As the research analyst for NFL Network's NFL RedZone, Elliot Harrison watched all 267 games in the 2010 season. We asked him to rank the 20 most memorable.
Bucs fans, I feel your pain.
Talk about a mascot that's gotten little in the way of a bounty. Other than winning the 2002 Super Bowl, this is a franchise that's dealt with a lot of frustration over the years.
In 1979, quarterback Doug Williams and the offense couldn't do diddly-poo, and a really strong defensive Tampa Bay squad fell to the Los Angeles Rams, 9-0, in the NFC Championship Game.
That's not a misprint. The final score was nine-zip.
The 1980s were a mess after Williams departed. One of the first NFL games I ever saw live was Buccaneers-Cowboys in 1983. Quarterback Jack Thompson (known affectionately as "The Throwin' Samoan") and the Bucs snatched defeat from the jaws of victory that day and lost in overtime, one of three OT losses for Tampa Bay that year, which still ties an NFL record.
The 1990s saw the Ray Perkins experience, Richard Williamson debacle, and Sam Wyche era all result in double-digit loss seasons. Thankfully, Tony Dungy showed up and got the franchise on the right track, a track so fast that Jon Gruden inherited a Super Bowl-ready team in 2002. But since blowing out the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII, the Bucs haven't done much swashbuckling.
Enter Week 13 last season, when the Rodney Dangerfield of NFL coaches, Raheem Morris, had his guys sitting at 7-4 when the division-leading Falcons rolled into Raymond James Stadium.
In the NFL RedZone studios, we switched to this matchup as much as we could with only four afternoon games on our menu. Ok, five, but Panthers-Seahawks didn't count. Two of the matchups were so-so at best (Rams-Cardinals, Raiders-Chargers), but the other late game was a real barnburner, played in a $720-million barn, between the Cowboys and Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium.
We kept our broadcast on the goings-on in Indy, only to snap right back to Falcons-Bucs because it also was such a great game. Ultimately, both made our top-20 list.
What made this divisional fight one of the best of the year was how fiercely it was contested and how much it shaped the season. Had the Bucs won, there's a good chance Green Bay sits at home or that the Saints catch the Falcons in the division race, meaning Marshawn Lynch's romp against New Orleans never takes place during Wild Card Weekend.
Most memorable was how Atlanta responded after Josh Freeman commandeered a fourth-quarter touchdown drive, giving Tampa a 10-point lead with 10:24 remaining. The Falcons' Eric Weems declared jihad on the Bucs' 10-point lead, however, returning the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown to draw his team within three. Then a couple other cogs in the Falcons' young core, Matt Ryan and Michael Jenkins, hooked up for a touchdown to make it 28-24 Atlanta.
The Bucs' comeback bid in the final minutes fell short, thanks to Brent Grimes' impressive interception.
Play of the game
Trying to protect the tenuous four-point lead with just over two minutes left in the game, Grimes made the kind of play corners get paid big money for, and he might have changed several teams' playoff fortunes in the process.
The very definition of the old Tampa 2 was "keep everything in front of you." Although Morris' staff doesn't run the exact same defense as Dungy and former defensive mastermind Monte Kiffin, the Bucs still blew it big time on Atlanta's go-ahead touchdown drive.
How do you let Roddy White get behind you, free on the sideline, on third-and-20 no less, to pick up a key first down?
Weems' 102-yard kick return was a thing of beauty. He breaks not one but five tackles on this incredibly clutch run.
What's most impressive is Weems' acceleration after breaking the last tackle attempt near the sideline. It looks like Tampa Bay's Michael Spurlock will close on him, and then whoom ... Weems is gone. Awesome return at a big moment.
Why this game is No. 5
As big of a surprise as it might be to all of you out there, this was an easy choice. When No. 5 on our list ended, I thought I had only seen one other game of its ilk in the previous 12 weeks. Re-watching parts of this NFC South matchup, I loved the intensity and came away impressed with how ready the Bucs were to play.
On the flip side, Atlanta converted third downs, finished with a positive turnover ratio and took no sacks. Basically, the Falcons didn't beat themselves, which was their M.O. in 2010. They made this game a solid choice, not only because they were solid all season, but because their opponent -- the youngest team in the league -- gave them their best shot.
Why not higher?
Five on our list was originally ranked higher. There was only one playoff game that matched it, at least in this humble writer's brain. I also love any game in which the Bucs wear their metrosexual, orange sherbert uniforms. I guess some might rank it much lower for the very same reason.