The Washington Redskins successfully defended their turf during pregame stretching drills. They did fine for nearly three quarters of the game, as well. But then they unraveled and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looked like the reigning Super Bowl champions, finishing with four unanswered touchdowns to overwhelm the Redskins, 35-13, yesterday at FedEx Field.
The focus during the week had been on the warning issued by Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington that he would "get" Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp if Sapp pranced through the Redskins' stretching lines before the game as he had done to the Indianapolis Colts last Monday night. Arrington warmed up with his helmet on. But Sapp, after being "reminded" by the NFL that an incident could get him penalized, ejected or fined, steered clear of a pregame confrontation. Yet as Arrington acknowledged in the Redskins' somber postgame locker room, "He got the last laugh."
Tampa Bay's Simeon Rice grabs Patrick Ramsey by the ankles for a sack in the second quarter. Rice had a career-high four sacks in the 35-13 victory.
(Joe Giza - Reuters)
The Redskins (3-3) suffered their second straight defeat after a 3-1 start, and for the first time this season did not play a game decided in the final moments. They led 13-7 after place kicker John Hall drilled a 51-yard field goal 4 minutes 39 seconds into the third quarter. But the defense collapsed, allowing the Buccaneers (3-2) to use a short dump-off pass to convert a third-and-15 play into a first down with 9 minutes 33 seconds left in the quarter. That put Tampa Bay on its way to reeling off touchdown drives of 80, 91 and 70 yards on consecutive possessions.
Many of the 85,490 fans already had begun to boo the Redskins or head toward the exits by the time Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks applied the exclamation point by going 44 yards with an interception return for a touchdown with 6:55 to play. Redskins Coach Steve Spurrier gave the all-but-official surrender at that point by yanking quarterback Patrick Ramsey for the first time this season, saying later that he inserted Rob Johnson over Ramsey's objection because he felt the game had been decided and he didn't want Ramsey to take any more hits.
"They kicked our tails," Spurrier said. "They're a better team than we are. That's all you can say. We played with them quite a while, until about the middle of the third quarter, and then they took over. . . . They seemed to get stronger as the game went, and we didn't."
The Buccaneers rebounded from their defeat Monday, when they squandered a three-touchdown lead in the final minutes against the Indianapolis Colts and lost in overtime, 38-35. That punctured the aura of invincibility for a defense that carried Tampa Bay to its Super Bowl triumph in January. However, some of the swagger returned while the Buccaneers were amassing six sacks yesterday, four -- matching the single-game team record -- by defensive end Simeon Rice and two by Sapp.
"We knew our title -- plus our character -- was on the line," said Rice, who regularly was able to get matchups with Redskins' running backs and tight ends and overpower them. "So we wanted to step up to the plate and show who we truly are and why we are truly playing this game."
The Buccaneers fixed a major problem area by shifting Dwight Smith from safety to cornerback to replace the injured Brian Kelly. They limited the Redskins to 68 rushing yards and constantly harassed Ramsey, who completed 21 of 32 passes for 211 yards and was sacked four times.
Buccaneers quarterback Brad Johnson threw four touchdown passes against his former team. Three went to his tight ends, Todd Yoder and Will Heller. The Redskins found no solutions for a misdirection play in which Tampa Bay faked a run to one side of the field and had Johnson roll out the other way and get the ball to the tight end. Johnson also victimized Redskins safety Matt Bowen for a 39-yard scoring toss to wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson in the fourth quarter.
"It seemed like everything went downhill for us," Redskins middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said. "It was two different games, the first half and the second half. . . . Nobody on defense made plays. Nobody."
Rice forced a turnover on the Redskins' opening drive when he lined up against Robert Royal and slipped to the inside of the tight end, stripping the ball from Ramsey on a sack from behind. Rice also made the recovery. The Redskins' defense held in three plays and the offense crafted an 18-play drive but had to settle for Hall's 33-yard field goal. The Redskins had only a 3-0 edge after a first quarter in which they held the ball for more than 13 of the 15 minutes and outgained Tampa Bay, 111 yards to five.
The Buccaneers -- aided by a roughing-the-quarterback personal foul on defensive end Regan Upshaw -- went 85 yards for a touchdown, capped by Brad Johnson's one-yard pass to Yoder. But the Redskins put together a touchdown drive just before halftime to retake the lead. Ramsey zipped a pass just beyond the reach of safety John Lynch for a 22-yard gain on a slant pattern by wideout Rod Gardner. That got the Redskins to the Tampa 2-yard line, and Ramsey connected with wide receiver Darnerien McCants for the touchdown 14 seconds before the break.
The Redskins extended their lead early in the third quarter. An offsides penalty on Smith on a Redskins punt moved the ball close enough for Hall to nail his long field goal. A taunting penalty on wide receiver Keenan McCardell for tossing the ball at Arrington following a play put Tampa in its third-and-15 predicament at its 15-yard line. The Redskins, though, were curiously aggressive. Both Arrington and fellow outside linebacker Jessie Armstead lined up on the defense's right side and blitzed. Johnson calmly lobbed the ball to tailback Michael Pittman in the area that the two linebackers had vacated, and Pittman ran for an 18-yard gain and a first down.
"That was the turning point," Arrington said. "If a play is called, you play it. I think we needed to step up and make a play. I know I came after Brad so hard. I saw him, but I couldn't get there. . . . I thought we had gotten so much pressure on him throughout the game that Brad would get rattled, but champions make big plays."
The Redskins' linebackers have been allowed to take some unscripted gambles under new defensive coordinator George Edwards, and there were suggestions afterward that's what happened on that play. Spurrier said the Redskins "blew an assignment." Armstead said there had been a "communication breakdown." Said Trotter: "Everybody has got to play their assignment. The bottom line is, when you get an opportunity to make a play, you've got to make it. That's all I'm going to say."
The Redskins offered little resistance from there. Johnson put the Buccaneers in front by rolling to his right and getting the ball to an uncovered Yoder for an 11-yard touchdown. Gardner got a step on Smith but Ramsey got hit as he delivered his pass and had his underthrown ball intercepted by the fill-in cornerback. Tampa Bay rolled to another similar-looking touchdown, with Johnson faking a pitch to the left and rolling right to find Heller for a four-yard score.
"They figured something out," Arrington said. "And we didn't figure it out with them. . . . We had an opportunity to show that we are a legitimate contender, and we let that opportunity slip away."
Keyshawn Johnson breezed past Bowen for his touchdown with 8:48 left, and defensive tackle Anthony McFarland was grabbing Ramsey as he threw the desperate pass that Brooks intercepted and turned into a touchdown. The Buccaneers weren't about to let a hefty late lead slip away this time.
"Yes, it was pointed out 86 times," Coach Jon Gruden said. "I've never been more uncomfortable with a 22-point lead in my life."
The Redskins, however, merely were trying to get to the final whistle without any more injuries or indignities.
"This hurt," veteran defensive end Bruce Smith said. "This hurts bad to put so much work and effort in to lose, and lose bad. With the people we have in this locker room, this shouldn't happen."