- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 8, 2006

TAMPA, Fla. — Their veteran quarterback threw a careless interception and passed for 41 yards.

Their heart-and-soul defensive end was lost late in the first quarter with a fractured forearm.

Their play-making safety was ejected in the third quarter for spitting on an opponent.

And their offense was historically inept.

But the Washington Redskins’ season — somehow, someway — is still alive following a 17-10 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an NFC wild-card contest yesterday at Raymond James Stadium.

“We have guys that have a lot of fight in them and say, ‘I’m not going to give up no matter the circumstances,’” coach Joe Gibbs said.

A LaVar Arrington interception set up one touchdown, Sean Taylor returned a fumble 51 yards for a second score, and the defense produced two fourth-down stops, survived a replay review of an apparent touchdown and clinched the game on Marcus Washington’s interception with 65 seconds remaining.

The Redskins (11-6) won their sixth consecutive game and earned a trip to top-seed Seattle (13-3) Saturday at 4:30 p.m. in an NFC Divisional Playoff game.

“We’re very fortunate,” right tackle Jon Jansen said. “Our defense outscored their defense and that’s why we won the game.”

Fortunate indeed. The game appeared to be headed for overtime when Chris Simms found Edell Shepherd for an apparent 35-yard touchdown with 2:55 left. Officials quickly ruled the play incomplete, saying Shepherd did not have complete control when he hit the ground. Replay upheld the review.

It was sweet justice for the Redskins, who were on the short end of replay during the teams’ first meeting when Mike Alstott’s two-point conversion was upheld even though it appeared he was down before crossing the goal line.

“I told [Bucs tight end Alex Smith], ‘Y’all got us the first time, but we’re going to get this one,’” safety Ryan Clark said. “If the rule is the rule, they made the right call. I was nervous because the call can go either way once it goes to replay.”

A play later, Simms overthrew an open Shepherd in the end zone on fourth down. After a 14-yard punt by Derrick Frost, the Bucs got it back at their own 46, but Washington’s interception sealed the deal.

The Redskins won their first playoff game since Jan. 8, 2000 when they defeated Detroit, and won their first road playoff game since downing Minnesota on Jan. 2, 1993, which was also Gibbs’ last playoff victory.

“Offensively, we had a tough time today, we couldn’t get a lot to work and we struggled,” said Gibbs, now 17-5 in the postseason. “But our defense was outstanding. I’m really proud of all of them — with their backs against the wall, they fought extremely hard all day.”

The Redskins’ 120 yards of offense were the fewest in league history by a team that won a playoff game. Baltimore managed the previous low — 134 in its divisional round win at Tennessee after the 2000 season.

“Just 120?” defensive end Phillip Daniels asked. “I didn’t realize that. But that’s why we’re a team. We played every down like it was our last. Jumping on them early was big. We need more production than that from them and I think they’ll fix it.”

Quarterback Mark Brunell was 7-for-15 for 41 yards and one interception. Running back Clinton Portis was slowed by a shoulder injury and gained only 53 yards on 16 carries, ending his streak of five consecutive 100-yard games.

And the Redskins defense started short-handed and became more depleted as the game progressed. Cornerback Shawn Springs (groin) was inactive, defensive end Renaldo Wynn broke his forearm and Taylor was booted when referee Mike Carey said Taylor spit at Bucs running back Michael Pittman. Taylor told assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams he did not spit at the player.

“He said he didn’t do it and I believe the kid,” Williams said. “But I do want to see the video.”

Torched by the Buccaneers in November for 340 yards, the Redskins held Tampa Bay to 243 in the rematch.

“They call them the No.1 defense in the league but what are we?” linebacker Lemar Marshall said. “We might not be No.1 statistically but we’re not bad. We wanted to show our face today and make our presence felt.”

The defense helped stake the Redskins to a 17-3 halftime lead. Arrington’s first interception since 2001 set up Portis’ 6-yard touchdown run; less than five minutes later, Washington forced a Pittman fumble, which he returned before fumbling himself near midfield. Taylor scooped up the loose ball and made it 14-0 Redskins.

“[Gibbs] talked all week about starting fast and I’m sure our guys got sick and tired of me talking about it, too,” Williams said. “We knew it would be a defensive struggle and we wanted to be in a position on defense where we could hopefully make a difference.”

Simms’ first rushing touchdown cut the lead to 17-10 with 9:40 left in the third quarter. But the Bucs went their final five possessions without scoring. Not that they didn’t have opportunities.

Tampa Bay drove to the Redskins’ 19 midway through the fourth quarter. But Mike Alstott was stuffed for no gain on third-and-1 and Simms, under pressure, threw incomplete on fourth down. Brunell threw off his back foot and across his body with 3:44 left and was intercepted by Brian Kelly at the Redskins 35.

Three plays later, the Simms-to-Shepherd call went the Redskins’ way.

“I thought it was going to be like the last game,” said Simms, who completed 25 of 38 passes for 198 yards.

The Redskins defeated Seattle 20-17 in overtime in Week4. But they know 120 yards won’t get it done a second straight week.

The Redskins’ six second-half drives ended in five punts and an interception. But that dreary fact — among many others — was forgotten moments after

“Walking off the field for a minute, it felt like the offense had lost,” H-back Chris Cooley said. “But it doesn’t matter now. And next week, no one will care.”

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