Slip Slidin' Away
Monday, November 26, 2007
TAMPA, Nov. 25 -- Careless with the football in the beginning of Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Washington Redskins seemed to be speeding toward a blowout loss. The Buccaneers forced and recovered four fumbles on the Redskins' first five possessions, converting the turnovers into an early 16-point lead.
Fortunately for the Redskins, however, their defense was sharp. Tampa Bay struggled offensively while playing most of the game without starting quarterback Jeff Garcia (he left after injuring his back on the first series and was out until the fourth quarter), and Washington got moving after its shaky start.
The Redskins scored a touchdown on the opening possession of the second half and were in position to kick a field goal on their next drive. But on fourth and one at Tampa Bay's 4-yard line, with the Redskins still needing to score twice to take the lead, Coach Joe Gibbs decided to go for the first down. Running back Clinton Portis was stopped for no gain, changing the course of the game in the Buccaneers' 19-13 victory in front of 65,596 at Raymond James Stadium.
"It was inches, I felt like," Gibbs said. "And it was our best shot right there. I thought, 'Hey, if we get that then we have a chance to score right there' and I felt like we could get it."
Place kicker Shaun Suisham made a 38-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, which would have put the Redskins within three points of tying the score had they been successful on a short field goal attempt on the drive that ended with Gibbs's gamble. Instead, needing to score a touchdown, the Redskins passed often down the stretch, which played to the strength of the Buccaneers' defense. Trying to team with wide receiver Santana Moss, quarterback Jason Campbell was intercepted on the final two drives, capping the team's six-turnover performance.
"It's different if you have to score a field goal to win the game" or tie the score, Campbell said. "If you've got to score a touchdown, you understand they play the end zone."
Washington (5-6) lost its third consecutive game and has dropped four of its last five. The Redskins had 412 total yards while limiting NFC South-leading Tampa Bay (7-4) to 192, including only 15 in the second half. And the Buccaneers had no first downs after halftime, going three and out on their final four possessions before Garcia kneeled to run out the clock.
Gibbs, who players said dressed them down angrily at halftime, has been criticized for being too conservative at times, but after the Redskins dropped below .500 for the first time this season, critics were left to wonder about what might have been if Gibbs had played it safe against the Buccaneers.
"We didn't go nowhere," Portis said. "We went backward. As a team, we got to find a way to get that. It really changed the game."
Portis fumbled twice and Moss and Campbell also fumbled as the Redskins contributed to their early 16-0 deficit. Garcia was shaken up on the first play from scrimmage when defensive Cornelius Griffin tackled him after a one-yard gain, and backup Bruce Gradkowski replaced Garcia.
Tampa Bay running back Earnest Graham scored on a one-yard touchdown run after Moss, who caught a seven-yard pass from Campbell on the Redskins' first play from scrimmage, had the ball stripped by cornerback Phillip Buchanon. Safety Tanard Jackson recovered the fumble (he also recovered Portis's first fumble) and Graham ran three times for 19 yards, helping Tampa Bay take a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
But with the Redskins playing well defensively, the Buccaneers failed to break the game open despite recovering three more fumbles with more than 11 minutes remaining in the half. The Buccaneers settled for three field goals by Matt Bryant, who kicked four field goals in the first half. Suisham kicked a 43-yard field goal in the second quarter, and the Redskins trailed 19-3 at the half.