Until the final seconds of last night's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Washington Redskins were poised to celebrate a victory and the team's first unbeaten preseason since 1985.
But with seven seconds remaining, the Buccaneers' third-string quarterback, Shaun King, lofted a touchdown pass to Darnell McDonald (Hayfield High) in the back of the end zone.
The controversial play, a replay of which was automatically reviewed by officials to ensure that McDonald's feet were in bounds -- ended the Redskins' preseason with a loss, 16-13, before a crowd of 63,722 at Redskins Stadium.
Still, the game -- and the 3-1 preseason on balance -- signaled that much is going the Redskins' way as Coach Norv Turner prepares for the Sept. 12 season opener against the Dallas Cowboys.
"It's unfortunate we lost the game today the way we did, but I think we won most of the game," said wide receiver Irving Fryar, who caught three passes for 26 yards in his Redskins debut. "We didn't win on the scoreboard, but I think we physically dominated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. What you want to do is get to the playoffs, and I think we have a great chance of doing that."
With quarterback Brad Johnson at the helm, the Redskins had little trouble moving the ball against Tampa Bay, which boasts one of the NFL's top defenses. But the Redskins' offense struggled at times to finish off promising drives with scores.
"We have some things we've got to handle," Turner said. "We haven't executed as well as I'd like within the 20."
The Redskins' starters compiled 88 yards of total offense -- 51 yards rushing and 37 yards passing. Meanwhile, the defense allowed the Buccaneers just 45 yards, 21 on the ground.
Washington's defensive line gave quarterback Trent Dilfer little time to work and held running back Warrick Dunn to 15 yards on six carries. The starting unit closed the preseason having allowed just six points in seven quarters of football -- a performance Turner called "outstanding."
"They're getting a feel for each other," Turner said of his defense. "There is chemistry."
Johnson, who played only the first quarter, was 5 of 11 for 46 yards and was sacked once for a nine-yard loss. Brett Conway, named the Redskins' place kicker this week, missed two of four field goal attempts but apparently hasn't lost Turner's confidence. Running back Stephen Davis ripped off a 40-yard gain -- the longest of his career -- to suggest he can be counted on for more than short-yardage plays up the middle. Backup Skip Hicks scored the Redskins' only touchdown, on a four-yard carry in the second quarter.
Backup quarterback Rodney Peete bounced back from an interception on his first throw to complete 5 of 11 passes for 72 yards.
While Turner has settled on his starters for the season opener, some players still hoping for a roster spot seized one last chance to show they deserve one. Coaches make the final cut, to 53, today.
Wide receiver Nigel Williams hauled in a 21-yard throw from Peete on the touchdown drive. Cornerback Tito Paul ignited the crowd by blocking a field goal attempt and breaking up a pass in the end zone in the game's waning minutes.
The Redskins moved the ball crisply on their first possession, opening with a no-huddle offense that stymied the Tampa Bay defense. But after four first downs, Washington's momentum stalled. Turner was unsuccessful in his first challenge of an official's call this preseason, lodged over a pass ruled incomplete to Fryar. The call was upheld, costing the Redskins a timeout.
"I asked him [Fryar] if he caught it," Turner said. "He said, `Yes.' He is a minister. I didn't think he would lie."
Johnson then lost nine yards when he was sacked on a safety blitz. That brought up Conway, whose 45-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right.
Washington's defensive line pressured Dilfer on Tampa Bay's opening series. Marco Coleman swarmed from one end, while Dana Stubblefield was stout against the run up the middle. Cornerback Darrell Green batted away a sure completion to stall the drive. Rookie place kicker Martin Gramatica hit a 50-yard field goal -- the first of three in the game -- to give Tampa Bay a 3-0 lead. Brian Mitchell jump-started the Redskins' next series with a 42-yard kickoff return up the left sideline. Davis then ran 40 yards to the Tampa Bay 13. Again, the Redskins' charge fizzled. A false-start penalty and three consecutive incompletions followed, forced largely by Tampa Bay's defense. Conway tied the score at 3 with a 36-yard field goal.
Stubblefield and Wilkinson teamed to force the next big play. Dilfer rushed his throw, and safety Leomont Evans snatched it and returned it six yards to Washington's 49.
Peete then entered the game. But his first pass, a bomb intended for Fryar, his former Philadelphia teammate, was intercepted by safety Damien Robinson, who returned it 43 yards.
The Buccaneers produced another field goal on their next series to take a 6-3 lead on a 52-yarder by Gramatica. Hicks carried four times on Washington's next series to move the ball 20 yards but Conway failed to connect on a 46-yard field goal attempt.
Washington's next series had Peete sacked for a seven-yard loss. But two plays later he hit Chris Thomas with a 27-yard completion. Later, he put the perfect touch on a 21-yard throw to Williams to move Washington to the Tampa Bay 4. From there, Hicks took over, cutting right to skirt the blitz and following a block thrown by Chad Dukes into the end zone for a four-yard score that put Washington up 10-6 at halftime.