By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
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.
"You have to give a lot of credit to our defense," left guard Pete Kendall said. "To keep us in the game, and give us a chance to win at the end, that was something. Short of turning it over for a touchdown, I don't believe we could have put them in any worse of a spot than we did."
But Campbell and the offense rebounded.
Returning to the site of his first NFL start last season, Campbell, who completed 30 of 49 passes for 301 yards with one touchdown and the two interceptions, overcame the pain of a bruised forearm to spark a second-half turnaround. Washington opened the second half with a nine-play, 73-yard drive that ended with Campbell's 39-yard touchdown pass to tight end Chris Cooley. Washington got the ball back quickly when the Buccaneers punted after gaining only eight yards on their first possession after halftime.
"Let's take one positive thing out of it," said Gregg Williams, the Redskins' assistant head coach-defense. "You play pretty dang good on defense whenever you play behind six turnovers and only give up" 19 points.
The Redskins started on their 30-yard line with 9 minutes 5 seconds remaining in the quarter. On the drive, Washington received big contributions from wide receivers Keenan McCardell (six catches for 60 yards in the game) and the little-used Reche Caldwell (five for 43) after wide receiver Antwaan Randle El left in the first half because of a recurring hamstring injury.
Working out of the shotgun at times, Campbell used 12 plays to direct Washington to Tampa Bay's 4-yard line. Needing what appeared to be less than a full yard, Gibbs didn't hesitate to go for the first down. The Redskins ran a play to the left side behind Kendall and left tackle Chris Samuels, which ended badly for Washington when Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks collided with Portis behind the line of scrimmage.
"I just felt like at that point, with six inches to go there or whatever it was, I felt like it was time for us to kind of go for at it at that point," Gibbs said. "I felt like that was the smart call."
Campbell had the option to change the play to a quarterback sneak, but giving the ball to Portis was the correct call because of the Buccaneers' defensive alignment, Campbell said.
"The game shapes up differently [if you make a short field goal], but you never know what can happen," Campbell said. "Coach made a decision for us to go for it on fourth down. As players . . . we have to get it. We have to reach down deep inside and get the first down. If we get that first down, the game shapes up differently in one way. If we kick a field goal, the game shapes up differently in another way. You never know."
On two other fourth-down plays in the quarter, Portis rushed for first downs. And when the Redskins "were in fourth and short like that last week against Dallas, a lot of times we felt like maybe we should take a chance and go for it," Campbell said. "This week we did take those chances. We got stopped on that one. It's a hard decision."