There’s no such thing as a dull season in the NFL.
For Tampa Bay, their season has included shootout wins, defensive duels, big-time road victories, a five-game winning streak and franchise records broken. But ask any coach, any General Manager, any owner – even most fans – and they’ll tell you that it’s the moments within those accomplishments that make the memories.
Whether it’s been someone’s favorite college player who was drafted by the team back in May, a handshake during a meet-and-greet or a big play that caught national attention and was seen around the world, there were plenty of people who became new fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this year, and there were some long time fans who were reminded of why they love this game and this team so much.
For me, when I think about the 2016 Tampa Bay Buccaneers season, two moments will stand out more than the rest.
For the first, let’s travel back to a sunny, November Sunday in Raymond James Stadium.
It was a game that they simply had to have. Going into their Week 10 game versus the Chicago Bears, the negative narratives were flowing strong. Two week prior, the Bucs had failed to beat an Oakland Raiders team that committed the most penalties in a single game in NFL history. Five days after that they failed to take the season sweep against their rival Atlanta Falcons, and gave up 43 points doing it.
Throw in the fact that the Buccaneers had not yet broken their home field losing woes, and it would have probably been safe to say that if they came up short against Chicago, a good amount of fans would’ve stopped caring about the remaining schedule and started googling potential 2017 free agents or brushing up on draft prospects.
The Bucs got on the scoreboard early that day thanks to a vintage Jay Cutler pick-6. After that, the offense followed suit with a touchdown and a field goal in the first half. The team was feeling good and probably thought they were going to take a 17-3 lead to go into the half. That was until a miracle Hail Mary connected for Chicago on the last play of the second quarter to make it a 17-10, one-score game.
When that late touchdown was confirmed, you could feel a dread amongst Bucs fans. You could almost hear the, “here we go again” like you’d heard yourself murmur many times over the last six or seven years. If I were writing this story during any other season, this game might have had a much different ending.
But it didn’t, and that’s what makes it one of my moments of the year.
After starting the game with back-to-back-to-back punts, Tampa Bay had to be better when receiving the second half kick off. Another quick punt would have meant another slow start and a chance for the Bears to really get back in the game.
1st & 10: A Doug Martin runs up the middle for no gain – ok.
2nd & 10: An incomplete pass to Cecil Shorts – not good.
3rd & 10:
Third and 10 was an obvious passing down which meant Bears defensive coordinator ,Vic Fangio, was going to dial up some pressure. He did that in the form of a stunt blitz which sent his first round pass rusher, Leonard Floyd, up the middle unblocked.
Right after the fifth step of his five-step drop, Jameis Winston had to duck away from the blitzing Floyd, but he was able to stay on his feet after stumbling a bit. The problem was, his body was then going backwards. As he gained composure and turned around (about 15 yards back from the line of scrimmage), he then had two Bears defensive lineman running at him unblocked.
Instead of running up towards the line of scrimmage, Winston opted to run BACKWARD to buy more time. By the time he could even look downfield, he was all the way in his own end zone, 23 yards back from the line of scrimmage.
At this point, you we surely screaming something along the lines of ,”don’t run that way, you idiot!” As Winston was nearly sandwiched in his own end zone, the season flashed before fans’ eyes. Giving Chicago two points and the ball on such a bonehead play would have been a killer. But instead, in one of the most Houdini-like escape acts I’d ever seen,
Winston avoided not one, not two, but three defenders before heaving the ball 50 yards down the field where Mike Evans made a just-as-unbelievable diving catch at midfield.
Two plays later Tampa scored a touchdown, and midway through December they were still riding a five-game winning streak that may have very well manifested on that play. It was one of the most incredible efforts of adversity, stupidity, and athletic ability I had ever seen.
Simply put, there’s only one player in the NFL who you would ever see make a play like that, and he’s wearing No. 3 for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The second moment comes from training camp.
As long as you can protect yourself from the heat, training camp can be a lot of fun. Not only does it give the fans an in-person look a their team going into the season, but it also gives them the kind of access to players they only get during that month of the year. That leads to some really unique interactions. That’s where we go for moment number two.
Going into camp, the perception of wide receiver Russell Shepard was that he was primarily a special teams guy, but not much
Bucs WR Russell Shepard – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
more. There were some fans who knew who he was, but more people were concerned about Kenny Bell and Donteea Dye when it came to a contributing spot. As camp went on, however, Shepard became a fan favorite, not just for some of the nice catches he made during drills, but more so because of how he interacted with the fans.
When practices ended, some of the players would voluntarily walk over to the fence to sign autographs where the fans sat. One day Shepard made his way towards the fence and a small crowd began to form as he walked over. When he made it to the fence, he bent down to talk to a fan who was around five or six years old. Instead of signing the hat the little boy held out, Shepard picked him up, lifted him over the fence and told him to run and follow him.
He then began playing catch with Kenny Bell and the fan. After a few minutes of throwing, Shepard did a couple of running drills with the kid as he laughed and tried to keep up. Shepard then returned to the fence, lifted the boy back to his family and signed a few autographs. The family was so overwhelmed they must have thanked him ten times.
As I watched that unfold from the bleachers, I knew that was something I’d remember most about the season, no matter what it was going to bring. Seeing the shock and joy on that kids face was awesome. Talking to your favorite athlete is cool. Getting a personalized autograph is cooler. But having Shepard pick you up as a little kid to play catch with the NFL players you idolize, that’s something that fan will carry for the rest of his life.
Those are my two stories. Now it’s time to hear yours! What memory of this Bucs season will you remember most years down the road? Was it a play on the field that made your eyes open wide? Was it a special moment involving a player? Tell us which 2016 Buccaneers moment meant the most to you.
Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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