TAMPA ― Ever since Tom Brady made his second retirement announcement while sitting on a beach in February, the Bucs have experienced an outgoing tide of interest nationally.
That was never more apparent than when the NFL released its schedule Thursday night and the Brady-less Bucs had only two prime-time games.
They will host the defending NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles in a “Monday Night Football” game on Sept. 25 and have a “Thursday Night Football” game Oct. 26 at Buffalo on Prime Video.
With Brady at the helm, the Bucs enjoyed the maximum number of five scheduled prime-time, nationally televised games during each of his three seasons in Tampa Bay.
However, that included a Sunday night game at Las Vegas in 2020 that was moved to late afternoon after a Raiders player tested positive for COVID-19.
The 2023 schedule also features some real disadvantages for head coach Todd Bowles’ team.
Instead of a midseason bye week, the Bucs are off in Week 5 before playing 13 consecutive games without a rest.
Even more daunting is a stretch of six road games over eight weeks, starting the final week of October in Buffalo and running through their only real cold-weather game Dec. 17 against the Packers in Green Bay.
The Bucs knew they were playing the NFC North and AFC South, as well as their usual rivals from the NFC South. Their strength of schedule ranks 22nd in the NFL. Opponents owned a .483 winning percentage (138-148-2) last season.
But because they won their division, the Bucs also drew games against division champions such as the Eagles and 49ers. They will travel to Santa Clara, California, to play the Niners on Nov. 19.
For fans who believe there is no place like home for the holidays, you’re in luck.
A year ago, the Bucs traveled to Arizona for a Christmas night game against the Cardinals. But this season, they host the Jacksonville Jaguars on Christmas Eve at 4 p.m. and host the New Orleans Saints on New Year’s Eve at 1 p.m.
First things first, however.
The Bucs will open the regular season at Minnesota on Sept. 10. Their home opener comes the following Sunday against the Chicago Bears. Then comes the Monday night game against the Eagles. Their first NFC South contest arrives in Week 4, when they face the Saints and new quarterback Derek Carr Oct. 1 at New Orleans before the way-too-early bye week.
Whether Baker Mayfield or Kyle Trask wins the Bucs’ starting quarterback job, he will have to perform well the first month of the season, because teams prefer to make changes at that position during the bye week.
The Bucs conclude the season with a Week 18 game at Carolina, but the date and time is to be determined.
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There will be other things for Bucs fans to look forward to, such as a yet-to-be announced game wearing the throwback orange and white uniforms. Also, cornerback Ronde Barber will receive his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring.
“The release of the schedule is exciting for the entire organization as we embark on our 48th season and continue preparations for another memorable slate of home games in our 26th year at Raymond James Stadium‚” Bucs chief operating officer Brian Ford said in a release by the team.
“This season marks the highly anticipated return of our beloved Bucco Bruce orange uniform throwback game for the first time since 2012, as well as the celebration of Ronde Barber’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, among a list of other special game themes that will be announced in the coming weeks.
“Our season pass members have grown accustomed to enjoying the best game-day experience in the NFL,” the statement continued, “and we are hard at work to ensure we once again exceed their expectations.”
Bowles’ defense could have an advantage this season, as Tampa Bay will play six games against rookie or second-year quarterbacks, including potentially the first three signal-callers taken in the draft.
The list includes two games against No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young of the Panthers and one each against the Texans’ C.J. Stroud and the Colts’ Anthony Richardson.
But there’s no doubt that when Brady retired “for good” this time, the networks decided to pack up their cameras and beach umbrellas and head elsewhere for awhile.
Bucs 2023 schedule
Sunday, Sept. 10: at Vikings, 1, CBS
Sunday, Sept. 17: BEARS, 1, Fox
Monday, Sept. 25: EAGLES, 7:15, ABC
Sunday, Oct. 1: at Saints, 1, Fox
Week 5: Bye
Sunday, Oct. 15: LIONS, 1, Fox
Sunday, Oct. 22: FALCONS, 1 Fox
Thursday, Oct. 26: at Bills, 8:15, Prime
Sunday, Nov. 5: at Texans, 1, CBS
Sunday, Nov. 12: TITANS, 1, CBS
Sunday, Nov. 19: at 49ers, 4:05, Fox
Sunday, Nov. 26: at Colts, 1, CBS
Sunday, Dec. 3: PANTHERS, 1, CBS
Sunday, Dec. 10: at Falcons, 1, CBS
Sunday, Dec. 17: at Packers, 1 Fox
Sunday, Dec. 24: JAGUARS, 4:05, CBS
Sunday, Dec. 31: SAINTS, 1, Fox
Week 18: at Panthers TBD
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