By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 20, 2006
TAMPA, Nov. 19 -- With the season in the balance and another close game at hand in the second half, the Washington Redskins' defense collapsed again. For the sixth straight game they allowed a deflating scoring drive to open the third quarter, this time an 85-yard, will-crushing march by Tampa Bay to key a 20-17 victory at Raymond James Stadium and leave the Redskins near the bottom of the NFC with a 3-7 record.
The defense ranked 30th in the league entering this game and was out-muscled and out-maneuvered by what had been one of the limpest attacks in the NFL, with rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski and second-year tailback Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, mired in a season-long slump, leading an offense that amassed 181 rushing yards and 359 yards overall, while holding the ball for 36 minutes. That Tampa Bay came into the game ranked 28th on passing yards and 31st in yards per carry (3.7) was of no matter, as the Redskins proved again they can stop virtually no one this season.
"I never thought that would have happened," lineman Renaldo Wynn, the dean of Washington's defense, said of the stinging outcome. "You couldn't have convinced me that it would go down like that, that they would run the ball like that on us, and then, the icing on the cake, to bleed the clock like that. A little girl watching in the fourth quarter in the upper deck, she knew that they were going to be running then, and for us not to stop it, that's something I'm not used to, and I take it personally. I take it to heart.
"The way Cadillac ran that ball, he wanted it more than we did, period. And that can't happen. We can't allow that to happen."
Williams churned up 122 yards on 27 carries and was potent in the second half, plowing through tackles, hurdling Redskins and fighting for extra yards. He ran 14 times for 76 yards in the second half, including six straight times in the fourth quarter, with Tampa Bay leading 17-10. Those six rushes moved the Buccaneers 44 yards to set up Matt Bryant's decisive 31-yard field goal.
"Watching the film, we knew we were going to be able to attack then with the running game," Williams said.
"We couldn't stop the run all day," tackle Cornelius Griffin said. "We couldn't get off the field. It's very frustrating."
While that drive finished off the Redskins, the tide of the game began to turn late in the first half, when Tampa Bay sliced the defense for an 85-yard drive, only to stall at the 10 when Shawn Springs intercepted a pass. Washington's offense, with youngster Jason Campbell making his first NFL start, compiled its best-looking series to open the half, and Campbell's first touchdown pass provided a 10-3 lead. After the defense crumbled so easily in response, the game would never be the same.
"We're playing with a young quarterback and he goes out and gets us the lead," cornerbacks coach Jerry Gray said. "And with the lead we've got to go strangle them, and we didn't do it."
Instead, they surrendered a 14-play, 85-yard drive that swung momentum firmly in Tampa Bay's favor, capped by a two-yard touchdown pass from Gradkowski that bounced off wide receiver Joey Galloway and landed in the arms of tight end Anthony Becht. Gradkowski, a sixth-round pick in 2006 who was rushed into action when starter Chris Simms ruptured his spleen in September, went 6 for 6 for 55 yards on the drive, and opposing passers are now 25 for 29 for 282 yards and four touchdowns on drives to start the second half over the last six games, for a near perfect rating of 146.7 (out of 158.3). Opponents have converted 10 of 13 chances on third and fourth down on those drives as well.
"We're just not stopping anybody in the third quarter," Springs said. "We've got to work harder."
On the next possession, assistant head coach Gregg Williams gambled with an all-out blitz -- unable to generate regular pressure on the quarterback throughout his three seasons leading the defense -- and was burned. Williams called for Cover 0, bringing safeties Vernon Fox and Sean Taylor near the line to rush the passer from the same side. Galloway was one-on-one with slumping corner Carlos Rogers in the slot and easily caught a 34-yard touchdown pass on third and four early in the fourth quarter for a 17-10 lead.
"I probably hung us out to dry on that one," Williams said of the all-out blitz. "I probably should have been a little more conservative."
"When you run a Cover 0, if they block you up they've got a chance," Gray said. "And they max protected, blocked it up, ran a three-man route, and the middle of the field is open."
Tampa would never trail again, and Gradkowski (104.9 rating) joined Vince Young and Tony Romo as first-year passers to thrive at Washington's expense. Quarterbacks have thrown 19 touchdowns to three interceptions against the Redskins, with a sparkling 104.7 collective rating, highest in the NFL.
Carnell Williams dominated the rest of the game, forging ahead for yards and keeping the clock ticking on the game, and, ultimately, Washington's season.