- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 8, 2006

TAMPA, Fla. — Pierson Prioleau didn’t see it — and he couldn’t believe it happened.

Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor was ejected from yesterday’s victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for apparently spitting in the face of running back Michael Pittman with 2:28 left in the third quarter.

“I heard the referee make the announcement,” said Prioleau, a safety who was thrust into an enhanced role. Omar Stoutmire took Prioleau’s responsibilities in the nickel package. “I heard the news the time the rest of the nation heard the news. It made my stomach sick.”

The Buccaneers had failed to gain a first down on third-and-9 at their 19, and their offense was leaving the field when Taylor and Pittman got into an altercation. Officials said Taylor spit on Pittman, who retaliated by slapping Taylor in the side of the helmet.

The Redskins were penalized 15 yards for Taylor’s action, and he was ejected from the game.

The NFL will review the play and determine whether Taylor, who was claimed to have spit on T.J. Houshmanzadeh of the Cincinnati Bengals last season, will be suspended.

“That was a big loss,” defensive end Philip Daniels said. “We need him on the field. He has to be smarter than that.”

Gregg Williams, the Redskins’ assistant head coach-defense, said Taylor told him he did not spit. Taylor refused to comment on the incident.

“If he did what they said he did, we can understand somebody being kicked out of the game,” coach Joe Gibbs said, “and they should be.”

The Redskins led 17-10 at the time, and the penalty gave the Buccaneers the ball at their own 37. The defense managed to force Tampa Bay to punt three plays later. But the depleted secondary, already playing without injured cornerback Shawn Springs, quickly came under fire from Bucs quarterback Chris Simms.

The defensive backfield survived the assault, although there were several tense moments — particularly an apparent game-tying touchdown reception by Edell Shepherd of the Bucs. Shepherd lost the ball when he hit the ground in the end zone, and the pass was ruled incomplete. A video review upheld the call.

The defensive line continued to put heat on Simms, and the secondary survived without its playmaker.

“When Sean goes out, I am ready to step up and do what I can,” Prioleau said. “I don’t have time to think about it. I have to play.”

Where’s the offense?

Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell posted a career-worst quarterback rating of 25.7. The 35-year-old completed seven of 15 passes for 41 yards with no touchdowns and one interception, and he was sacked twice.

It marked the second straight ineffective performance by Brunell, who posted a 52.3 rating in the regular-season finale victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Brunell sprained his right knee in the Dec. 24 win over the New York Giants and was taken out of the game. Yesterday, he declined to use the knee as an excuse. Instead, he pointed to poor execution.

“Not at all,” he said when asked whether the knee bothered him. “You look at my stats, and you probably think otherwise. But that’s not the case.”

It was the biggest flaw in an inept performance for the offense, which gained only nine first downs for the game and none in the fourth quarter. Clinton Portis’ streak of five consecutive 100-yard games came to an abrupt halt: He picked up only 53 yards on 16 carries.

“They dropped eight or nine men in the box once they realized our passing game wasn’t working,” Portis said. “So it was tough to run.”

Star receiver Santana Moss caught only two passes for 18 yards.

Portis said the offense became too predictable after the LaVar Arrington interception that set up Portis’ 6-yard touchdown run with 8:40 left in the first quarter. The defense scored the Redskins’ only other touchdown, a 51-yard fumble return by Sean Taylor.

“Our offense was rattled and we never got going,” Portis said. “We were running on first and second down and throwing on third. They were on to that. … Today our defense stepped up and won the game for us. Next week we have to find a way to move the ball offensively and get some first downs.”

Despite the offensive failures, the Redskins were pleased in the locker room afterward. The offense, which has bailed out the defense numerous times this season, was happy to move on.

“I would rather look bad in a win than good in a loss,” offensive tackle Jon Jansen said. “Our defense basically outscored the other offense, and we won the game. It was very ugly, but a win is a win. We are going to the next round.”

Wynn breaks arm

Left defensive end Renaldo Wynn broke his right forearm in a collision with right end Phillip Daniels and Tampa Bay left tackle Anthony Davis late in the first quarter.

Wynn, who was unavailable for comment after the game, was replaced by Demetric Evans. It’s unclear yet whether Wynn will be able to return for the remainder of postseason.

“This win was for Renaldo,” Daniels said. “We’re going to miss him. It hurt me so much to see that. I think I cried the whole game after that. Demetric stepped up and played well in his place.”

Evans started seven games when Daniels was hurt last season and started three when tackle Cornelius Griffin was injured this season.

“When I saw Renaldo holding his forearm and it looked out of place, I knew I was going in,” Evans said. “It’s not like I haven’t started before. Whenever they call on me, I’m ready.”

Evans showed his readiness by beating Sean Mahan and sacking Chris Simms for an 8-yard loss.

Rogers in, Springs out

Shawn Springs was on the field well before kickoff, testing his ailing groin. The Redskins, however, decided their top cornerback wasn’t ready to play.

“I knew we were going to win this one so I could rest up for Seattle,” Springs said, only half-joking. “It was still real sore. I just couldn’t go. No question I’ll be ready for the next one.”

Top draft pick Carlos Rogers, who missed the previous three weeks because of a torn left biceps, took Springs’ place and was beaten by Edell Shepherd for an apparent 35-yard touchdown pass. That pass was ruled incomplete because the receiver couldn’t maintain possession in the end zone.

“The guy ran a double move route, and he’s fast,” Rogers said. “I was just hoping I got my hand my between him and the ball. Once he hit the ground, he was bobbling the ball, and it came out. Once I saw that, I wasn’t nervous at all. I held up pretty well. My arm hurt a little bit at times but not enough to come out of the game.”

Moss to start Pro Bowl

Redskins receiver Santana Moss was named a starter for the Pro Bowl. Offensive tackle Chris Samuels will back up starters Walter Jones of the Seahawks and Orlando Pace of the Rams.

Salave’a fined

The ejection of Sean Taylor wasn’t the only punishment levied on a Redskins player. Defensive tackle Joe Salave’a was fined $7,500 by the NFL for unsportsmanlike conduct for taunting the New York Giants on Dec. 24.

“If I had known it would cost me $7,500, I might not have done it, but I’m an emotional player, and I got caught up in the emotion of the game.”

Simms-to-T.O.?

Tampa Bay quarterback Chris Simms likes the core of skill players around him, including running back Cadillac Williams and receivers Michael Clayton (who was inactive last night) and Joey Galloway.

That doesn’t mean he would mind adding controversy-plagued Philadelphia wideout Terrell Owens in the offseason, even if Owens’ behavior wore thin in San Francisco before he was dealt to the Eagles. Philadelphia suspended Owens in the middle of this season for conduct detrimental to the team.

“I’ve got no problems with that soap opera because an 80-yard touchdown reception by a receiver is a soap opera I’d like to bring to any game,” Simms said. “I think the thing we have here is great veteran leadership, and he’s a great player. We mesh real together as far as our team, and we could bring anyone in here, and we’d be successful. Coach [Jon] Gruden is great at blending personalties.”

The Bucs aren’t strangers to controversial pass-catchers. Gruden deactivated Keyshawn Johnson for several games late in the 2003 season, ensuring Johnson’s departure after the season.

Change looming for Bucs?

Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks scanned the locker room after the game and realized the makeup of his team could be much different next season because free agency looms for several players. The salary cap also could come into play in determining how much turnover the Bucs will endure.

“The team’s going to change,” Brooks said. “That’s a part of this business.”

One possible departure is Brooks himself. He has spent his entire 11-year career with Tampa Bay, but he could be forced to re-negotiate his deal because for salary cap reasons.

“I have a contract,” Brooks said. “When the time comes, [Tampa Bay general manager] Bruce [Allen] and my agent will address that. I don’t think they’ll address that tonight.”

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