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Bucs' Aging Offense Isn't a Thing of Beauty

Veteran-Laden Unit Unable to Dent Redskins

By Mark Schlabach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 13, 2004; Page D13

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed a collection of aging, thirty-something former superstars during the offseason to shore up their mediocre offense. But while there are many new and weathered faces surrounding quarterback Brad Johnson and fullback Mike Alstott, the Bucs' offensive problems were all too familiar in yesterday's 16-10 loss to the Redskins at FedEx Field.

The Buccaneers failed to score an offensive touchdown against the Redskins -- cornerback Ronde Barber, the former University of Virginia star, scored six of their points on a nine-yard fumble return. Tampa Bay didn't gain a first down until 7 1/2 minutes remained in the second quarter, and the Bucs ran 15 times for only 30 yards, their fewest rushing yards since gaining 19 in a 27-24 loss to the Chicago Bears on Nov. 18, 2001.

Washington linebacker LaVar Arrington arrives to help safety Matt Bowen (2 sacks) haul down Tampa Bay running back Mike Alstott, who managed just five yards rushing on four carries. (Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)

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"They played a decent football game, but today was all about what we didn't do," Buccaneers wide receiver Tim Brown said. "We didn't move the football."

The Redskins certainly had a lot to do with Tampa Bay's problems, as they blitzed the Buccaneers on nearly every down, Bucs Coach Jon Gruden said. The Redskins sacked Johnson four times, including safety Matt Bowen's jarring hit, which caused the quarterback to fumble at his 33-yard line on the team's third possession. Later, when the Bucs were trying to rally from a 13-10 deficit in the fourth quarter, Johnson was sacked on consecutive plays.

"We knew they'd saved a lot of blitzes for us," said Johnson, who started 27 games for the Redskins during the 1999 and 2000 seasons. "Today was not a good day."

Brown, 38, rejoined Gruden, his former coach in Oakland, after the Raiders cut him last month. Along with former Oakland running back Charlie Garner and wide receiver Joey Galloway, whom the Bucs acquired from the Cowboys in a trade for Keyshawn Johnson, Brown was expected to bring more firepower to Tampa Bay, even if he's probably playing in the final games of his career.

But against Washington's aggressive, blitzing defense, the Buccaneers found little room to run and didn't have enough time to throw downfield. Garner ran 11 times for 25 yards, and Alstott, who missed all but four games last season because of a neck injury, gained only five yards on four carries. The Redskins stopped Alstott and Garner for no gain or losses on five of their 15 carries. The Bucs played without Michael Pittman, their leading rusher the last two seasons, while he serves a three-game suspension for domestic violence charges.

"We had trouble getting much going offensively," Gruden said. "The myriad of blitzes we got today makes it very difficult at times to run the ball. You've got to hit a big play somewhere in the passing game. You have to deliver a big play, somewhere, somehow, to try to get the defense out of the system that they are running."

But Johnson and his receivers were unable to do that, especially after Galloway was hurt early in the second quarter. With Tampa Bay facing third and five from the Redskins 29-yard line, Galloway ran across the field and broke behind safety Sean Taylor and cornerback Walt Harris on the right side of the end zone. Johnson fired a perfect pass to Galloway, who dropped the ball and then pulled up lame.

The Buccaneers said Galloway strained a groin muscle and is doubtful to play in next week's home opener against the Seattle Seahawks. Without Galloway and Keenan McCardell, who is holding out in a bitter contract dispute with the club, the Bucs had to rely on Brown and veteran Bill Schroeder, who signed with the team on Aug. 10. Rookie Michael Clayton, the team's first-round draft choice from LSU, led the Bucs with seven catches for 53 yards.

Johnson completed 24 of 37 passes for 169 yards -- an average of only 4.6 yards per attempt. Early in the fourth quarter, Johnson tried to throw to Brown over the middle, but his pass was intercepted by linebacker Antonio Pierce, who returned it 16 yards to the Tampa Bay 39. Washington's John Hall kicked a 30-yard field goal six plays later to put the Redskins ahead 13-10.

"There's no excuses in the NFL," Tampa Bay tackle Derrick Deese said. "As an offense, we didn't put up points. We got on that field today and just didn't produce. We need work, definitely. As an offense, we're just not there."

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