Pro Bowlers: Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber, Davin Joseph, Clifton Smith
If we ranked most disappointing seasons in franchise history, this one would be the clear number one. Despite an ugly feud between quarterback Jeff Garcia and head coach Jon Gruden, the 2008 Bucs were 6-3 heading into their bye week, and would reel off three more wins in a row afterwards to reach 9-3. This was a franchise-best run and it appeared certain that the team would make the playoffs for the second season in a row.
Then the Carolina game happened. On Monday night with the division crown up for grabs the Bucs got stampeded by DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, and nothing was the same after. The Bucs would go on to lose their next four games, which triggered the firing of coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen. With Monte Kiffin leaving for the University of Tennessee, the twin coaching pillars of the ’02 Super Bowl were both gone in the blink of an eye. With all that said, this was still an extremely talented Buccaneer team, and had they not blown it down the stretch would have been much higher on this list.
On offense the Bucs didn’t get great quarterback play from either Jeff Garcia or
but still managed to rank in the top half of the league in total offense (14th). Late in the season running back
managed to return from a gruesome injury but to limited effectiveness; the bulk of the running workload went to
. Like their quarterback and running back group, the wide receivers were made up mostly of journeymen and cast-offs from other teams.
had one of the more shocking late-career breakouts you’ll ever see, finishing the year with 83 catches, 1248 yards and seven touchdowns.
was present but injured often, leaving
as the other two starters.
Offensive line was the strength of the offense and the team as a whole.
, Davin Joseph,
were an ideal blend of talent and nastiness that helped bolster a sometimes stagnant offense.
The ’08 defense, while ultimately the team’s downfall, was a talented group, particularly in the secondary. Ronde Barber, rookie Aqib Talib, and Philip Buchanan were the primary corners, with Tanard Jackson, Sabby Pischitelli and Will Allen as the safeties. This group helped the defense total 22 interceptions, the third most in the league that year. The front seven was less impressive but still had a solid group of linebackers in Derrick Brooks, Barrett Ruud, Quincy Black, Cato June and Adam Hayward. Chris Hovan, Gaines Adams, Stylez White and Jovan Haye anchored a defensive line that, while solid, couldn’t get enough sacks, pressure or run stops to take the defense to the next level.
We’ll never know the true identity of this Buccaneer team. Were they the talented, play-making group from the beginning of the season that simply fell victim to a poorly timed slump? Or, were they never really as good as the 9-3 start indicated?