- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 8, 2006

TAMPA, Fla.

They take spitting seriously in Tampa, a place where the most popular advertising sign this week was “Beautiful nude women, go Bucs.”

Sean Taylor apparently spit in Michael Pittman’s face late in the third quarter of yesterday’s wild-card playoff game between the Washington Redskins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Not only did the Redskins get penalized for it, but the referees kicked Taylor out of the game. Pittman retaliated by punching Taylor, but he was not punished.

That sort of act would have been the signature of a frustrating loss in seasons past. But these Redskins win in spite of stupidity, and they overcame Taylor’s stupid impulse to beat the Bucs 17-10 at Raymond James Stadium.

On to Seattle, where they may not notice Taylor’s imitation of Roberto Alomar. It’s wet there all the time.

Taylor’s mouth probably was dry as he sat in the visitor’s locker room and watched his teammates try to hold off the Bucs in the fourth quarter.

“They always say it is the guy who retaliates who gets in trouble,” Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss said. “I guess not this time. And we really didn’t see what Sean did to him.”

It wasn’t visible to the naked eye from a distance. You had to experience it, sort of like a John Waters movie.

Taylor wasn’t the only one spitting yesterday. That was a good way to describe the Redskins’ offense, which gained just 120 yards — less than half of that produced by the Bucs and a record for pitiful production by a winner in the playoffs.

It would have been an embarrassing defeat for coach Joe Gibbs if not for the two turnovers by the Bucs offense in the first quarter — an interception by LaVar Arrington that led to a Clinton Portis touchdown and a fumble Taylor returned 51 yards for another score.

But Gibbs instead was proud of everybody afterward: He walked into the postgame press conference and laid the groundwork for the defense of the offense.

“Those were two good defenses out there,” he said. “We had a tough time. I give them all the credit,” which, of course, absolves the offense of the blame.

Later, Gibbs said, “I want to brag about their defense, too.”

There’s only so much bragging that can be done.

This was the same Bucs defense, save for free safety Dexter Jackson, that started against the Redskins on Nov. 13. The Redskins ran up 389 yards of total offense and scored 35 points that day. Let’s face it: They didn’t get that much better in two months.

The difference between those two games? Quarterback Mark Brunell.

The last time Brunell faced this superhuman defense, he completed 23 of 35 passes for 226 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Yesterday, he barely showed up on the stat sheet, completing seven of 15 passes for 41 yards, no touchdowns and one interception — a pass attempt across his body and off his back foot with a little less than four minutes remaining. Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly picked it off and returned it to the Redskins 35-yard line.

“I thought we were in real trouble out there with that interception,” Gibbs said.

They were, except that what appeared to be a Tampa Bay touchdown pass from Chris Simms to Edell Shepherd turned out to be an incompletion. The official ruling: The ball came out of Shepherd’s possession after he hit the ground in the end zone, and he didn’t drop it because he hit the ground.

Brunell’s interception was not because of a physical problem, according to Gibbs, even though the quarterback is still recovering from a sprained right knee suffered in the win against the Giants two weeks ago.

“I think he is fine physically,” Gibbs said.

That’s not good. If there is no physical explanation, then Brunell appears to have lost whatever helped him make this comeback season. No one will mistake the Seahawks’ defense for that of the Bucs. But despite the victory, the offensive performance yesterday was so bad it brings up plenty of the questions about Saturday’s game in Seattle.

Is there a point where the call might go to Patrick Ramsey?

“Mark is a warrior and has been all year for us,” Moss said. “If he can’t do it, we have another guy who can step in and do it for us.”

That sort of conjecture may seem out of place, considering the Redskins won a playoff game on the road yesterday and are riding a six-game winning streak with Brunell at quarterback. But if he plays in Seattle like he did in Tampa, then the Redskins may be spitting in the wind — and who knows what the penalty is for that.

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