Bucs vs. Super Bowl champs: A bleak history
With the Falcons dominating the Packers on Sunday to advance to Super Bowl LI, the Bucs have a rare chance, should Atlanta upset the Patriots in Houston, to say they beat a team that would later win a Super Bowl that same season.
The Bucs, of course, went to Atlanta and pulled out a 31-24 win over the Falcons in Week 1, before taking a 43-28 loss in Week 9 in the rematch in Tampa. Going 1-1 isn't bad against a Super Bowl team, especially when, as a franchise, you're 1-11 all-time against Super Bowl champs entering this season.
So we'll revisit that rare win, in Week 16 of 2009 against the Saints, as well as all those losses before and after.
Bucs 20, Saints 17 (OT), 2009: The Saints came in 13-1, the Bucs 2-12, and New Orleans had clinched the NFC South title, but still had home-field advantage to play for. The Saints led 17-0 early, and 17-3 even in the fourth quarter. But Tampa Bay got a touchdown from Cadillac Williams, then a 77-yard punt return from Micheal Spurlock, signed just five days earlier, to tie the game with 2:25 left. Drew Brees of course marched the Saints into field-goal range, but Garrett Hartley missed a 37-yard kick with five seconds left to send the game to overtime. Once there, the Bucs won the toss, ran Williams nine times and got a 47-yard Connor Barth field goal to win, back when an opening field goal in overtime was all it took to win.
To be clear, New Orleans kept Brees in the entire game, and the comeback is remarkable: In franchise history, the Bucs have trailed by 14 or more entering the fourth quarter 142 times, and they are 1-141 in those games, the lone win coming on that December day in 2009. Now for the rest of the Bucs' games against Super Bowl champs.
Seahawks 27, Bucs 24 (OT), 2013: This was a different comeback story -- the Bucs (0-7) had the unlikeliest of 21-0 leads, at Seattle (7-1). Midway through the third quarter it was still 24-7, but the Seahawks rallied as Russell Wilson ran for a touchdown and threw for another with 1:51 left. The Bucs went three-and-out in overtime and Marshawn Lynch set up the winning kick. This loss and the Saints games in 2009 were the Bucs' only regular-season games against Super Bowl champs in a span of 19 seasons.
Saints 38, Bucs 7 (2009): Tampa Bay jumped out early on a 78-yard touchdown pass from Josh Freeman to Michael Clayton, then didn't score again. Brees threw for three touchdowns, Freeman threw three interceptions and the Bucs dropped to 1-8 in Raheem Morris' first season.
Packers 34, Bucs 3 (1996): The start of the Tony Dungy era, and not a pretty one. Brett Favre threw for four touchdowns and no interceptions, Trent Dilfer threw for no touchdowns and four interceptions. Favre got most of the fourth quarter off, with Jim McMahon closing out an easy win for Green Bay.
Packers 13, Bucs 7 (1996): A little better, to be sure, but the Bucs were still shut out until the final five minutes of the game. The Bucs got the ball late with a chance to win, but Dilfer only managed a 4-yard pass before getting sacked on fourth down to clinch a Packers win.
49ers 41, Bucs 16 (1994): Bucs again were shut out until the fourth quarter -- Ricky Watters had two touchdowns, Steve Young didn't make any mistakes and Dilfer was -- brace for it -- 7-of-23 for 45 yards and an interception before the Bucs turned to Craig Erickson. How often do QBs throw 20+ passes and get less than 2 yards per attempt? It's happened three other times since 1990 -- two by Anthony Wright in Dallas and one by Peyton Manning (!) in a 2015 loss to Kansas City.
49ers 20, Bucs 16 (1989): The 49ers would go 14-2 to repeat as Super Bowl champs, but nearly stumbled against the Bucs in Week 2. It took a Joe Montana touchdown run with 40 seconds left to beat the Bucs, who had regained the lead on a Vinny Testaverde touchdown to Mark Carrier with 3:25 left. Montana had connected with Jerry Rice for a touchdown earlier in the fourth quarter to take the lead.
Bears 27, Bucs 19 (1985): The Bucs went 2-14 that year, but nearly upset the 1985 Bears (!), who trailed in the second half and needed two fourth-quarter Walter Payton touchdowns to pull out the win. Steve DeBerg threw for 346 and two scores against that vaunted defense.
49ers 24, Bucs 17 (1984): It was John McKay's final season, and Tampa Bay again came close, within four points in the fourth quarter. The year before Rice would arrive, Montana went 19-for-23 and no touchdowns, leaning on Wendell Tyler (97 yards, TD) and Roger Craig (86 yards, TD).
Redskins 21, Bucs 13 (1982): In the last game before a two-month strike, the Bucs came close again, pulling within five points on a James Wilder touchdown in the fourth quarter. Doug Williams had a 62-yard touchdown against the team he'd lead to another Super Bowl win five years later.
Cowboys 23, Bucs 7 (1977): The Bucs still hadn't won as a franchise, and it wasn't happening here: Hollywood Henderson returned an interception 79 yards for a touchdown and the Bucs managed 163 yards of total offense. Gary Huff went 8-for-23 for 107 yards and two interceptions.
Raiders 49, Bucs 16 (1976): Oakland's 49 points were the most allowed in Tampa Bay's 0-14 first season, and the Raiders' 486 yards were also the most allowed by the Bucs that year. Ken Stabler threw for two touchdowns and Mark van Eeghen rushed for two more.