In a back-and-forth affair that went down to the wire, the Redskins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers drove up and down the field against each other on Sunday afternoon. In the end, it was the Bucs who scored last, winning 36-35 at Raymond James Stadium in a Sunday afternoon game that could have playoff ramifications.
The game did not end without controversy. In the game's final minute and the Redskins leading 35-28, the Bucs scored a touchdown on a 30-yard pass with 58 seconds remaining.
As the Bucs lined up for a game-tying extra point, the Redskins committed consecutive penalties--one on a delay of game, the other on offsides. The penalties put the ball on the Redskins' 1-yard line and Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden opted to buck the conventional wisdom and go for a 2-point conversion and win the game.
It was a gutsy call that ultimately paid off. Buccaneers' fullback Mike Alstott, who earlier in the game had scored two touchdowns, ran up the middle and appeared to be stuffed at the 1-yard line. On second effort he inched closer to the goal line. Referees signaled that the 2-point conversion was successful. The play was reviewed by replay officials and it appeared Alstott was stopped short. The review held up, however.
After it was announced that the review would not overturn the call, Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs threw up his arms in disgust.
The game had two of the league's brightest defensive coaches in Gregg Williams and Monte Kiffin, but it quickly developed into an offensive shootout..
Clinton Portis found plenty of running room against the Bucs, particularly in the first half, compiling 144 yards on 23 carries. After two first-half interceptions, Mark Brunell settled into a groove and was 23-of-35 for 226 yards and two touchdowns.
Ladell Betts was a key performer, with a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a 17-yard touchdown reception that at the time gave the Redskins the lead.
It was the Buccaneers who scored first by capitalizing on a Redskins turnover. Midway through the first quarter, Brunell's third-down pass to David Patten was picked off by cornerback Juran Bolden and returned to the Redskins' 47-yard line.
Tampa Bay quarterback Chris Simms then threw a 34-yard pass to wide receiver Joey Galloway. It appeared that Galloway had one foot out of bounds when he caught the pass and head coach Joe Gibbs tossed the red flag to challenge the play. But officials ruled that safety Pierson Prioleau forced Galloway out of bounds and that the play was not reviewable.
The play gave the Bucs a 1st-and-goal at the Redskins' 2-yard line. One play later, Alstott bulldozed across the goal line for a touchdown.
The Redskins responded with an impressive drive of their own, but had to settle for a field goal. Brunell completed passes to Patten, Chris Cooley and Santana Moss, who nearly broke free on a wide receiver screen when he spun past safety Will Allen and raced down the left sideline. He was pushed out of bounds at the Bucs' 12-yard line.
But on a third-down play, Brunell was sacked by Simeon Rice and the ball popped loose. Left guard Derrick Dockery pounced on the ball--his second fumble recovery in as many weeks--and John Hall came in to kick a 33-yard field goal.
Midway through the second quarter, the Bucs capitalized on another Redskins turnover With the Redskins' offense operating at the 21-yard line, Rice burst past blockers and sacked Brunell. He poked the ball loose as Brunell fell to the ground and the ball was recovered by defensive end Dewayne White at the Redskins' 5-yard line.
Again, the Bucs called on Alstott, who ran up the middle for a 1-yard touchdown and a 14-3 lead.
The Redskins responded quickly. Very quickly. On the ensuing kickoff, Ladell Betts took the ball at his own 6-yard line and spun off a tackle. He raced down the left sideline for a 94-yard touchdown that stunned the Raymond James crowd.
Tampa Bay challenged the play, contending that Betts stepped out of bounds at his own 35-yard line. Replays showed that Betts tiptoed along the sideline, but his heel never hit the white line. The touchdown was upheld and the score was 14-10 midway through the quarter. It was Betts' first career kickoff return for a touchdown.
The Bucs struck back quickly on their next drive. First, Simms completed an 18-yard pass to Mike Alstott in the flat. On the play, defensive lineman Nic Clemons was flagged for a roughing the passer penalty, tacking on another 15 yards.
Simms then tossed a 24-yard touchdown pass to Galloway, who beat zone coverage down the middle of the field.
The back-and-forth scoring continued, as Brunell guided the Redskins to a field goal to close out the first-half scoring. Brunell completed passes to Cooley, Patten and Brian Kozlowski. Brunell almost completed another long pass to Kozlowski, who was uncovered, but the ball was just out of reach.
Hall nailed a 40-yard field goal to bring the Redskins closer at the end of the first half.
On the first play of the second half, the Redskins finally got a turnover of their own when Joe Salave'a burst through the line and tackled Carnell Williams in the backfield. Williams lost possession of the ball and it was recovered by Demetric Evans at the Buccaneers' 7-yard line.
The Redskins got into the end zone on Brunell's third-down pass to Mike Sellers in the flat. Sellers sped past several would-be tacklers for the touchdown. The Redskins opted for a two-point conversion attempt and Brunell again passed into the flat, connecting with Portis for the game-tying score.
Midway through the third quarter, the Redskins took the lead as Brunell guided the offense on a 9-play, 73-yard drive. After a 47-yard pass to Moss was called back due to holding on Dockery, Brunell found Moss again on a 42-yard pass completion to the Buccaneers' 18-yard line.
Brunell then threw a dart to Betts across the middle of the field for a 17-yard touchdown pass, giving the Redskins the lead for the first time in the game.
Again, the Buccaneers responded quickly, as Simms found little-used wide receiver Edell Shepherd on a 46-yard pass play. Shepherd got a step on cornerback Carlos Rogers, who made a touchdown-saving tackle at the Redskins' 7-yard line.
One play later, Simms found wide receiver Ike Hilliard in the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown. Hilliard appeared to break free from Walt Harris's tough coverage and get open in the end zone.
Back and forth again. The Redskins responded again with an impressive 16-play, 76-yard drive that used up more than eight minutes off the game clock. It was a drive with a heavy dose of Portis and a series of short passes, with no offensive play longer than 10 yards. Portis finished it off with an 8-yard touchdown run, breaking a tackle in the process.
The Bucs weren't finished. With less than two minutes left in the game, Simms led the offense downfield again in a furious rally. He capped a touchdown drive with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Shepherd.
The extra point attempt was forthcoming, but the dramatics were just beginning.
After the delay of game penalty, cornerback Shawn Springs ran around the end and blocked kicker Matt Bryant's attempt. The Redskins sideline erupted, but Springs was called for an offsides penalty.
That's when the Buccaneers decided to go for the win. It was a gutsy call by Gruden, one that worked in his favor.
With both the Redskins and Buccaneers in the thick of the NFC playoff race, the fight for a Wild Card spot could come down to tiebreakers. The Redskins hold head-to-head advantages over the Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks, but the Buccaneers have the edge over the Redskins should it come down to a tiebreaker.