Rookie safety Sean Taylor did not start yesterday's 16-10 victory over Tampa Bay at FedEx Field, an unexpected change, with Andre Lott playing in his place instead. Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense, said Taylor was healthy but the team went with more experienced players in his place.
"There were two packages that never got called because [the Buccaneers] didn't cooperate," Williams said, "and [Taylor] would have been highlighted in them, but they didn't give us a chance [to use them]. . . . But he played better in the second half than he did in the first half and I didn't think he hurt us in the first half, either."
Taylor was on the field most frequently in sets that called for additional defensive backs and also got more playing time in the second quarter when safety Matt Bowen, who had an outstanding game, was out with a shoulder stinger. Bowen came into this game without a sack in his four previous NFL seasons but had two yesterday and forced former Washington quarterback Brad Johnson to fumble at the Tampa Bay 34-yard line, which set up John Hall's field goal to make it 10-0 early in the second quarter.
Bowen made two crunching and crucial tackles on special teams and Williams called on him to blitz often, using his speed to get to Johnson from the outside and up the middle. Bowen was also charged with making sure the rest of the secondary was positioned properly. "Matt had to be a big-time quarterback back there for us," Williams said. Bowen said he thrived off the chance to get into the backfield.
"It's like getting the sign to steal in baseball, which the Cubs don't do enough of," said Bowen, an Illinois native. "And you know with our scheme a lot of times you're going to get to come free when you come at the quarterback, and that makes your heart beat a little more."
McCants Is Inactive
Wide receiver Darnerien McCants, who tied for the team lead in touchdown catches last season, was inactive for the game. McCants entered training camp battling James Thrash for the third wide receiver spot, but lost out to Taylor Jacobs for the final slot at that position on the active roster.
McCants appeared in 15 games last season -- including one start -- and set career highs with 27 catches, 360 yards and 6 touchdowns. He was drafted by the Redskins in the fifth round of the 2001 draft (154th overall). Washington gave McCants a four-year, $4.5 million contract extension in the offseason, including a $2 million signing bonus, making the decision to list him as inactive even more surprising. Jacobs dressed for the game but did not play.
Linebacker Mike Barrow, a key free agent acquisition, was inactive after missing almost all of training camp with tendinitis in his left knee. He could be back for Sunday's game against the New York Giants, his employers for the past four years. Barrow's replacement, middle linebacker Antonio Pierce, played well, orchestrating the defense from his position and produced a game-altering, fourth-quarter interception.
"Antonio Pierce did a great job of calling the game for us," Williams said.
Washington also made H-back Brian Kozlowski, another offseason signing who has been nursing a calf strain, inactive, as well as running back Rock Cartwright, defensive back Ryan Clark, offensive lineman Mark Wilson and defensive lineman Demetric Evans.
Noble Back in the Game
Nose tackle Brendan Noble made his debut for the Redskins, culminating his dramatic return from a knee surgery suffered in the 2003 preseason. He did not start but played a lot. . . . Reserve defensive lineman Jermaine Haley made the most of his time on the field, sacking Johnson violently in the fourth quarter to trigger the forced pass that Pierce intercepted. . . .
Linebacker LaVar Arrington, steeped in the history of the Redskins and NFL, ran over to hug Doug Williams, Tampa Bay's player personnel director, on the sideline while the Redskins were stretching before the game. Williams is a former Redskins quarterback who led the team to one Super Bowl win, and he waited for Gibbs outside the Redskins' locker room after the game to congratulate and embrace his former coach. . . .
As in the preseason, the Redskins came out of the tunnel as a team and did not announce offensive or defensive starters. . . . Tampa Bay was without only one player because of injury, tackle Kenyatta Walker, but lost starting wide receiver Joey Galloway to a groin strain early in the second quarter after he dropped an easy touchdown pass in the end zone. . . . Punter Tom Tupa helped the Redskins greatly with field position, averaging 49.6 yards on seven punts.