Sunday, January 8, 2006
TAMPA, Jan. 7 -- The Washington Redskins were unable to run the ball or pass it. They fumbled three times, and recovered each one. They lost one of their top defensive linemen with a fractured arm in the first quarter, and their best young defender was thrown out of the game late in the third quarter for spitting at an opponent.
But in a manner that has come to characterize their charmed life over the past month and a half, the Redskins advanced to the second round of the National Football League playoffs Saturday, defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 17-10, through a combination of a stalwart defense and just enough good fortune.
Washington, which has won six games in a row, will play the No. 1 seed in the National Football Conference, the 13-3 Seattle Seahawks, next Saturday in Seattle. The Redskins beat the Seahawks, 20-17, in overtime at FedEx Field on Oct. 2.
"There were two really good defenses out there," Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said. "Our defense just played outstanding. I'm really proud of them. I thought we were in real trouble there at the end. But our defense rose up again."
Redskins defenders had to survive several fourth-quarter scares, not the least of which was a controversial incomplete pass in the end zone to Tampa Bay wide receiver Edell Shepherd with 2 minutes 55 seconds remaining. It appeared at first that Shepherd, with rookie cornerback Carlos Rogers trying to defend, had held on to the ball for a 35-yard touchdown. But the ball came loose at the last instant as Shepherd hit the ground and the pass was immediately ruled incomplete. The Buccaneers challenged the call, but a replay review by referee Mike Carey confirmed the ruling on the field.
"I thought [Shepherd] had both hands on the ball in the end zone," Tampa Bay Coach Jon Gruden said. "I got several different explanations [from game officials]. The bottom line is it was all for naught. . . . I agree with the final verdict."
The end zone call was just one of many plays that went the Redskins' way in a game in which Washington had just 120 yards total offense, the fewest by the winning team in a playoff game. The Redskins totaled just 41 yards throwing the ball.
The victory was not assured until Redskins linebacker Marcus Washington intercepted the last of several tipped passes thrown by Tampa Bay quarterback Chris Simms, touching off a spirited celebration on the Washington sideline with 57 seconds remaining.
"Somebody made a tip," Washington said. "I was in the right place at the right time. I was just thinking, 'Don't drop it and try to make something happen.' "
Ironically, the Redskins had lost their regular season game to the Buccaneers here on Nov. 13 on another disputed officiating call. Tampa Bay fullback Mike Alstott had scored that day on a two-point conversion run with 58 seconds remaining for a 36-35 victory. The Redskins challenged the play, claiming Alstott was down before he got into the end zone, but the call was upheld by replay review.
Three hours before kickoff at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday, more than 500 exuberant Washington fans in town for the game had already turned nearby Al Lopez Park in the west parking lot into what many were calling "FedEx Field South." Singing their team's fight song and waving team banners from the curb off Martin Luther King Boulevard, they descended on the city to watch Washington's first playoff game, and playoff victory, since the 1999-2000 season, when the Buccaneers eliminated the Redskins in the second round.
In the chill of a rare Florida cold snap, their hearts were immediately warmed by what they saw. In the game's first 11 minutes, the Redskins' defense set up one touchdown with a LaVar Arrington interception and scored another on safety Sean Taylor's 51-yard return of a fumble for a 14-0 lead. The Buccaneers could never overcome those two crucial turnovers, and trailed 17-3 at halftime.