TAMPA — The rumor started in 1976. Around the third quarter of the opening game, if I recall.
It persisted throughout that season, and then the next. It ebbed in the ‘80s, vanished in the ‘90s and briefly returned in the ‘00s.
Today, more than 40 years later, the scuttlebutt is apparently true.
Turns out, offense is permissible in Tampa Bay.
Who knew? We had grown so accustomed to winning with defense — or not winning at all — that scoring more than 20 points a game seemed like a frivolous luxury. It was as if defense was a part of Tampa Bay’s DNA, while offense had somehow skipped generations. Even when the Bucs were at their best, they could still be pretty bad.
Consider the evidence:
• The offense scored seven touchdowns — SEVEN! — in the entire 1977 season. A linebacker was second on that team with two touchdowns.
• The Bucs have four players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and all of them played defense. The next likely candidate, Ronde Barber, also played defense.
• From 1976 to 2018, the Bucs had a top-10 scoring offense one time. That’s just one above-average offense in 43 seasons. And they have never — not a single time — led the NFL in scoring.
Until, possibly, this season.
As the Bucs prepare for Sunday’s season opener against the Cowboys, they may be the sexiest offense in the NFL.
The quarterback is a legend, the receivers are elite and the running back has Pro Bowl aspirations. They throw more than any team in the league, and have averaged better than 30 points a game in back-to-back seasons.
It’s an embarrassment of riches for Tampa Bay fans who never knew what it was like to kick back and watch offensive genius on any given Sunday. Seriously, who was the greatest offensive player in Bucs history before this current crew?
Mike Alstott? He was immensely popular, but he gained 5,088 yards in his career and averaged 3.7 yards a carry. Warrick Dunn? Keyshawn Johnson? Paul Gruber?
Do you know Jameis Winston is Tampa Bay’s all-time leading passer? Yup, the Bucs are the only franchise in the last half-century that has never seen a quarterback top 20,000 yards in one uniform.
And all it took was one offensive-minded head coach to change a franchise’s outlook. From the time Bruce Arians arrived in 2019, the Bucs have been trending in this direction. Arians brought a gameplan, he brought an attitude and, eventually, he brought Tom Brady.
Combine the past three seasons, and no team has put as many points on the board as Tampa Bay. That’s not just impressive, it’s almost unimaginable.
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And now, you could argue, this offense is at its zenith.
The Bucs have the best quarterback in franchise history. The best set of receivers. The best pair of tackles. And, while the numbers don’t yet shout it, you could argue Leonard Fournette is among the most talented running backs in Tampa Bay history.
If they do not lead the NFL in scoring, it likely means Brady is wearing a cast.
Oh, I suppose it’s possible they’ll dial back their aggressive tendencies with Todd Bowles as head coach. As much as Arians enjoyed winning, he also enjoyed showing off his passing game.
Bowles might be more inclined to suggest offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich take a slightly conservative approach with a second-half lead.
And it’s also possible the offensive line could run into difficulties. It’s not just having two inexperienced starters in the line’s interior, but also the amount of quality depth after losing Ryan Jensen and Nick Leverett to training camp injuries.
Not to mention, replacing Rob Gronkowski’s blocking on the line could be more difficult than duplicating his receiving numbers.
But those are worries for another day. Right now, with the season opener in sight, it’s acceptable to wonder if Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Julio Jones can become the first trio since the 2008 Cardinals to all top 1,000 yards receiving. To imagine Fournette becoming the first Bucs running back to go over 1,000 yards since Doug Martin in 2015. To picture Tristan Wirfs making his second All-Pro team in a row.
Right now, it’s entirely plausible to wonder if Tom Brady can win a fourth MVP award at age 45.
Maybe they’re used to this sort of thing in Green Bay, where they’ve had three Hall of Fame-caliber quarterbacks since the 1960s. Or in Chicago where Gale Sayers gave way to Walter Payton, who turned the running game over to Neal Anderson and then Matt Forte.
But around here, this is a moment to savor.
Nearly 50 years after debuting as one of the lowest scoring teams in the modern NFL, the Bucs finally have their golden age of offense.
John Romano can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
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