- The Washington Times - Monday, January 17, 2000

It was the biggest what-if day at Redskin Park in seven years.

A day after their first playoff exit since Jan. 9, 1993, the Washington Redskins could point to so many little things that hurt them in Saturday's 14-13 NFC semifinal loss to the host Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

What if a Redskins defender, instead of Bucs halfback Warrick Dunn, recovered that fumble by quarterback Shaun King at the Washington 30 in the fourth quarter with Washington leading 13-7?

"That was the biggest play of the day," Redskins linebacker Derek Smith said. "If Dunn doesn't pick that up, [at best] they get a field goal out of it and it's 13-10. I know we would have been able to stop them [the rest of the way.]"

What if linebacker Greg Jones prevented little-used tight end John Davis from catching a 1-yard touchdown pass on third-and-1, seven plays after Dunn's big play?

"I looked inside too long," Jones said. "It was my fault."

What if NFC rushing leader Stephen Davis had been 100 percent instead of hobbled by a sprained left ankle and sprained right knee?

Davis came in with a robust 5-yard average but managed just 37 yards on 17 carries (2.2 average) against the Bucs. Backup Skip Hicks averaged just 3.0 yards per-carry and 26 of his last 58 runs were for a yard or less. Hicks didn't gain a yard on his only carry in Tampa.

"Stephen had a couple of good runs early, but it was too much to ask of him," coach Norv Turner said of Davis, who re-aggravated both injuries. "Stephen at 100 percent would certainly make a difference."

What if the ball hadn't slipped out of quarterback Brad Johnson's hand with receiver Michael Westbrook open for a first down at the Tampa 20-yard line with 2:00 left?

"The defense played well enough to win, but we didn't get it done offensively," said center Cory Raymer, who played the whole game with strained rib muscles. "We played bad enough that it could have been another Miami-Jacksonville game [the Jaguars beat the Dolphins 62-7 on Saturday in the second-biggest rout in playoff history]."

And of course, the ultimate what if, as in what if former Buc Dan Turk's snap had properly flown into holder Johnson's hands instead of rolling back to him? That prevented Brett Conway from attempting a game-winning 52-yard field goal with 67 seconds left.

"It's tough," said Smith, one of four defenders who had a shot at Mike Alstott on the Tampa Bay fullback's 1-yard touchdown run that made it 13-7 with 2:03 left in the third quarter. "We wanted to be out here, practicing and getting ready to play another game, possibly at home. We were holding them all day. Even when they got up 14-13, I thought we had it. I had a good feeling about the field goal."

Instead, the Redskins became the first team in the past 25 NFL playoff games to lose by a point, the first Washington team to lose a playoff game when leading after three quarters and the first NFL team to blow a 13-point second half postseason lead since Miami fell to San Diego 22-21 in the 1994 AFC semifinals after leading 21-6. The Redskins' only previous one-point postseason loss came to the Cleveland Rams, 15-14, in the 1945 NFL Championship Game.

"It's obviously a great disappointment to lose a game [which we were] leading by 13 points," said Turner, whose career record in games decided by three points or less dropped to 6-18-1. "You get beyond the disappointment and the thing that gives me great optimism is that this team had a large number of guys have the best year of their careers. It starts at the quarterback position and we certainly have an outstanding quarterback. After that, we have enough talented players in all three phases to continue to get better."

What Turner didn't mention was that the Redskins also have three first-round choices in the April 15 draft, including the No. 2 pick overall.

"Those will be critical decisions," Turner said. "You get into that philosophy: need as compared to a great player."

Note The Redskins, who won just six of their first 28 games under Turner, are 37-32-1 since. The players aren't due back at Redskin Park to begin offseason conditioning until the first week of March. They won't return to the field until the April 28-30 minicamp. Training camp at Frostburg (Md.) State starts in mid-July with the season opening on Labor Day weekend.

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