-- Almost to a man, the Washington Redskins were convinced Tampa Bay fullback Mike Alstott did not break the plane of the goal line and score what was ruled a two-point conversion with 58 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter Sunday evening at Raymond James Stadium. Also to a man, they agreed this crushing 36-35 loss on the road never should have come down to that play.
"All of our guys, from what they saw, they felt [Alstott] was on the ground before he got in," Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said after arguably one of the toughest losses of his second term in Washington. "That's what they told me. That's what instant replay is for. It's why we have replay. I've always been a proponent of it. If you have a chance to correct it, you correct it."
Asked if he received an explanation from a game official about the call, he shook his head no.
Gregg Williams, Redskins assistant head coach-defense, echoed Gibbs. "From what everyone said upstairs, [Alstott's] elbow hit before he got in," Williams said. "Once the elbow hits, it's over, and extending the ball after that doesn't count. But it shouldn't have come down to that."
It came down to Alstott's two-point conversion after the Bucs drove the length of the field in the final two minutes and scored on a 30-yard touchdown pass from third-year quarterback Chris Simms to third-year wide receiver Edell Shepherd, with cornerback Walt Harris vainly trying to defend.
For the Redskins, there was a moment of elation when Harris and Shawn Springs came off opposite sides to block what would have been a game-tying extra point, only to sink back into despair when a yellow flag flew, signaling the Redskins had been offside. Springs initially thought he had not jumped offside, and when he looked at the replay he was certain it hadn't been him.
Harris also got a quick jump on the other side, and game officials never did specify who had been guilty.
With the ball placed half the distance to the goal line, a yard from the end zone, Tampa Bay Coach Jon Gruden elected to go for two points. Alstott, his team's veteran 248-pound battering ram of a fullback who had scored two short touchdowns earlier in the game, got the football again. Several Redskins said they reveled in the challenge of trying to stop him.
"I was excited that they were going for it," said safety Ryan Clark, a hero last week with a last-minute interception to preserve the Redskins' 17-10 victory over Philadelphia. "I was like, 'Let's make the stop and not go into overtime and get out of here.' But we lost.
"Did they score? I didn't get a real good look. But he must have scored. I mean they gave it to him twice, once on the field and then in the replay. My job is not to question the call. My job is to accept it and go on from there."
Most of his teammates took the same approach, especially those on the field at the time.
"It looked like he didn't get in to me," said linebacker Marcus Washington. "That's what I saw, but it's not up to me. In this league, you can't be crying over spilled milk. They could have said the same thing if we won on [Ladell Betts's] touchdown," a 94-yard kickoff return in which Betts flirted with the sideline at midfield on a play that also was reviewed but not reversed.
"I really felt that [Alstott] didn't get in. But that's neither here or there right now. It doesn't matter what I think. You've got to take your hat off to them. They did what they had to do, and they played well. I'm not surprised they went for it at all. They kind of felt they were on a roll.
"They were going to be either a hero or a goat, so they went for it. It looked to me like he was down. But the officials are experienced in those kinds of things. They make the call."
Linebacker LaVar Arrington launched himself toward Alstott on the conversion attempt but did not make full contact with him. "I personally thought he didn't get in, but that doesn't really matter. We lost, and now we've got to rally the troops and start a winning streak. They made some plays, and they won the game. It's as simple as that. We gave it up, and they took it," Arrington said.
Defensive end Phillip Daniels could only shrug when asked about the Alstott play.
"I was on the right side of the line," he said. "When he fell, I felt like he was not in there. We all thought his elbow hit short of the line.
"Even on the replay I thought so. It's tough to lose a game like that. You fight hard, and that last play in there killed us. But as a defense, we let it slip away. When your offense scores that many points like we did, you should win. If we can score like that, it's on us as a defense, and we didn't get it done. That's all that counts."