By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 12, 2010; 9:13 PM
After receiver Santana Moss hauled in a touchdown that pulled Washington to within one point, all that separated the Redskins from overtime was nine ticks of the clock, a light rain and a routine 20-yard extra point that should have tied the score.
As he trotted onto the field, placekicker Graham Gano was already thinking ahead.
"I was envisioning an overtime field goal coming," he said. "I was going to win the game."
Others weren't as confident. Gano had missed two field goals in the first half against Tampa Bay. Because of the conditions, even though the first-year kicker was a perfect 22 of 22 on extra points this season, little was guaranteed.
"We had a couple guys saying, 'Go for the two, go for the two,'" said cornerback DeAngelo Hall.
The snap was high and the ball sailed through the hands of holder Hunter Smith. Gano never had a chance to swing his leg - he was instead bowled over by Tampa Bay players - and the Redskins lost their eighth game of the season Sunday, 17-16, to the Buccaneers.
There was no shortage of players willing to accept blame for the botched play that sealed Washington's fate.
"What happened tonight is my fault," said Smith.
Nick Sundberg conceded that his final snap was far from perfect.
"I think it was a little higher than I wanted it to be," said Sundberg, the first-year long snapper.
Said Gano: "I got to make those kicks, and hopefully I'll get another opportunity."
Despite the disastrous conclusion, the 3 1/2 minutes that led up to the extra point attempt unfolded about as well as coaches could have hoped. They had relied on running back Ryan Torain's legs all day, but, trailing by seven points, it was Donovan McNabb's arm that they needed in the hurry-up offense.
McNabb was benched earlier this season because coaches weren't comfortable with his ability to execute the two-minute offense, but that apparently was not a concern when the game was on the line Sunday.
"We're confident every time we get out there, whether we move the ball or not," Moss said. "We're confident. We have the guys, we have the plays, we have the coaches.
"We just have to grasp what we have and do something with it."
Starting at the Redskins' 25-yard line, McNabb worked quickly, hitting tight end Chris Cooley for seven yards, receiver Anthony Armstrong for eight, Cooley again for 15 and tailback Keiland Williams for 15. On the drive, in fact, McNabb completed 8 of 12 passes for 78 yards. Four different pass catchers pulled in receptions and with 32 seconds remaining, the Redskins trailed by seven points and faced first and goal from Tampa Bay's two-yard line.
"I thought it was going well for us," said McNabb, who finished the day 22 of 35 for 228 yards and two touchdowns. "There were many opportunities for us, each and every guy really made plays for us.
"I think that's important, because now you can't just key on one particular guy."
Finally, on fourth down, McNabb was able to hit Moss in the end zone. Despite the rain and the sparse crowd, emotions were high as the two teams appeared to be heading into overtime. Instead, the bad snap on the extra point sent the Redskins into the locker room, having to swallow a fourth straight loss at home.
"I ain't never been a part of nothing like that. Never," said Moss, the Redskins' leading receiver Sunday with 82 yards on seven catches. "I've done been a part of some crap, but I ain't never been a part of that."
Conditions were not ideal throughout the day.
The rain never stopped, the temperature was 43 degrees on the field and there was a slight breeze. But Gano said he actually enjoyed "one of the best warm-ups I've ever had in my life."
He drilled one practice field goal from 58 yards out.
"I don't think I missed inside of 50," he said. "Going in, I was confident.
"I thought I was going to hit the ball real, real well."
As the Redskins lined up for the extra point, Sundberg wrapped his hands around a ball that was slick and heavy with water. Though it had been that way the entire game, Sundberg felt he could've gotten off a better snap.
Smith doesn't blame the long snapper. Now in his 12th season in the NFL, the veteran punter said he's never failed to catch a snap with the game at stake.
"I have to catch the ball and put it down," he said. "It doesn't matter if the snap is high, it doesn't matter if it's low, it doesn't matter where it is.
". . . I was going out there to catch the ball, he was going to kick it through - like I've done literally thousands of times before," Smith said.
"It just didn't happen this time."