When 2007 began most people expected the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to improve, but not to the extent that they did by the end of the year. A division championship was an unexpected gift to Buccaneers fans and the franchise. How did it happen?
In hindsight, there are signposts to a successful season. Here is No. 10 in our series of the most significant moments of the 2007 season and how they impacted Tampa Bay’s run to a division championship.
10. 4TH-AND-1 AGAINST NEW ORLEANS, DEC. 2
You know those moments during games when the home crowd implores their head coach to go for it on fourth down? The fans are almost always wrong.
So imagine the stunned fans that watched as Bucs head coach Jon Gruden chose to go for it on 4th-and-1 at the Saints 28-yard line.
A field goal by Matt Bryant would have tied the game and sent it to overtime. And there would have been no shame in that, though it would have allowed the Saints offense one last possession to win the game. And all they would have needed was a field goal.
Had Gruden’s gamble failed, the Bucs most assuredly would have lost. And this bit of gambling came after the Saints gave the Bucs a gift by botching a misguided double reverse call in their own territory, giving the Bucs the football and a chance to win.
So what was Gruden thinking?
Win the game.
Earnest Graham was sitting on 100 yards rushing, so the Bucs had run the football well all day. They had just punished the Saints defensive front earlier in the game on a 25-yard touchdown run by Graham. One yard isn’t much to ask when the offensive line is blocking well.
But one yard in the fourth quarter with the game on the line? Well, that’s a bit more that you bargain for.
But Gruden made the call, the offensive line made the blocks and Graham made the yard for the first down. And that changed the rest of the game.
Graham then caught a 25-yard pass from backup Luke McCown. Then two plays later McCown hit Jerramy Stevens with a tall pass in the end zone with the game winning score.
Like Kelly’s interception, this call changed the playoff hunt. Had the Bucs failed, the Saints surely would have won, bringing them within a game of the divisional lead with four games to play. Instead of licking their wounds after a loss, the Saints would have had incredible momentum going into their next game. The Bucs, meanwhile, would be wondering what might have been. They might have even pressed Jeff Garcia into service the following week against Houston to preserve the season.
But one yard made all the difference and kept the season on track. The win was Tampa Bay’s fourth straight and it all but solidified their third division title under Gruden.
Next: A dubious distinction lost.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. An award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he appears frequently on Scot Brantley Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1470-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.