By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 20, 2006
TAMPA, Nov. 19 -- When Washington Redskins safety Troy Vincent blocked the field goal attempt that turned a sure loss into a soaring victory Nov. 5 against the Dallas Cowboys, it was considered in a euphoric locker room to be the great transforming break in a season of bad ones.
But instead of being propelled into what is a wide-open playoff hunt in the NFC, the Redskins have not won since. Sunday's 20-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers perhaps once and for all proved that exalting win over the Cowboys to be nothing more than an isolated incident, that Washington's mounting and obvious deficiencies, especially defensively, could never be overcome with an instant of good luck.
The focus of the week had been the NFL debut of 24-year-old quarterback Jason Campbell against the backdrop of a lost season. The Redskins were 3-6 and had seemed to adopt a rebuilding attitude: After an ineffective Mark Brunell could not elevate the Redskins, Campbell was the future and eventually the Redskins needed to see what he could do in a game situation.
But the truth, Redskins players sourly acknowledged after a poised and confident Campbell acquitted himself by completing 19 of 34 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns, is that Campbell's presence never did represent the white flag of surrender. That dishonor belonged to their defense, which gave up 181 yards rushing to a Tampa Bay team that had averaged 81.2, as well as sustained drives and big plays as it has all season.
"We have to make plays when the opportunity comes. We have to stop the run. We have to stop the pass. We have to tackle, and we have to start hitting the right buttons," said cornerback Shawn Springs, whose first-half interception of Tampa Bay quarterback Bruce Gradkowksi thwarted a scoring drive. "This has been our season."
If Campbell, who completed passes to seven receivers, displayed an energy the Redskins have lacked for weeks, his teammates and even his coaches did not seem to share much of his enthusiasm. On the team's first offensive play of the game, he threw a deep pass to Brandon Lloyd, who let the ball drop through his fingers.
Outside of Campbell, the Redskins seemed for most of the game so out of sync that Coach Joe Gibbs was angrier than he had been in months. The game turned crucially when Ladell Betts fumbled on the Redskins 40 with the game tied at 10 and 11 minutes 4 seconds left. Three plays later, they lost the game for good.
But Gibbs was already steaming. Even though the Redskins were playing a first-time starter at quarterback, they ran the ball just eight times in the first half and Tampa Bay held the ball for 20:02 of the first two quarters. Through three quarters, the Buccaneers held the ball for nearly 30 minutes.
Afterward, after watching a weak running team steamroll his defense while his offense ran the ball just 20 times, a stern Gibbs said the Redskins had lost their "principles."
With Campbell, the Redskins had put a new face in to counteract old problems. The Redskins had been outscored 53-0 in the third quarter over the previous five games, the pivotal period for them this season. But Campbell gave the Redskins a 10-3 lead on the opening drive of the second half. He took the team 74 yards in 12 plays for his first touchdown pass, a three-yarder to Chris Cooley.
It was the first time a Redskins quarterback had thrown a touchdown pass in the third quarter since Christmas Eve, when Patrick Ramsey hit Santana Moss with a 72-yard pass in a 35-20 win over the Giants.
But it was the defense, which all season has failed to stop opponents in the third quarter, that cracked. Tampa Bay countered Campbell's scoring drive with a 14-play, 85-yard touchdown drive that ended freakishly when Bruce Gradkowski's slant pass to Joey Galloway bounced off the wide receiver's chest and into the arms of tight end Anthony Becht. Two drives later, after the Betts fumble, Galloway beat Carlos Rogers deep for a 34-yard touchdown and a 17-10 Tampa Bay lead.
"It's just unacceptable," defensive end Renaldo Wynn said. "We just let teams run up and down on us. It's just not right."
By the time Campbell got the ball back with 3:50 remaining, the Buccaneers had tacked on a field goal for a 20-10 lead.
The NFC claims only one team not leading a division, Dallas, with a record more than one game over .500, meaning that a 9-7 record or even an 8-8 mark could qualify for the playoffs. A victory -- especially with three consecutive home games coming up -- would have put the Redskins in striking distance of the postseason. On an afternoon when Philadelphia, Atlanta, Green Bay, St. Louis and Minnesota lost, remaining near .500 would have kept hope alive.
But the Redskins gave up 359 yards -- the fifth consecutive game in which the sputtering defense has yielded at least 344 yards of total offense. Now, with the team at 3-7, the development of Campbell is what primarily gives the remaining portion of the season its value.
"That's what's crazy about it, but at this point we can't worry about everybody else. We have to take care of things at home because we've got problems here," left tackle Chris Samuels said. "Everything is set for us to take this year, but we've put ourselves in such a big hole I don't know if we can get out of it."