2006 - Injuries and disappointments
The Bucs were coming off a 2005 division title and were returning 21 of their 22 starting players. The draft brought a pair of offensive line studs to replace aging veterans. Hopes were high in Tampa going into 2006 so what went wrong?
The post-Super Bowl hangover had finally been eradicated and the likes of Warren Sapp and John Lynch were now firmly in the memory banks. Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen were running the Bucs in their image and had placed young left-hander Chris Simms in charge of the offense based on his big-arm performances the previous year.
The draft was all about offense. Davin Joseph was the first guard selected in the 2006 draft at 23 overall, and the Bucs added a rookie tackle next to him in Jeremy Trueblood. Notre Dame receiver Maurice Stovall was considered a bonus in the third round but it would be the little-known QB Bruce Gradkowski picked in the 6th round who would be the star of pre-season.
The latter had tons of confidence and was pretty accurate over short distances. And unfortunately during pre-season, no-one really noticed how he had Shaun King disease (unable to hit anything over 20 yards away unless it had a different colour shirt on).
The season began with an embarrassing home shutout against the Ravens and with only three more points the following week in Atlanta, questions were being asked of Simms and the offense when the Panthers came to town in Week 3.
Simms took hit after hit in that game to try and give his team a chance to win but after the last second loss, he was taken to hospital where it was discovered he had suffered a ruptured spleen and would be lost for the season in one of the most potentially dangerous moments in franchise history.
Bruce Gradkowski, now nicknamed the Polish Pop-Gun for his inability to throw like Ron Jaworski, took over at QB and somehow the Bucs managed to fluke a win over the Bengals in Week 5, and then saw Matt Bryant kick a record 62-yard fieldgoal to defeat the Eagles the following week.
The win over Philadelphia was down mainly to that awesome NFL passing combination of Donovan McNabb to Ronde Barber, the Bucs' corner twice taking plays back to the house as the Bucs mustered 23 points without every crossing the Eagle 10-yard line.
But the losses and criticism began to build up. Gruden took a hammering for a pass-only offensive gameplan in 30 mph winds in New York, a Thanksgiving Day embarrassment on national TV in Dallas, and then finally after kicking a fieldgoal on the final play in Pittsburgh to avoid a shutout, Gruden switched QBs to pretty much save his own neck.
The little-known 49er cast-off Tim Rattay almost led an amazing comeback win in Chicago, the Bucs only going down in overtime, before they got their fourth win of the year over the hapless Browns in Cleveland.
The defense looked old and slow throughout the season and there were not many highlights to speak of when you looked back over the 16 games, It was 4-12 but it really could have been a lot worse than that in hindsight.