the waning seconds of the first half. With 1:49 to go in the second quarter, Joe Horn dropped a sure touchdown pass in the end zone. On the next play, Aaron Brooks was sacked and fumbled. Jermaine Phillips recovered the fumble, and returned it 20 yards. Tampa Bay took a 14-7 lead into halftime, and neither team scored again.
Tampa Bay kept their postseason hopes alive, beating the second-year Texans 16-3, and improving to 7-7 on the year. The rainy day saw Thomas Jones take over the primary rushing duties, and run for 134 yards and one score. Warren Sapp sat out the game with a strained foot, his first game missed in 73 starts.
For the second time in five weeks, the Buccaneer defense ended a long streak. Dating back to October 19, 2000, Tampa Bay had a streak of 54 consecutive games with a turnover (takeaway). Against the Texans, there were no forced turnovers, and the streak fell short of the all-time NFL record (71 by Philadelphia).
With the victory, Tampa Bay improved to 7-7, and were still in the wild card hunt.
While still mathematically alive for the playoffs, the Buccaneers needed a victory over division rival Atlanta. A pitiful first half saw Brad Johnson throw two interceptions, and the Falcons jumped out to a 27-7 lead at halftime. Fans were heard booing the team as they went into the locker room at the half.
With just under four minutes remaining in regulation, Tampa Bay trailed 30-14. Falcons' T. J. Duckett fumbled on first & goal at the Tampa Bay 4 yard line, and the Buccaneers recovered. Four plays later, Johnson connected to Keenan McCardell for a 76-yard touchdown. A two-point conversion trimmed the score to 30-22.
Tampa Bay recovered an onside kick, and scored another touchdown with 34 seconds remaining. A second two-point conversion would have tied the game, and forced overtime. The pass failed, and Tampa Bay was eliminated from playoff contention, losing the game 30-28 to the Falcons.
Just six days before the game, former Buccaneers general manager Rich McKay was named the president and general manager of the Falcons. He spent the game in the visitor's press box, and presided over the Falcons' defeat of Tampa Bay.
After being eliminated from the playoffs, the Buccaneers traveled to take on the Titans in a largely meaningless game. Brad Johnson and Shaun King shared quarterback duties, but neither seemed able to get into a rhythm, throwing a combined 4 interceptions.
With the loss, Tampa Bay finished 7-9, and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1998.
|(3) Carolina Panthers||11||5||0||.688||5-1||9-3||325||304||W3|
|New Orleans Saints||8||8||0||.500||3-3||7-5||340||326||W1|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||7||9||0||.438||2-4||6-6||301||264||L2|