SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL:
FAB 1. JUREVICIUS’ BIG CATCH ALMOST DIDN’T HAPPEN
There’s no doubt in the world that the best and most significant play in Tampa Bay history is Ronde Barber’s 92-yard interception return for a touchdown at Philadelphia in the 2002 NFC Championship Game. That pick-six helped close the door on the Eagles in a resounding 27-10 victory and send the Buccaneers off to their first and only Super Bowl, which they would win 48-21 over Oakland.
The second-most significant play in Bucs history also happened in that game, and if not for this play first, Barber’s heroic pick-six likely doesn’t happen. Of course I’m talking about Joe Jurevicius’ 71-yard catch-and-run that set up Mike Alstott’s four-yard touchdown run that helped give Tampa Bay a 10-7 lead at halftime.
Bucs QB Brad Johnson – Photo by: Getty Images
Jurevicius’ big play and Alstott’s scoring run gave the much-needed confidence that the Bucs could score touchdowns on Philadelphia and finally beat the Eagles at Veterans Stadium where the Bucs had lost three straight games since 2000, including twice in the playoffs the two previous seasons.
But Jurevicius’ big-play almost didn’t happen, according to Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who was a seven-time Pro Bowler in Tampa Bay from 1997-2003 and the 1999 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
“We were doing the Mike Alstott Ring of Honor last year, and we were sitting there talking – me, Mike, Jurevicius and Brad Johnson,” Sapp recalls. “Brad tells me that he went to the line of scrimmage, looked at the defense and almost checked out of that play. The Joe Jurevicius play – he almost checked out of it!”
Jurevicius’ game-changing reception came late in the second quarter with the Bucs trailing 7-3. A 70-yard kickoff return by Brian Mitchell to the start game set up Philadelphia at the Tampa Bay 26. After a 6-yard catch on first down, running back Duce Staley rips off a 20-yard dash up the middle of the Bucs defense to give Philadelphia an early 7-0 lead. Tampa Bay answered on its next possession with a 48-yard field goal by Martin Gramatica.
With less than four minutes left before halftime, Tampa Bay was backed up at its 4-yard line. Two 6-yard runs by Alstott picked up a first down at the 16-yard line, and an 8-yard pass to wide receiver Keenan McCardell set up a third-and-2 situation at the Tampa Bay 24.
After a timeout, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden, who was in his first season with Tampa Bay, expected a blitz on third down and called for Jurevicius to be the primary receiver running a crossing route while matched up against linebacker Barry Gardner underneath and Blaine Bishop over the top.
“It was a one-on-one option route against the middle linebacker, I believe it was Gardner,” Gruden said in the documentary America’s Game 2002 Buccaneers. “Against certain coverages you have the chance to hit the lottery.”
But Johnson, who had already been picked off once in the first half, nearly audibled to another play despite seeing the look from the defense that Gruden anticipated.
“Brad walked up to the center, saw the defense and said, ‘I’ve got to check out of this,’” Sapp said. “[Center Jeff Christy] said, ‘No, Gruden said to do it.’ So he ran the play. That’s the difference in that football game right there. That’s the difference!”
Alstott’s 4-yard touchdown plunge off left tackle capped off an improbable 96-yard touchdown drive that stunned Philadelphia.
“Blaine Bishop is still chasing Joe!” Sapp said. “The linebacker switched and Bishop had to come down in the box and pick up Jurevicus, and Joe ran underneath him and beat him for a 71-yard pass play, baby. Then Mike caps it off with a touchdown right behind me – 97 Lead!”
As he had throughout the season in goal line packages, Sapp came in as a blocking tight end on Alstott’s touchdown run.
“I hooked [Eagles defensive end] N.D. Kalu up like a tow truck and took him all the way back to the linebacker!” Sapp said. “There was a big hole on that play. I was the left tight end on that play. Nobody touched Mike Alstott until he was in the end zone. Me and big Roman Oben cleared that whole left side off.”
Had the Eagles gone into halftime with a 7-3 lead, a 7-6 lead or a lead of any kind, the Buccaneers would not have had any momentum heading into the second half. Tampa Bay had failed to score an offensive touchdown at Veterans Stadium in its last three trips, including a 20-10 loss to Philadelphia earlier that season to snap the Bucs’ five-game winning streak. A fumble recovery for a score by linebacker Derrick Brooks was the only touchdown of the day for the Buccaneers on October 20.
“It was an ineffective offense, to say the least today,” Gruden said after that loss. “They are really good on defense, but we have to do a lot better to ever beat the Eagles. We have to make some plays on offense.”
Jurevicius’ 71-yard reception is the kind of play Gruden was talking about. Tampa Bay generated just 207 yards of total offense and surrendered six sacks during the regular season loss at Philadelphia. Johnson, who threw an interception in that game too, took a beating, and left in the fourth quarter with a rib injury.
Yet despite the horrific display by the Bucs offense, Gruden caught on to what Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Johnson was doing.
Bucs LB Derrick Brooks & Warren Sapp gave Jon Gruden a Gatorade shower – Photo by: Getty Images
“After we lost 20-10 we got on the bus and Gruden said, ‘I got ‘em,’” Sapp said. “I jumped out of my seat and said, ‘What did you say?!’ The worst three words in football are ‘I got this,’ so I’m going to make you prove it. I looked at Brooks and then at Jon and said, ‘I’m going to bring you back to this damn place. We’re going to make you prove that you’ve got this [expletive] defense!’
“They were not that good defensively. Over the years I was losing my mind that we would lose to the Philadelphia defense and couldn’t score a touchdown. You’ve got to be kidding me! We can’t crack that code? I know Jim Johnson brought some heat, but he didn’t bring that much heat to where it can’t get picked up. But we improved and finally went there with a team that we could get it done with later in the year.”
Jurevicius’ 71-yard catch-and-run nearly encompassed half of what Tampa Bay’s offense generated in a whole game earlier in the 2002 season in Philadelphia. That heroic play stoked the Bucs’ fire and cooled off the Eagles’ defense.
“What we felt good about was the Jurevicius play because after what we had seen the previous three games before that [against Philadelphia], it was real,” Sapp said. “This was real. We could take it to their defense, and after that play, they knew it. Brad let the play develop, he put it on the money and we beat their blitz. That was a shot to Jim Johnson, God bless his soul. When you see your blitz not work against a team you’ve been thumping for years – man, they beat us every time – it was really something! Then Mike gets the touchdown and we’re rolling!”
Jurevicius nearly didn’t play in the NFC Championship Game because his son, Michael, was born prematurely on January 14 with sialidosis, which is a rare disease in the cell that doesn’t allow the enzymes in the cell to function correctly. Jurevicius flew from a hospital in St. Louis to Philadelphia the night before the game to be with his teammates.
“I think that goes back to the doctors originally giving Michael a 2 percent chance to survive (for) 48 hours,” Jurevicius said at a press conference in 2003 when he finally opened up about his infant son’s death. “Michael beat that by about five days, so he was strong, he persevered, so why couldn’t I? It wasn’t until the last second that I realized I could do something, whether it was block, cheer from the sideline, or catch a pass. I could do something. I’m fortunate, and thankful to my family, thankful to Michael for saying, ‘It’s alright. You need to go.’ It’s surreal that everything that took place for me at a professional level that my ultimate goal, to play in the NFC Championship game, and to have the opportunity to go into Super Bowl and fulfill a childhood dream, along with just becoming a new father, that’s a lot of things bundled up in a short amount of time. It’s not that I’m patting myself on the back, but I just don’t know how I did it.
“That play kind of gets talked about. I guess I had some energy. I had a little bit of steam to burn off. I wasn’t happy my kid was sick. I was just kind of getting into the flow, enjoying the atmosphere, and realizing that we had an opportunity to try and go ahead in that game and win it, and then have an opportunity to win a world championship. Things happen for a reason, and for whatever reason I was able to be a part of that game and do something that people say helped the team out. I’m not a person that gets caught up in that, but I was happy to be out there on the field. I was happy that the Tampa Bay organization won an NFC Championship Game that nobody said we could win. It was too cold, we were playing a great Philadelphia team, and they are, but for whatever reason that day some people were looking down on us and said this was going to be a good day for Tampa Bay. It turned out to be a great day. It was one day out of my life, it wasn’t even 24 hours, and I was back on a plane headed home to be with Meagan and Michael.”
Jurevicius’ son beat the initial odds, but would die 10 weeks later on March 25. Jurevicius only had one reception against the Eagles, but it was the biggest offensive play in franchise history.
Bucs WR Joe Jurevicius – Photo by: Getty Images
“I think he had a little bit of his son’s spirit with him,” Bucs safety John Lynch said. “Right then the atmosphere changed on our sideline.”
Jurevicius’ big play against Philadelphia keyed that victory and allowed Tampa Bay to go on to beat Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII. Jurevicius would have four catches for 78 yards in the Super Bowl and land on the cover of Sports Illustrated after the game.
“I’ve never seen Jurevicius run like that,” Gruden said after the famous 71-yard reception. “Man, he was flying.”
Not only does that play not happy if Jurevicius doesn’t get on a plane to Philly the night before the NFC Championship Game, it also doesn’t happen if Johnson didn’t change his mind, decide not to audible and trust Gruden’s game plan.
“The difference in that game was – do you trust Gruden?” Sapp said. “Do you trust the coaches and what you’ve been taught all week, or are you going to talk yourself out of it? That’s the key to that game right there. Brad said, ‘I almost checked out of that damn play!’ I said, ‘You’re lyin’!’ He said, ‘No, and I’ve never told anybody that.’ And Joe was sitting right there and he said, ‘Holy smokes!’”
It’s crazy to think that an ill-timed audible could have changed the entire fate of a franchise and the fortune of the Buccaneers. The two best plays in Tampa Bay history almost didn’t happen.
FAB 2. SIMS READY FOR A BIGGER ROLE ON OFFENSE
The whispers from One Buccaneer Place have been there all spring – expect a big year from Charles Sims.
Sims? Don’t the Bucs mean Doug Martin, the Pro Bowl running back with a big, new five-year, $35.75-million contract this offseason that includes $15 million guaranteed?
After all, it was Martin whose 1,402 yards and six touchdowns last year that made him the NFL’s second-leading rusher behind Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson. By comparison, Sims had a third of that yardage with a career-high 529 yards and zero rushing touchdowns as Martin’s backup.
The Bucs believe that Martin had the year he had in 2015 and stayed healthy because of Sims’ career-high 107 carries. Martin didn’t have to carry the entire rushing workload as he did earlier in his career, and as a result, his runs were more productive throughout the season due to receiving ample rest in each game with Sims’ emergence as a runner.
Bucs RB Charles Sims – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
“We’ve talked about needing more than one running back,” former Bucs head coach Lovie Smith said last year. “We have a great number one running back in Doug Martin, but we don’t want Doug to carry it and [play all offensive plays]. You need someone to come in. Yes, Charles has [done] what we wanted him to be – relief help. We talked about him catching the ball out of the backfield and third down, different things like that, but he’s been a good first, second down running back. We’re pleased with what he’s done.”
Martin has been a fan favorite in Tampa Bay since his rookie season in 2012 when he rushed for a career-high 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns and made his first Pro Bowl. He broke several Bucs records that season, including the most rushing yards in a game with 251 yards at Oakland and most rushing touchdowns in a game with four, also against his hometown Raiders.
Sims has been an acquired taste for Buccaneers fans since the team made him a surprise third-round pick in 2014. With Martin on the roster, many fans – and some in the media – felt that drafting another running back with such a high pick was a luxury. PewterReport.com had always been high on Sims in college at both Houston and West Virginia, and had him as a Bucs’ Best Bet at the running back position in our 2014 draft preview.
An ankle tendon issue sidelined Sims during the first eight games of his rookie season, which stunted his growth and didn’t endear him to the fans. Then came a fateful play last year in Tampa Bay’s 31-30 loss at Washington in which the Bucs’ blew a 24-point lead.
After Martin broke off a 49-yard run down to the Redskins’ 5-yard line, his next two carries picked up four more yards, but he was out of gas. On third-and-1, Dirk Koetter, who was Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator at the time, inserted Sims into the lineup for a toss play that would lose two yards and force the Bucs to settle for a field goal to give Tampa Bay a six-point lead with 2:24 left in regulation.
Sims took heat for the 2-yard loss, but that play was doomed from the start due to the formation and the blocking scheme. The Redskins defense had the Buccaneers outflanked on the play and rookie quarterback Jameis Winston either didn’t see it and didn’t call an audible, or he simply wasn’t allowed to call an audible at the stage of the season due to his lack of NFL experience at the time.
Bucs RB Charles Sims – Photo by: Getty Images
Sims rushed for 49 yards on 10 carries (4.9 avg.) against the Redskins, but also had the first fumble of his career in the fourth quarter. That didn’t help his popularity with the Tampa Bay fan base, either.
Sims did make some strides as running back in 2015 and finished the season with an impressive 4.9-yard average. He had one 20-yard run in 66 carries during his rookie campaign.
Last year, Sims had four runs of 25 yards or more in 107 carries, including a career-long 59-yard jaunt in a 32-18 loss to the New York Giants. Sims had a career-best 78 yards rushing on eight carries (9.8 avg.) against New York, but also had his second fumble of the season.
The Houston, Texas native got stronger as the season went on, with three of his runs of 25 yards or more coming in the final five weeks of the year.
Sims had seven carries for 56 yards (8.0 avg.) in a 23-19 win over Atlanta, seven carries for 50 yards (7.1 avg.) in a 31-23 loss at St. Louis, and four carries for 45 yards (11.3 avg.) in a 26-21 loss to Chicago.
But where Sims really shined last year was as a receiver, catching a career-high 51 passes for 561 yards and four touchdowns. Two of Sims’ receptions went for over 50 yards and showcased his speed – a career-long 56-yarder against Jacksonville and a 50-yard touchdown against Chicago.
Smith deserves a lot of credit for drafting Sims as he coached a similar player that could run and catch the ball well in Chicago in Pro Bowler Matt Forte.
“For that reason, but catching the ball out of the backfield in general, running the football – we just think he’s a good football player,” Smith said last year. “I like the way he’s been running, the way he ran the ball. Especially inside, because you just assume he’s an outside guy for those type plays, but he’s been getting good in-between-the-tackle play, too. I think he’s just a good all-around football player.”
Aside from Winston, Martin and wide receiver Mike Evans, who had a career-high 1,206 yards receiving, no other Buccaneer had more yards from scrimmage than Sims, who produced 1,090 total yards. Not only was Sims the offense’s fourth-most productive player in 2015, his 44 first downs were third-most in Tampa Bay, his 51 catches for 561 yards made him the Bucs’ second-leading receiver behind Evans, and his four touchdown receptions tied tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins for the team lead.
“He’s done a fantastic job,” Koetter said of Sims. “That’s what football is, it’s role players. It’s everybody playing their role, and had Doug not had the season he had, I think Chuck could’ve done more if given the chance. He wasn’t. He had limited opportunities. You have Vincent [Jackson] and Austin over here, their seasons were disappointing from an injury standpoint – I’m talking they weren’t with us all the time. You have two young guys over here in Cam Brate and Charles Sims who you’re going, ‘Man, those guys have got more to give. They’ve got more for us.’”
The plan is to get Sims more involved in the offense in 2015. He received 158 touches last year (107 carries, 51 receptions), while Martin had a team-high 321 touches (288 carries, 33 receptions). Sims averaged around 10 touches per game, while Martin averaged 20 per game.
Bucs RB Charles Sims – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“Everybody wants more touches,” Koetter said last year. “Doug wants more touches. Charles wants more touches. Mike wants more touches. Vincent wants more touches. Every guy out there wants more touches, so no, that’s the coaches’ job. We get a game plan, we’ve got to stick to our game plan. If we’re smart, we’ll keep trying to work it where we give guys touches in the right situations, but there are 64 plays in the average NFL game, there’s only so many. I tell the coaches all the time, ‘Start dividing them up, okay? How do you want to divide them up’. The easiest thing is to turn around and hand it off to a running back. We have plays tagged for Charles every week, we have since Week 1. We continue to have plays tagged for him. We have plays tagged for everybody. Just because we have a play tagged for someone still doesn’t mean they’re going to get the ball, because there are checks involved, there’s different coverages involved, different defenses.”
With Koetter calling plays for the second straight year in Tampa Bay the guess here is that those numbers will change in 2016. Martin might be more in line to average 18 touches per game, while Sims might be bumped up to 12 and here is why.
Tampa Bay plans to play a lot of regular personnel (two wide receivers, two backs and one tight end) and double tight personnel (two wide receivers, two tight ends and one back), which will force teams to play a lot of base personnel. Sims proved he could excel as a receiver when matched up against linebackers, and Koetter plans to identify more of those mismatches this season and use Sims in the passing game to exploit them.
Sims will also get more looks as a check down receiver on third downs, and there are also plans to line up Sims in the slot and out wide for special plays, such as his 32-yard touchdown, which came on a wide receiver screen at Houston last year.
Sims showed improvement as both a runner and a receiver last year and got better as the season went on. He showed some amazing body control and great hands with circus catches like the ones that scored touchdowns against Chicago and Philadelphia.
“The throw to Chuck – Charles Sims – [was] borderline dangerous, but [Winston] gave him a chance,” Koetter said of Sims’ amazing touchdown catch at Philadelphia in a 45-17 victory last year. “We’d never seen the corner leak off like that. We thought the safety would go over the top. They switched it off with the corner and the safety. Chuck made a fantastic play.”
Bucs running backs coach Tim Spencer has personally overseen Sims’ development and believes he’s ready for a breakout year, and that will cause fans to have a better appreciation for Sims’ talents and contributions.
Bucs RB Charles Sims – Photo by: Getty Images
“Well, Chuck was still a young player [last year],” said Spencer. “He didn’t really get to play because he was hurt [as a rookie], but I saw him grow each and every game. He’s still learning the game. We tried to move him outside an awful lot and play some receiver things. He can catch the ball, but in terms of receiver-wise, he didn’t quite have all of those adjustments together, but I think that’s what you saw later in the year. Hopefully – we’ve been working on that a lot this year so I think you should see some improvement this year from him.”
And more touches for Sims, who is an under the radar type of talent.
“He’s under the radar to everybody else, but not to us,” Bucs wide receiver Louis Murphy said. “He’s a great talent and he’s going to be a great running back. He listens and learns. He’s a young guy that had an ankle injury his rookie year when he came in. That was tough on him, but he showed what he could do last year. He’s very explosive and he’s one of the most explosive players we have on the team.”
FAB 3. THE BUCCANEERS’ ALL- TIME COACHING STAFF
With the Buccaneers on vacation until late July and the news coming out of One Buccaneer Place quite slow, I thought it would be fun and thought provoking to do an opinion piece on Tampa Bay’s all-time coaching staff. Of course this list starts at the top with the head coach, and the inevitable challenging question?
Who is the best head coach in Bucs history – Jon Gruden or Tony Dungy?
So I decided to use my lifeline and text Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp for help. Sapp then called me and gave his response.
My initial reaction has always been to go with Gruden, who with a 57-55 record is the Bucs’ all-time winningest coach and the only coach to deliver Tampa Bay a Super Bowl championship. Those accomplishments seal the deal.
Yet Dungy deserves credit for turning the Bucs around and for only having one losing season as a head coach, which was his first in 1996 when Tampa Bay went 6-10. He also has the best winning percentage (.556) in team history with a 54-42 record with the Bucs.
What holds Dungy back was that his teams were defensive-laden, but he never figured out how to build Tampa Bay’s offense consistently, evidenced by going through three different offensive coordinators in his last three years.
“Gruden held us accountable – on both sides of the ball,” Sapp said. “Plus, I’ve never seen a coach command a room like Gruden.”
So Gruden it is. He leads off my list of All-Time Bucs Coaches.
Bucs Head Coach Jon Gruden (2002-08)
Not only did Gruden produce the most wins in team history and an offense capable of beating Philadelphia in the playoffs and winning the Super Bowl (27 of Tampa Bay’s 48 points in Super Bowl XXXVII were scored on offense), he also guided the Bucs to two division titles in 2002 and 2005 and three trips to the playoffs (2002, 2005, 2007). Even Tampa Bay’s defense soared to new heights under Gruden, attaining a No. 1 ranking in 2002 and 2005 for the first time since the fabled 1979 defense. Gruden, who had a cult-like following in Tampa Bay, issued a now-famous challenge to the defense to score nine defensive touchdowns upon his arrival in 2002 – a feat that was accomplished with three defensive TDs in the Super Bowl.
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Getty Images
Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter (2015-present)
Koetter is only one of two current members of the Buccaneers coaching staff to make this list. Why? Because in just one year, Koetter developed an offense that featured a Pro Bowl rookie quarterback in Jameis Winston, who threw for over 4,000 yards, a 1,200-yard receiver in Mike Evans, and a Pro Bowl running back in Doug Martin that rushed for over 1,400 yards and was the second-leading rusher in the NFL. Tampa Bay’s offense also featured a slew of first- and second-year players, and despite that youth, the Bucs eclipsed the 6,000-yard mark for the first time in franchise history and finished with a top 5 ranking in total offense.
Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin (1996-08)
Not only is Kiffin the greatest defensive coordinator in Bucs history, no other coach has won more games in Tampa Bay with 111 victories over his illustrious 13-year career that spanned the coaching tenures of both Dungy and Gruden. Kiffin took Dungy’s Cover 2 defense and perfected it, making the Tampa 2 defense a league-wide trend in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Kiffin was partly responsible for hiring legendary assistant coaches Mike Tomlin and Joe Barry in 2001, and his No. 1 ranked defense helped Tampa Bay win its first and only Super Bowl in 2002. Kiffin’s defense produced several Pro Bowlers, in addition to two Hall of Famers in Sapp and linebacker Derrick Brooks. In addition to Dungy and Gruden, Kiffin’s name eventually belongs in the Bucs Ring of Honor, too (Glazers, are you reading this?).
Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia (2002-10)
Bisaccia coached special teams in Tampa Bay for nine years, which is the longest tenure of any of special teams coordinator and helped Tampa Bay win Super Bowl XXXVII. Tampa Bay’s special teams were usually quite good under his leadership, and Bisaccia was responsible for ending the Bucs’ kickoff return for a touchdown curse when Micheal Spurlock did the honors in 2007. Bisaccia also developed a Pro Bowl return specialist in Clifton Smith in 2008.