2005 was a weird year for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but had Brian Griese not been injured, things could have turned out a lot differently for the Buccaneers at the close of the aughts. Our what-if scenario for this week doesn’t have much bearing for the Buccaneers or NFL in the long term, but it certainly does in the short term.
In 2005, the Buccaneers were humming to start the season. Behind a veteran defense, a strong running game thanks to rookie Cadillac Williams, and Griese, the Buccaneers came out of seemingly nowhere to start out 5-1. From there, Griese would tear his ACL against the Miami Dolphins, paving the way for Chris Simms to take over, ultimately finishing the season 11-5 and winning the NFC South. The Bucs would go on to lose in the Wild Card round to Washington in heartbreaking fashion.
What if Brian Griese doesn’t tear his ACL though?
The thing that’s hard to fathom now, is that Griese was seen as something of a breath of fresh air at quarterback. He lead them to their only wins in 2004, then their hot start in 2005. Sure, the running game and defense had a lot to do with it, but Griese provided a spark since his arrival. His stats with Simms are comparable in 2005, despite playing in five fewer games. Griese had seven touchdowns and seven interceptions for 1,136 yards while Simms had 10 touchdowns with 7 interceptions and 2,035 yards. So even though Simms went 6-4 and Griese 5-1, Simms only threw three more touchdowns and the same amount of picks, which is pretty staggering.
Back to the alternate universe, let’s say, Griese doesn’t get hurt. Well, the Buccaneers definitely get at least an extra win out of the deal to finish at a minimum of 12-4. This means they would lock up a first-round bye, and wouldn’t have to go through the heartbreak that was the Edell Shepherd near-touchdown catch that never was against Washington that ended their season.
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With this being the case, Washington ends up playing the Rex Grossman-lead Bears in the Wild Card round in Chicago. If Washington were to win, then the Bucs get the Carolina Panthers who they split with but beat later in the season on the road. If Chicago wins in this scenario, then the Buccaneers are able to defeat Grossman, regardless of their defense, since the Bucs defense wasn’t too shabby either, littered with veterans who knew how to win. This means, that in our alternate universe, the Buccaneers get to the NFC Championship in the 2005 season, where they are ultimately defeated by the random juggernaut that was Shaun Alexander and the Seattle Seahawks.
Going forward, with a hot Griese at the helm, 2006 isn’t nearly as much of a disaster. Sure, the Buccaneers still have to cut a lot of bait to save money for the salary cap, but Griese isn’t included in that this time. They have a middle-of-the-pack season and come 2007, they don’t have to sign Jeff Garcia. They still win the division at 9-7, but don’t go any further than they would have with Garcia. Unfortunately, 2008 is still a turning point for the franchise. They may not collapse as epically, but let’s not pretend Griese was a savior, or savant, or really anything that much better than Garcia.
Summing it all up, Brian Griese staying healthy in 2005 really doesn’t affect the landscape of the Buccaneers or the NFL in the long term. If anything, the 2005 NFC Championship appearance maybe buys Gruden an extra year or two. This may not have been our most exciting trip to the multiverse, but at least the Buccaneers get one last magical run for the veteran layovers from the 2002 team. Let us know what what-if scenario you’d like to explore next, and we’ll see if the butterfly flaps its wings a little more to create more of a ripple effect.