LANDOVER, Md. — To win a low-scoring game on a wet field in December, it helps to have the better kicking game. That's exactly why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are still very much alive in the postseason chase.
The Washington Redskins missed two short field goals, fumbled away a kickoff and flubbed an extra point that would have tied the game with 9 seconds to play. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay's Connor Barth made all three of his field goals, and Josh Freeman led a fourth-quarter comeback for the fifth time this season in Sunday's 17-16 victory.
The Buccaneers (8-5) broke a two-game losing streak and were buoyed by the news that the Green Bay Packers, another team in the wild card race, were beaten by the Detroit Lions.
Freeman hit Kellen Winslow for a 41-yard scoring pass with 3:47 to play for Tampa Bay's only touchdown. The Redskins marched downfield and pulled within a point on Donovan McNabb's 6-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss on fourth down. However, on the extra point, Nick Sundberg's slightly high snap in the steady rain went through holder Hunter Smith's hands, and Tampa Bay recovered the ball.
The gaffe was symbolic of another lost season for the Redskins (5-8), who have lost five of six and have dropped four straight at home. They wasted a career-best 173-yard rushing day by Ryan Torain, with 158 yards coming in the first half.
Freeman finished 15 for 25 for 266 yards, including 11 for 16 for 214 yards in the second half. Seven of the second-year quarterback's 11 career victories have been fourth quarter or overtime comeback wins. It helped that left tackle Donald Penn got away with holding Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo on the go-ahead pass touchdown pass, a nice over-the-shoulder grab down the middle by Winslow.
On a chilly day that drew one of the sparsest crowds in recent Redskins history — never mind the official announced attendance of 66,124, the 90,000-seat stadium never looked more than half full — a tight game with a slippery ball seemed inevitable.
The first half was one simple, recurring plot line: Torain piled up the yards to move the Redskins downfield, only to have Graham Gano struggle with short field goals.
Torain, returning after missing four games with a hamstring injury, scampered for 54 yards on the Redskins' initial play from scrimmage. Later it was Torain for 12. Torain for 23. Torain for 10. Torain for 12 again.
However, Gano was missing chip shots. He hit the left upright from 34 yards in the first quarter, then badly pulled his kick wide left from 24 yards in the second quarter. The next time down, the Redskins went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1, with McNabb finding Logan Paulsen for the touchdown pass, the third-string tight end's second NFL catch and first score.
The Redskins managed the clock poorly on their final possession of the first half, using up all their timeouts and then committing a delay of game penalty after their final timeout with the ball at Tampa Bay's 2. An incomplete pass gave Gano yet another chance, and he hooked in a 25-yarder just inside the upright with 10 seconds left to give Washington a 10-3 halftime lead.
The Buccaneers' only first-half score came after a 64-yard pass to Arrelious Benn, setting up a 25-yard field goal by Barth. Barth barely had the distance on a 44-yarder that cut the Redskins' lead to 10-6 in the third quarter, a score set up when Washington's Chris Wilson bobbled away a squib kickoff to start the second half.
Benn gained 17 yards on a reverse to help set up Barth's third field goal, a 35-yarder that made it 10-9 with 4:11 to play in the third quarter.
Freeman's 43-yard pass deep over the middle to Benn put the ball at the 1 early in the fourth quarter, but Freeman never got a handle on the snap on the next play. The ball was recovered by Washington's London Fletcher for a touchback.
But Freeman's next big pass went all the way to the end zone, giving him another come-from-behind win.