|1978 Tampa Bay Buccaneers season|
|Head coach||John McKay|
|Home field||Tampa Stadium|
|Division place||5th NFC Central|
|Playoff finish||Did not qualify|
|Pro Bowlers||NT Dave Pear|
|AP All-Pros||DE Lee Roy Selmon|
|Team MVP||LB Dewey Selmon|
The 1978 Tampa Bay Buccaneers season was the franchise's third season in the National Football League the third playing their home games at Tampa Stadium and the third under head coach John McKay. As their two 1977 victories had been in the last two games of the season, they entered the 1978 season with the longest active winning streak in the NFC Central.
The Buccaneers entered the season with new offensive talent, having selected Doug Williams with the 17th overall pick of the draft. This choice was questioned by many, as there was still an element of society who claimed that a black quarterback was not mentally capable of winning in the NFL, and prejudice is believed to have been a factor in Williams having been drafted as low as seventeenth. According to Buccaneer coach John McKay, "All things being equal, Williams would have gone higher in the draft". Second-year tight end Jimmie Giles, part of the trade that landed Williams, emerged as the Buccaneers’ first receiving threat and still holds several of their scoring records.
Offseason coaching changes led to continued accusations of disorganization, as vice-president of operations Ron Wolf resigned, citing only "personal matters". This renewed speculation that head coach John McKay, who replaced Wolf with two of his own longtime assistants, was trying to consolidate front-office power. The coaching staff was reshuffled, with Tom Bass being named defensive coordinator, and offensive coordinator Joe Gibbs hired away from the St. Louis Cardinals. Offensive line coach Jerry Frei left to take the same position with the Chicago Bears.
Tight end Bob Moore was traded, along with a 1979 first-round draft pick, for three-time All-Pro Bears defensive end Wally Chambers. The Buccaneers were widely considered to have given up too much in the trade, as Chambers was coming off of major knee surgery and was considered by many to be "damaged merchandise", and the Buccaneers were left with minimal experience at tight end. The trade was also criticized on the grounds that the Buccaneers did not require Chambers to undergo a team physical, despite his injury history. Council Rudolph, the only player who had started in all 28 of the Buccaneers’ games to date, was made expendable by the trade and was dealt to the Miami Dolphins for a draft pick.
Preseason speculation ran high about what would happen with the Buccaneers’ first overall choice in the draft, with Houston Oilers’ coach Bum Phillips reportedly stating that the Oilers would better any other team's offer to the Buccaneers. Unlike the previous year, when it was made clear early on that Ricky Bell was to be their choice, the Buccaneers kept quiet about who they might draft, further fueling speculation about a trade. The New York Jets were said to have offered their fourth-overall draft pick, plus any player on their roster other than Richard Todd. Tight end was considered to be the Buccaneers’ single greatest need, with Ken MacAfee of Notre Dame often mentioned as a likely draft target. According to Don Shula, "With John McKay's type of offense, an outstanding tight end is absolutely essential. It cannot go without one". This happened to be one of the positions hit hardest by injury in 1977. With most of their mid-round draft picks traded away, the Buccaneers were looking for a trade that would bring them several draft picks. With no teams willing to give up a starting quarterback as part of a deal, the Buccaneers eventually traded the pick to the Oilers, for tight end Jimmie Giles and the Oilers’ first- and second-round picks in 1978, and their third- and fifth-round picks in 1979. Needing a fullback, the Buccaneers shortly afterward traded Anthony Davis to the Oilers for Don Hardeman.
|1 (from Houston)||17||Doug Williams||Quarterback||Grambling State|
|2||30||Johnny Davis||Running back||Alabama|
|2 (from Houston)||44||Brett Moritz||Guard||Nebraska|
|6 (from Los Angeles)||162||Elijah Marshall||Wide receiver||North Carolina State|
|8||196||John McGriff||Linebacker||Miami (FL)|
|9||223||Willie Taylor||Wide receiver||Pittsburgh|
|10||252||Aaron Brown||Linebacker||Ohio State|
|12||307||Kevin McLee||Running back||Georgia|
The Buccaneers' first overall selection in the 1978 draft was traded to the Houston Oilers in exchange for four draft picks and tight end Jimmie Giles. The Oilers used the pick to select running back Earl Campbell. The Buccaneers’ 3rd-, 4th-, and 6th round picks were traded to the Oakland Raiders for guard Dan Medlin, tackle Jeff Winans, and linebacker Rik Bonness, respectively. Their 5th-round pick was traded to the Miami Dolphins for cornerback Jeris White. The Buccaneers received a 6th-round pick from the Los Angeles Rams for center Dan Ryczek. Their 7th-round pick was traded to the Atlanta Falcons in return for kicker Allan Leavitt. Their 11th-round pick, along with a second 10th-rounder obtained from the Raiders, were traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers in return for defensive tackle Ernie Holmes.
The Buccaneers had a reduced number of selections in what was considered to have been the weakest draft in a long time. Doug Williams was considered to be the closest thing to a can't-miss quarterback prospect available in the draft. Representatives of several other teams, including Green Bay Packers coach and Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr, called the Buccaneers to congratulate them on his selection. John McKay, in charge of the draft for the first time, stated that with no outstanding quarterbacks expected to be in the following year's draft, the team had to have Williams. Johnny Davis was a surprise selection, as running back was considered to be one of the team's deepest positions, but Davis was drafted for his blocking ability. McKay pointed out that many of the previous year's quarterback sacks had been the result not of offensive line breakdowns, but of failure of running backs to pick up blitzes. Brett Moritz played half of the 1977 season at Nebraska, after transferring from West Point. He was projected as a backup center. McKay traded a 10th- and an 11th-round pick, players who would not be expected to make the team anyway, to the Pittsburgh Steelers for Ernie Holmes, at one time an important part of the Steelers’ championship defenses. Holmes, who was once involved in a shotgun standoff with police after an incidence of acute paranoid psychosis, was traded for on the understanding that his personal problems were behind him. Steelers coach Chuck Noll called the trade "a gift". The Buccaneers once again passed on offensive linemen, saying that the existing players would improve with more time together, and that the best linemen were all drafted early. The Buccaneers later traded a future draft choice to the Detroit Lions for veteran tackle Rockne Freitas.
Doug Williams’ first preseason pass, a 75-yard incompletion that sailed 10 yards past receiver Isaac Hagins, drew a standing ovation from the Tampa Stadium crowd. He was the first quarterback in Buccaneer history capable of throwing long passes downfield. Miami Dolphins nose tackle Randy Crowder, freshly released from federal prison, was signed as a free agent. Ernie Holmes, who was having trouble adjusting to the Buccaneers’ 3–4 defense, was waived to make room for him. A 1979 3rd-round draft pick was sent to the Dolphins as NFL-ordered compensation. Johnny Davis and Jimmy DuBose performed so well in the preseason that newly acquired fullback Don Hardeman was sent to the Baltimore Colts for a future draft pick. Wins in their first three preseason games, combined with the two wins at the end of the previous season, gave the Buccaneers the longest active NFL win streak going into the final preseason game. That game, a loss to the Dolphins, was the first Buccaneer game to sell out.
The Buccaneers opened the season, like the other 1976 expansion team the Seattle Seahawks, 200-to-1 longshots to win the Super Bowl; McKay thought that a 9-7 record would be a reasonable goal for the season. The team's regular-season opener against the New York Giants marked the first time that Las Vegas oddsmakers favored the Buccaneers to win, with Jimmy the Greek naming them as 1-point favorites. A pair of mistake-prone early losses left McKay threatening to release players who cause game-losing errors, a change from the earlier attitude of tolerating mistakes from players who were regarded as having potential. With the defense among the best in the league and the offense sparking behind Doug Williams’ leadership, the Buccaneers began to be respected as a competitive NFL team. Coach McKay's respect for Williams was such that he spoke of eventually letting Williams call his own plays in the huddle. McKay's insistence on calling plays from the sideline had been a source of much conflict between McKay and Steve Spurrier during the 1976 season. Williams led the Buccaneers to a 4–4 start before suffering an injury that required his jaw to be wired shut. Even before Williams’ injury, the Buccaneers again found themselves with an injured reserve list in double digits. At midseason, the Buccaneers had 11 players on injured reserve, not counting waived quarterback Mike Boryla. McKay felt that, with a healthy offense, the team would have finished with at least a 10–6 record. Despite a defense that ranked fourth overall in the NFL, the Buccaneers were only able to win one of their remaining eight games behind backup quarterback Mike Rae. McKay summed up the season with the word "frustration". The 9–7 record that he predicted the team would finish with would have been enough to win the NFC Central. Nose tackle Dave Pear became the first Buccaneer selected to the Pro Bowl, finishing third in voting among defensive tackles behind Randy White and Larry Brooks. Linebacker Richard Wood's 168 tackles stood for 14 years as a team record.
|1||September 2||New York Giants||L 13–19||Tampa Stadium||67,456||0–1|
|2||September 9||Detroit Lions||L 7–15||Tampa Stadium||64,443||0–2|
|3||September 17||at Minnesota Vikings||W 16–10||Metropolitan Stadium||46,152||1–2|
|4||September 24||Atlanta Falcons||W 14–9||Tampa Stadium||58,073||2–2|
|5||October 1||Minnesota Vikings||L 7–24||Tampa Stadium||65,972||2–3|
|6||October 8||at Kansas City Chiefs||W 30–13||Arrowhead Stadium||38,201||3–3|
|7||October 15||at New York Giants||L 14–17||Giants Stadium||68,025||3–4|
|8||October 22||Chicago Bears||W 33–19||Tampa Stadium||68,146||4–4|
|9||October 29||at Green Bay Packers||L 7–9||Lambeau Field||55,108||4–5|
|10||November 5||at Los Angeles Rams||L 23–26||Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum||55,182||4–6|
|11||November 12||at Detroit Lions||L 23–34||Pontiac Silverdome||60,320||4–7|
|12||November 19||Buffalo Bills||W 31–10||Tampa Stadium||61,383||5–7|
|13||November 26||at Chicago Bears||L 3–14||Soldier Field||42,373||5–8|
|14||December 3||Green Bay Packers||L 7–17||Tampa Stadium||67,754||5–9|
|15||December 10||at San Francisco 49ers||L 3–6||Candlestick Park||30,931||5–10|
|16||December 17||New Orleans Saints||L 10–17||Tampa Stadium||51,207||5–11|
|Green Bay Packers||8||7||1||.531||5–2–1||6–5–1||249||269||L2|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||5||11||0||.313||2–6||3–11||241||259||L4|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1978 roster|
Rookies in italics
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1978 coaching staff|
The New York Giants scored ten points off of Buccaneer interceptions en route to an upset victory. The Buccaneers rushed for 165 yards, but were held to field goals on drives deep in Giants territory. Doug Williams suffered a badly bruised shoulder when tackled by Gary Jeter in the first quarter, and was replaced by Gary Huff. Terry Jackson returned Williams’ early interception, called by John McKay a "terrible blunder", for a touchdown. Williams completed only one of six passes before leaving with the injury. The Buccaneers took the lead on a 2-yard Jimmy DuBose touchdown and a Neil O'Donoghue field goal, but Joe Pisarcik's 67-yard pass to Johnny Perkins gave the Giants the lead for good.
The Detroit Lions held the Buccaneers to 101 yards of total offense, 56 yards of which came on a first-quarter Ricky Bell run. Bell scored the Buccaneers’ only touchdown on a 1-yard plunge. The Buccaneers were hurt by penalties and turnovers, fumbling four times in the first quarter alone. A Lions drive late in the first half was extended twice by Buc penalties, the first when Curtis Jordan ran into punter Tom Skladany, and the second when Dave Pear's late hit on Lions quarterback Greg Landry knocked Landry out of the game. This penalty nullified a Mike Washington interception, and resulted in one of Benny Ricardo's three field goals. Buc passers were sacked seven times. Mike Boryla started the game for the Buccaneers, but was replaced by Gary Huff. Coming off of the previous season's knee injury, Boryla declared his recovering knee too sore to play on, and went back on injured reserve after the game.
The Buccaneers took advantage of Minnesota Vikings mistakes to get an upset and their first win of the season. The Buccaneers scored on a 5-yard pass from Doug Williams to Morris Owens, after a live ball that had hit a Viking on a punt return was recovered by Billy Cesare on the Vikings’ 5-yard line. Vikings coach Bud Grant later claimed that returner Kevin Miller never touched the ball, and blamed the loss on the officials. Fran Tarkenton completed 23 of 31 passes for 180 yards, but threw two interceptions and was replaced by Tommy Kramer in the final two minutes. Kramer promptly threw an interception to Cecil Johnson. Tarkenton also hit Ahmad Rashād for a 4-yard touchdown to finish a 63-yard first-quarter drive. Later, Jeris White's interception of a Tarkenton pass would lead to a 2-yard Ricky Bell touchdown run. The Buccaneers’ defense, still steamed over Tarkenton's comments two years earlier that the Buccaneers would be his preferred AFC opponent in the Super Bowl, held the Vikings to 73 yards rushing and sacked Tarkenton four times. They also came through big by holding the Vikings to a field goal, following a bizarre play in which the Vikings recovered a live ball on a failed field goal attempt and returned it for 80 yards. Grant called the game a defensive contest, saying that there were no good offensive plays in the entire match. John McKay said that "when we shut off their running game, we knew we were in the game and could get 'em", and that the Buccaneers should have a 3–0 record. The game left the two teams tied with 1–2 records.
The Atlanta Falcons, who in 1977 had set an NFL record for fewest points allowed, held the Buccaneers to no first downs and one pass completion in the first half. The Falcons were caught sitting on a 2-point lead when the Buccaneers put together a 57-yard fourth-quarter drive, capped by a touchdown pass from Doug Williams to Jim Obradovich, to win the game. Mike Washington scored early on a 79-yard return of a blocked field goal, still (as of 2009) a Tampa Bay record. The Buccaneers missed two later touchdown opportunities on dropped passes by Isaac Hagins. Jimmy DuBose carried four times for 21 yards on the game-winning drive. Mike Washington scored on a blocked field goal, and a Ricky Bell fumble led to Steve Bartkowski's 5-yard pass to Al Jackson. The Buccaneers ran out the clock by holding the ball for the final five minutes of the game, something coach McKay didn't think the team would be able to do against the Atlanta defense. The entire game was played in a driving rainstorm, with wind gusts of up to 40 mph. Hagins later underwent x-rays that revealed that he suffered a fractured vertebra during the game. He was placed on injured reserve, and Larry Franklin was signed to fill his roster spot.
Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton completed 20 of 31 passes for 213 yards. He passed for a touchdown to Sammy White, and set up a rushing touchdown by Robert Miller. Doug Williams completed a Buccaneer-record 16 of 35 passes for 311 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown to Morris Owens. Alan Page blocked a Dave Green punt that was returned for the final touchdown. The Vikings also blocked an earlier field goal attempt, described by John McKay as looking like "The ball was snapped like a dying quail and about 25 men came through to block it". As opposed to the previous meeting, the Vikings played error-free football.
The Buccaneers, playing with the goal of keeping the Kansas City Chiefs’ Wing-T offense on the bench as much as possible, held them to little more than half of their regular rushing average. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers’ offense had their most productive day ever, setting a team record with three fourth-quarter touchdowns. Jimmy DuBose ran for two touchdowns and Louis Carter for one, and Doug Williams threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Morris Owens. Kansas City was held to a pair of Jan Stenerud field goals for most of the game. A fourth-quarter Tony Adams pass was ruled a touchdown, although replays showed that receiver Henry Marshall failed to keep both of his feet inbounds. Richard Wood was given much of the credit for stifling the Chiefs’ league-leading rushing attack. Wood correctly expected that Chiefs offensive coordinator Tom Pagna would run the offense straight at him, as he did when Wood played at USC and Pagna coached at Notre Dame. Pagna assumed incorrectly that the undersized Wood would be overpowered, but Wood instead responded by making 12 tackles. This was the Buccaneers’ third consecutive road win, and came one day after the Kansas City Royals were eliminated from the American League pennant race.
The New York Giants capitalized on two late turnovers to come from behind for the win. Giants linebacker Harry Carson intercepted a Doug Williams pass, then recovered a Louis Carter fumble. Both turnovers led to touchdown runs by Larry Csonka. Neil O'Donoghue missed on a last-minute 42-yard field goal attempt into strong winds. Doug Williams was 7-for-27 passing, with two interceptions. The second of these interceptions proved very costly, as Jimmy DuBose suffered what turned out to be a career-ending knee injury while trying to make a tackle on the return. This occurred only four plays after DuBose's 109 yards rushing made him the first Buccaneer rusher to pass the 100-yard mark in a game. Jerry Golsteyn replaced Joe Pisarcik at quarterback for the Giants, and led both of the fourth-quarter winning drives.
The Chicago Bears expected to face the mistake-prone Buccaneer team they had seen in game films, but were instead confronted with an efficient team that controlled the ball and took advantage of Bears mistakes. Doug Williams threw touchdown passes to Jim Obradovich and Morris Owens, and unexpectedly ran for some key first downs. Gary Fencik intercepted him at the goal line on one drive, but the Bears failed to gain a first down on the ensuing possession. Ricky Bell, until recently seeing primary duty blocking for Jimmy DuBose, returned to his lead runner spot and gained 95 yards on 28 carries. He was awarded a game ball for his effort. Dave Lewis intercepted Bob Avellini twice in the final two minutes, and the Buccaneers’ defense held Walter Payton to a season-low 34 yards rushing in the Bears’ fifth consecutive loss. The Buccaneers made several changes in starting lineup going into the game: Wally Chambers made his first start of the year, Johnny Davis replaced the injured DuBose at fullback, and recently acquired Frank Grant got the start at wide receiver.
The Green Bay Packers held the Buccaneers without a first down or completed pass for the first 37 minutes of the game. The Buccaneers took the lead on a 2-yard Ricky Bell run that was set up by a Morris Owens reception of a 53-yard Doug Williams pass. Chester Marcol kicked the game-winning field goal. Neil O'Donoghue missed two field goals in the contest. Williams’ final pass was intercepted by Willie Buchanon. The Buccaneers shut down running back Terdell Middleton and knocked quarterback David Whitehurst dizzy, but Whitehurst returned to lead the game-winning 50-yard drive. Tampa Bay's uncharacteristic move to a man-to-man defense left Steve Odom open to catch Whitehurst's 18-yard pass on a fourth down during that drive.
Three Buccaneer starters went out with injuries, most significantly Doug Williams, who suffered a broken jaw on a Jack Youngblood blitz. Darryl Carlton separated a shoulder, and Dewey Selmon broke his wrist. Mike Rae played in relief of Williams, completing 9 of 17 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown. The Rams double-covered both Buccaneer receivers, leaving no coverage to prevent Rae from rushing for 95 yards on four carries. Ricky Bell had his first 100-yard rushing day, with 21 carries for 104 yards. The Buccaneers set several team records in this game: 209 yards was their highest rushing total yet, Bell's 555 yards were a Buccaneer single-season rushing record, and Neil O'Donoghue's 38 points were a new season scoring record. Although the Rams were not on McKay's list of 18 teams that he felt the Buccaneers were competitive with, Tampa Bay rallied to a 23–23 fourth-quarter tie before losing on a late Frank Corral field goal. It was the Buccaneers’ third fourth-quarter collapse in four weeks. The Buccaneers’ performance drew cheers from the Los Angeles crowd, among whom McKay was still a popular figure.
The Detroit Lions gained 404 yards in the Buccaneers’ worst defensive performance since 1976. Horace King became only the third running back in two seasons to gain 100 yards against the Buccaneers. Three defenders missed tackles on his 75-yard touchdown run. Gary Danielson completed 15 of 24 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns, both to David Hill. John McKay blamed the poor performance on mental errors, such as three defenders covering one receiver while the other remained open. The Lions also took advantage of the inexperience of middle linebacker Rik Bonness, who was playing at the unfamiliar outside linebacker position due to injuries to Cecil Johnson and Dana Nafziger. The depletion of the linebacker corps required a shift to a 4–3 defense, which the players had difficulty adjusting to. McKay said, "If I had a gun, I would have shot our guys", of all the receivers left open. Buccaneers quarterbacks were sacked eight times, five times by Bubba Baker. The Buccaneers scored on touchdown passes from Mike Rae to Jim Obradovich and from Gary Huff to George Ragsdale. Neil O'Donoghue kicked three field goals, including a club-record 49-yarder. The loss left the Buccaneers and Lions tied for last place in the NFC Central.
Following two subpar defensive performances, the Buccaneers held the Bills without a touchdown until the fourth quarter, when the Buccaneers already had a 31–3 lead. Buc defenders cheered a return to their regular 3–4 alignment. Johnny Davis gained 78 yards on 18 carries after a Bills player fell on Ricky Bell's knee. The injury to Bell, combined with the earlier injuries to Doug Williams and Jimmy DuBose, left the Buccaneers without their entire starting backfield. Buccaneers running backs nevertheless combined for 204 yards. Bell and Davis ran for a touchdown each. Mike Rae threw two touchdown passes; one to Morris Owens, and another to Jimmie Giles for the first of Giles’ career.
The Bears held the Buccaneers to a season-low 92 yards of total offense. Tampa Bay repeatedly failed to score, despite getting the ball with good field position. Mike Rae was sacked seven times in his first 11 pass attempts. The Bears controlled the ball for 22:26 of the second half, consistently breaking Walter Payton and Roland Harper for short gains. Payton finished the day with 105 yards rushing and Harper 144, the first time the Buccaneers had allowed two 100-yard rushers in a single game. It was only the second time in history that the Bears had two backs each rush for 100 yards. McKay declined to give the Bears much credit, saying that "they had a lot of success running and holding at the same time".
Again playing without their entire starting backfield, the Buccaneers outgained Green Bay in several major offensive statistics, including a 321–173 yardage advantage, but were outscored by the Packers. A knee injury to Lee Roy Selmon meant that all three of their players selected with first-round draft picks were out with injuries. George Ragsdale, Johnny Davis, Jim Obradovich, Neil O'Donoghue, and Danny Reece were also injured during the game, which left the Buccaneers with only three running backs on the roster. The Buccaneers finished the game with only 37 healthy players, eight under the NFL roster limit. The 173 yards allowed was one of several team records set during the game, and the season total to date of 228 points equaled the team's total scoring of the first two seasons combined. Ragsdale's 14-yard touchdown run was their longest touchdown run of the year. Ragsdale, having been knocked cold, was unable to hear the crowd's applause. The Packers scored on a 10-yard David Whitehurst pass to James Lofton, a 27-yard Chester Marcol field goal, and a 1-yard Barty Smith run. The win broke the Packers’ four-game losing streak.
In a meeting between the NFL's two worst offenses, the San Francisco 49ers’ Ray Wersching kicked a fourth-quarter field goal to win the first game in which the Buccaneer defense held their opposition without a touchdown. The Buccaneers committed ten fumbles, were intercepted five times, allowed eleven sacks, and scored no touchdowns. McKay was so upset that he cancelled his regular press conference the Monday following the game, and indicated that he would not be present at his Friday press conference. The 49ers fumbled six times, were intercepted twice, and allowed five sacks. Mark Cotney's 28-yard interception return set up Tampa Bay's only score, a 35-yard Dave Green field goal. The previous week's injury to Neil O'Donoghue became an issue, as Green's limited range prevented the Buccaneers from attempting potential game-winning or -tying field goals. Bill Kollar started and led the team in tackles for the second week in a row. The boredom of the game was such that one of the coaches spoke of setting himself on fire on the sideline, prompting a Buccaneer publicist to request that the team band be ready to play "You Light Up My Life".
New Orleans Saints quarterback Archie Manning completed 25 of 38 passes for 250 yards, the most passing yards yet allowed by the Buccaneers, and a touchdown to Henry Childs. Chuck Muncie broke four tackles while scoring on a 21-yard run. The Buccaneer defense played uncharacteristically poorly, allowing 421 yards of offense. Special teams also broke down on several occasions. McKay called it the worst game the team had yet played, and promised that changes would be made. Buccaneer receivers blamed lack of concentration for missed routes and dropped balls. Doug Williams returned to the starting lineup, but Tampa Bay was able to control the ball for only 19 of the game's 60 minutes. Williams, playing with his jaw still wired shut, threw a 2-yard fourth-down pass to Jimmie Giles for the Buccaneers’ only touchdown.