The Eagles have played a lot of great teams in the NFL playoffs in their history. Some who eventually won the Super Bowl, teams that were the feel-good story of the year, and others that offered a unique storyline before and after.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have played Philadelphia more than any other team in both team’s playoff history. In that timeframe, the Eagles have seen the highest of high’s and the lowest of lows.
As the Eagles gear up for round five against Tampa in the postseason, it’s time to take a trip down memory lane and look back at the four previous matchups.
Round One: Bucs complete wild turnaround in 1979
It’s well established that even with Tom Brady, the Bucs have the worst winning percentage in NFL History as an overall organization.
The Bucs were created as an expansion team in 1976 and were the first team in the Super Bowl era to go winless for an entire season. In fact the 26 straight losses from 1976-1977 are the most consecutive losses in the Super Bowl era.
Everything changed in 1979 though. With eventual Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams, and criminally underrated HC, John McKay, the Bucs posted their first winning season and got a first round bye in the playoffs as the #2 seed. Quite a four year turnaround.
The Eagles of the 70’s were of a similar mold. In the midst of an 18 year drought without winning a playoff game, the Birds were an awful team for much of the 1970’s. Dick Vermeil came in, miracles were made, and the Eagles had quickly gone from doormat to playoff contender in 1979.
When the two team’s met in Tampa for the divisional round of the playoffs in 1979, it was also the rekindling of the rivalry that Vermeil had with McKay. McKay was HC at USC while Vermeil was at UCLA.
Tampa ended up winning 24-17 after a late Eagles TD. The game was never really that close however. Tampa jumped out to an early 17-0 lead while the Eagles dropped 10 passes.
Bucs newcomer, Ricky Bell, who ran for over 140 yards and 2 TD’s in the contest, made it impossible for Philadelphia to capitalize on any sort of momentum.
Tampa ended up losing to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Title game but clearly accomplished more than any expansion team had done to that point. Philadelphia meanwhile let the 1979 loss set the stage for a Super Bowl run the following year.
Even though Tampa got the edge on Philly in round one, it’s clear the Eagles had the better future after the game.
Round Two: A Star is born in Philly
Oh what a time the early 2000’s were for the Eagles and their fans.
The team was one of the best in the NFL, repeatedly making deep playoff runs while employing some of the greatest coaches, and players of the decade. Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb had turned around the Eagles fortune in 2000, going 11-5 and altering the course of the franchise.
The Buccaneers were fresh off a trip to the conference championship. They also had the Greatest Show on Turf on the ropes until the final minutes of the game. Under Hall of Fame coach, Tony Dungy, the Bucs were on the precipice of becoming an NFC power.
The stage was set for the playoff rivalry to grow to new heights in the wildcard round. McNabb accounted for for 70% of the team’s yards in 2000 and in his first playoff game, scored three teams en-route to a 21-3 drubbing.
Jim Johnson and the Eagles defense suffocated Bucs QB, Shaun King with four sacks, and two fumbles.
Hugh Douglas dominated the Bucs all game with two of the four sacks and a fumble forced that changed the game completely. It was a game that not only showed what was to come with Donovan McNabb and the offense, but the dynamic aggressiveness that Eagle fans grew to love about the Jim Johnson defense.
As for the future matchups, the Bucs and Eagles would face off in two more playoff games in the next two years. It would be the last game Shaun King would play in as the starting QB for the Bucs, as they would bring in Brad Johnson for the next year.
Round Three: Domination and a Franchise Altering Decision
The 2001 season saw the emergence of the Eagles as the only dominant force in the NFC East. Philadelphia won its first division title since 1988, and hosted it’s second wild card game at home. It was also the first time they hosted back to back home playoff games since the 89-90 seasons.
Tampa Bay on the other hand, had less of a win total than the 2000 season, even after making a change at QB. For this playoff rematch, the Eagles would play the pocket passer, Brad Johnson instead of the scrambling QB in Shaun King. Tony Dungy was on the hot seat after numerous playoff losses.
While the Bucs kept the game relatively low scoring in the 2000 game, the Eagles absolutely demolished them the second time around in 2001, winning 31-9.
Jim Johnson’s defense picked off Johnson four different times, returning one for a TD. McNabb scored twice while having over 200 total yards through the air and ground.
What is important about this game isn’t the fact that it started the Eagles run to their first of four straight conference championship appearances. It’s the fact that Tony Dungy was fired two days after the playoff loss.
This franchise altering play changed, not just the two teams fortune, but the entire NFL for years to come. Dungy would end up going to Indianapolis and winning a Super Bowl with the Colts. The Bucs ended up trading multiple first round picks for Oakland Raiders HC, John Gruden. Gruden would affectively end any hope of relevancy for the Raiders for two decades and lead the Bucs to their first of two Super Bowl’s. One of the biggest what-if’s in NFL history is if Gruden never got traded to Tampa.
It was the third straight win for the Birds over Tampa. A streak that would end at the worst possible time the very next year.
Round Four: Absolute Heartbreak and Goodbye
If the Eagles fans reading this want to skip this, I totally understand. We all know what’s coming here.
The Bucs entered 2002 with a new head coach in John Gruden, and posted the most wins to that point in franchise history. The ’02 Buccaneers defense was one of the greatest in NFL history and was dominant all year. In the playoffs, they won each game by three scores or more.
The Eagles were the #1 seed in the NFC Playoffs for the first time since 1980, had Donovan McNabb back after a broken ankle earlier in the year, and had beaten the Bucs for a fourth straight time in the regular season. Veterans Stadium was in it’s final year and would host it’s second conference championship game. No-one expected the Buccaneers to win a freezing cold game, in a hostile environment to a team that had owned them for three years now.
We all know what happened. A big return to start. Staley striking first, and then the Bucs controlled the rest of the contest.
Ronde Barber delivered the final blow to the Vet and the fans with a 92 yard interception return for a TD to put the finishing touches on a dominating performance.
It’s a game that still upsets Eagles fans everywhere. Fans didn’t boo or scream and holler after the game. They were all stunned silent, heartbroken that the Vet could not go out a winner.
It would be over two decades before the Buccaneers would win another playoff game after their Super Bowl victory in 2002. The trade for Gruden, while working for one year, also set the team back in terms of draft picks.
The Eagles were back in the NFC Title game for the next two years and three total of the McNabb/Reid era, but all eventually ended in losses.
And while the Eagles would eventually win their first Super Bowl title, the loss in the 2002 NFC Title game will forever hurt in the hearts of Eagle fans.
Round Five: GOAT vs. Dog
They won’t be playing Brad Johnson or Shaun King. This time it’s the Greatest QB of All-Time in Tom Brady.
The birds are in familiar territory with their underdog mantra being the staple of the franchise over the last five years. The game, as always will be decided in the trenches but one thing is absolutely certain:
The Buccaneers/Eagles playoff rivalry is one that started old, got very hostile and is back to being much watch on Wild Card Weekend.
Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire