December 7, 2023

Bucs Life

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The Mediocrity of the Jon Gruden Era

4 min read

Jon Gruden led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a world championship in Super Bowl 37 win over the Oakland Raiders in 2003 with the 48-21 victory. After the Buccaneers finally brought the Lombardi Trophy back to Tampa, Florida, it seemed like their demons in the past were way behind them, but the next six seasons Buccaneers fans would learn that it would be the exact opposite. The Bucs did start the 2003 season where it led them to San Diego the previous season with a 17-0 shutout win over their NFC rival the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football with Joe Jurevicius leading the Buccaneers with two touchdown catches, but the next week the Buccaneers suffered an overtime home loss to their NFC South rival the Carolina Panthers.

The Buccaneers would win 31-10 in the Georgia Dome over their NFC South rival the Atlanta Falcons, and that was an excellent way to bounce back especially when you beat the Falcons. The Buccaneers would return home for a Monday Night Football showdown with the Indianapolis Colts, and this is the game when you start to notice all of the red flags. The Buccaneers jumped out to 21-0 halftime lead, and a fourth-quarter interception by Ronde Barber for a 29-yard touchdown gave the Buccaneers a 35-14 lead. The Colts would score 21 unanswered points to send the game into overtime and give the Colts a 38-35 win over the defending world champions, in my opinion, this game changed the momentum of the 2003 season for the Buccaneers which resulted in a disappointing 7-9 finish.

The struggles of the Jon Gruden era would continue in 2004 as the Bucs got off to a 0-4 start, but in week 13 the Buccaneers would shutout an Atlanta Falcons team 27-0, and they would play for an NFC Championship by losing the Philadelphia Eagles. The Buccaneers finished the 2004 season with a 5-11 record and would finish the season with the NFL’s 22nd ranked offense, and the NFL’s 5th ranked defense. The team MVP was rookie Michael Clayton, and the Bucs would have two pro bowlers in Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber.

The 2005 season would bring a significant comeback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a change at quarterback. Chris Simms, a second-year quarterback out of Texas, would be the Buccaneers starting quarterback going into the 2005 season. The Buccaneers got off to a 4-0 start with wins over the Vikings, Bills, Packers, and Lions with many different circumstances from last season. The Buccaneers would win the NFC South with an 11-5 season but would suffer a wildcard loss to the Washington Redskins to end the season. The Bucs team MVP would be another rookie for the second straight season in Cadilac Williams, and three Pro Bowlers in Ronde Barber, Derrick Brooks, and Josh Bidwell.

The 2006 season would be the worst season of the Jon Gruden era in Tampa Bay, due to Chris Simms suffering a season-ending injury in week three against Carolina due to a ruptured spleen and would be replaced by Bruce Gradkowski. The Bucs would start the season 0-3 and would finish the season 4-12, at the end of the season there was talk that Jon Gruden was going to be let go by the Glazers because the University of Alabama was pursuing accomplished NFL head coaches, but nothing happened with that. The Buccaneers especially Jon Gruden and Rick McCay would get to work during free agency, and the NFL Draft to not make the same mistakes as the 2006 season and have more depth.

In the 2007 season, the Buccaneers would make big moves with free agency and draft picks. The Buccaneers signed veteran quarterback Jeff Garcia and drafted defensive end the late Gaines Adams in the first round and also would select offensive lineman Arron Sears and Sabby Piscitelli in the second round. The season started with injuries as Cadilac Williams, and Mike Alstott suffered season-ending injuries, and the Buccaneers would be the only team in the NFC South with a winning record in the 2007 season. The Buccaneers would win the NFC South with a 9-7 record and were beaten in the NFC Wildcard by the eventual Super Bowl Champion New York Giants.

The 2008 season the Bucs got off to 9-3 start and were the hottest team in the league going into week 14, but the Buccaneers lost to NFC South rival the Carolina Panthers 38-23, and this game would turn the momentum of the season and Jon Gruden’s fate. The Buccaneers dropped the last four games of the 2008 season and would miss a chance at the NFC South Championship and the playoffs. After being rewarded a contract extension through the 2011 season, Gruden was fired by the Buccaneers on January 16th, 2009, but if you think about it they were the hottest team going into week 14, and they lose their last four games so at the time I did not think it made sense after bringing their only Lombardi Trophy home. After Jon Gruden was fired things have gotten worse for the Buccaneers organization with only two winning seasons and no playoff appearances, but I feel a better direction for the Buccaneers since the hiring of legendary coach Bruce Arians, which we will have to find out.