Stellar Defensive Effort Comes With a Flip Side

Buccaneers running back Earnest Graham is stopped in his tracks by the Redskins' defense. Tampa Bay failed to rush for 100 yards as a team and its passing game was held to just 115 yards total.
Buccaneers running back Earnest Graham is stopped in his tracks by the Redskins' defense. Tampa Bay failed to rush for 100 yards as a team and its passing game was held to just 115 yards total. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 26, 2007

TAMPA, Nov. 25 -- There has been a persistent undercurrent to Joe Gibbs's second tenure as coach of the Washington Redskins that the offense is being outperformed by the defense. On Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, the two seemed to be entirely separate entities, with the defense conceding little for most of the afternoon and the offense concocting various ways to give this game away.

The Redskins' 19-13 defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- another tough loss to an NFC playoff hopeful -- was one-sided, as even the points Washington gave up could be traced to offensive errors. The Redskins turned the ball over six times -- including four first-half giveaways in Washington territory -- which led directly to 16 points in the opening 20 minutes of the game. Thus the Redskins (5-6, 3-5 against the NFC) now may have to win every remaining game to reach the playoffs.

On Sunday, the defense allowed field goals as opposed to touchdowns, keeping the Redskins in a game that could have been over after one quarter. In the second half, with the Redskins trailing by 16 points, the team could afford no long drives; the defense responded by not allowing a first down in the entire half, surrendering only 15 net yards in the final two quarters on 13 plays.

"I'm really, really proud of our fight, and we understood exactly what we had to take away," assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said. "I'm disappointed we gave up a touchdown on a short field to start the game because they didn't do anything we didn't know. But our guys fought and we got some negative-yardage plays which were outstanding, but the thing we didn't do was shorten the field for our offense."

Still, most objectives were met. The Redskins knocked Tampa Bay's most important player -- quarterback Jeff Garcia -- from the game on the opening series, as he injured his back when driven to the ground. Garcia fought through the pain to return in the fourth quarter, but was not effective and the Buccaneers could not advance the football. With inexperienced Bruce Gradkowski in the game, however, the opportunities to force turnovers were scant as Tampa Bay played a ball-control game, letting Gradkowski take no chances and pounding the ball on the ground.

"They made it hard to get the ball from them. That was just smart coaching," safeties coach Steve Jackson said. "We played as aggressive as we could trying to equal out the turnover ratio."

Williams said he needs to make no special efforts to prevent the natural tendency in these situations for a defense to turn on an offense. Still, the offense could not get the ball in the end zone inside the red zone. Again, they were careless with the football and failed on a late-game drive.

Meantime, the Buccaneers' offense was on the field for just 5 minutes 14 seconds in the second half. From the point at which the Redskins fell behind 19-3, every time the defense had to make a stop, it did. But the offense turned over the ball on four of its first five drives as well as its final two possessions.

"We're still a team, we've just got to learn to not turn the ball over," defensive end Phillip Daniels said. "Whenever you turn the ball over that many times it's hard to win, but at the same time we got their back."

Linebacker London Fletcher, a team leader and one of few Redskins in recent years to address players on both sides of the ball during halftime remarks, said: "There's still so many things we can do better as a defense, and when you look at our offense in the previous three games they've given us enough points to win the game. So they've got to stay encouraged and protect the ball better, and defensively we've got to improve, too."

Privately, there are frustrations within the locker room although players said they are not anticipating any outbursts or disturbances. But since Gibbs took over in 2004, the defense has been a top 10 unit every season save for 2006 season, while the offense is perpetually looking for an identity, failing to score sufficiently and repeating mistakes.

"We'll be in there side by side with them," Williams said. "Our guys are professionals. We've got good strong guys. They're professionals. We've got to keep on doing what we're doing and find another way to make a play or two."

On Sunday, the Buccaneers failed to muster 100 rushing yards as a team, and passed for just 115 total yards, with Gradkowski's errant nature aiding Washington's cause. The Redskins registered three sacks and allowed Tampa Bay to convert only one third down all game (1 for 12), yet flew home with their third straight loss and the feeling that another season may be slipping away.

"We know what we need to do: score points to win games, and we need to put our defense in better situations," Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss said. "It doesn't need to be said. We done been here before."

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