The Counterpoint on Two Points

By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 4, 2006

TAMPA, Jan. 3 -- It was a controversial play, made by one of the most popular players in franchise history, that helped transform the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' season. The two-point conversion run by fullback Mike Alstott with 58 seconds remaining against the Washington Redskins on Nov. 13 gave the Bucs a 36-35 victory and prevented a third straight loss and potential tailspin.

Instead, Tampa Bay won six of its last eight games and the NFC South Division title. The play also had the potential to be a watershed event for the Redskins, because it led to the first of three straight losses and a 5-6 record until Washington pounded its way out of the doldrums and into the playoffs by winning its last five games.

The teams will meet again Saturday at Raymond James Stadium in a first-round playoff game and that two-point run in one of the most dramatic games of the season still remains a lively topic of conversation -- even for the Bucs.

Tampa Bay had initially attempted an extra point that would have tied the game and likely forced overtime. The Redskins blocked the kick, but were called for jumping offside, pushing the ball to within a yard of the goal line. At that point, Tampa Bay Coach Jon Gruden decided to put the game, and likely his team's season, in Alstott's hands.

"It was the logical thing to do," Gruden said this week. "The ball wasn't at the 2-yard line, it was at the 1. And we had had previous success at the goal line [that day, with two previous short Alstott touchdown runs]. Quite frankly, the Redskins had been moving the ball on us. Fortunately, for us, it all worked out."

It worked out badly for the Redskins, who remain convinced that Alstott was stopped short of the goal line. But game officials ruled that the ball had crossed the plane of the goal line and signaled a touchdown. The play was reviewed, and because there was no evidence available on instant replay to indicate the call should have been reversed, the winning points went up on the board and stayed there.

Asked about the play after practice on Tuesday, Alstott scowled and said, "It's over, let it go, there's another game to play," and declined further elaboration.

But rookie Dan Buenning, the starting left guard, said: "He was definitely in, no question it was a touchdown. I was right there in front of him. He landed on top of me and we were both in the end zone. I'm the guy who was blocking the camera angle. He scored. I saw it."

Still, seconds before the play, at least one skeptic spoke very vocally to the national television audience about Gruden's decision.

"I don't agree with this call," Fox analyst Troy Aikman, the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback, said on the broadcast. "I don't agree with this call and only because there's still time on the clock. And with Washington with two timeouts, they still have time to move the football down for a field goal. . . . Boy, this is risky."

"I don't know if it's a no-brainer," Gruden said this week of his decision to go for the two points. "I've never done that before, and you don't see it done very often where a team goes for it. Who knows [if the Bucs hadn't made the two-point play]? There are so many coaching changes these days, there's a chance there could have been a change here, too.

"All you can do is what you feel is right at the time, do your homework and make the call. . . . You can't worry about instinct. . . . You have to live with the calls you make and if your heart is in it, at least you feel good about it at the end of the night, no matter what happens."

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