Once upon a time in an NFL world far, far, away the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were a joke and their head coach delivered a punch line that still has us laughing more than 40 years later.
John McKay was the Buccaneers first coach and in their expansion season of 1976 they were 0-14. At one point in the Bucs difficult early years McKay was asked, “What do you think of your team’s execution coach?” To which McKay replied, “I’m in favor of it.”
By the franchise’s fourth year McKay was still dropping one-liners, but they were serious contenders and in the playoffs with Doug Williams, who won a Super Bowl in D.C. at quarterback.
More success followed including a 2002 Super Bowl season that was part of a run of seven postseason appearances in 11 years.
Now the Buccaneers are back in the playoffs for the first time since a wild card loss to the Giants in 2007, and with Washington Saturday night at FedEx Field.
When the Buccaneers signed Tom Brady away from the New England Patriots in free agency, they instantly became contenders and at 11-5 just completed their first winning season since 2016.
“With Tom Brady there’s a confidence and a swagger that comes from 20 plus years of success and the other guys do kind of feed off of that,” said Buccaneers team reporter Casey Phillips.
“There have been a couple games the Bucs have been down 17 points and other players said there was never a point that they thought they were out of it because they had the GOAT. When you have Tom Brady back there, there’s never a game that feels out of reach.”
At 43 years old, Brady is showing no signs of slowing down.
In the Buccaneers regular season finale against the Falcons, Brady threw for close to 400 yards passing and four more touchdowns.
For the season, Brady connected on 40 touchdown passes including 13 to wide receiver Mike Evans. With Tampa Bay, Brady also has reunited with former Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and has another veteran target wide receiver in Antonio Brown.
“It really is going to come down to protecting Brady, to give him the time to be able to hit some of those weapons,” Phillips said.
“The pressure will be on the Buccaneers offensive line to make sure that guys like Montez Sweat and Chase Young are not able to get in there. They understand how good that defensive front is and the Bucs are also going to want to run the ball and get Ronald Jones involved.”
Washington head coach Ron Rivera knows all about Brady’s success and 30-11 record in the postseason. And Rivera knows that without pressure on Brady he will “pick you apart.”
Rivera believes anytime on the clock is too much time for Brady.
“You have to have the ball last and score last against Brady,” said Rivera. “If you give him too much time he’s going to take it right down the field and it’s going to come all the way down to the last play of the game. If he has it last, he is going to beat you — that’s who he is.”
With Brady in charge, the Buccaneers had the NFL’s third-best scoring offense in the regular season and averaged 30.8 points per game.
Washington’s young defense responded to the challenge and in the regular season only allowed around 20 points per games. The Burgundy and Gold’s pass rush is one of the NFL’s best and delivered 47 sacks.
But to add to the challenge for Washington, the Buccaneers are more than Brady and high-powered offense.
On the other side of the ball, the Bucs have the NFL’s best run defense and only allow about 80 yards per game on the ground. And their pass rush is also a concern including 48 sacks on its 2020 resume.
“The offense gets all the love and attention nationally with the Bucs, but this defense is top-run defense in the league for the second year in a row,” Phillips said.
“It’s just such an exciting defense to watch. They’re blitzing guys from all over the field and you still have Ndamukong Suh played at a high level up front and you have so many different fun pieces that are coming from all over the place. And defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is one of the more creative people and that makes it fun for the defensive players.”
Win or lose on Saturday, Rivera wants it understood his goal is to build something that will last on and off the field with the Washington Football Team.
“We talked about trying to create the right kind of culture, and hopefully we can and hopefully if things pop up that are incorrect we can correct them and then keep going forward,” Rivera said.
“I really do want to be judged on where we’re headed. We’re trying to get beyond the past and going forward, we’re going to get better.”