- The Washington Times - Monday, October 13, 2003

Forget about the Fastest Three Minutes in Television — Chris Berman’s gig. Let’s talk about the Most Important 12 Minutes: the time a team spends in the locker room at halftime.

If ever a game was decided by the blackboard work that goes on between halves, it was the Bucs’ 35-13 obliteration of the Redskins yesterday at FedEx Field. How else do you explain Tampa Bay’s total dominance in the second half — after it was pushed around pretty good in the first? Momentum? Uh-uh.

This was a case of Jon Gruden’s staff adjusting to what Steve Spurrier’s staff was doing, and Spurrier’s staff never really adjusting to those adjustments. This was a case of a first-rate NFL offensive coordinator (Gruden) and a first-rate NFL defensive coordinator (Monte Kiffen) getting the better of a first-rate college play caller (Spurrier) and his still unproven defensive boss (George Edwards).

The Redskins outgained the Bucs in the first 30 minutes, 163-84.

The Bucs outgained the Redskins in the next 30, 295-112.

The Redskins won the first half, 10-7.

The Bucs won the second, 28-3.

Could it be any more clear-cut?

Tampa Bay has wonderful defensive personnel, no question. But the Bucs ain’t exactly the Montana 49ers on offense. And for them to march the length of the field three times in the second half — first 80 yards, then 91, then 70 — well, that’s a failure of coaching as much as anything. Where were the answers? Where were the counterpunches?

And how about Spurrier thinking it was a good idea to have Ladell Betts and Robert Royal trying to block Simeon Rice on certain occasions? Does that strike you as a sound strategy — or a refusal to accept reality?

Brad Johnson, the quarterback Dan Snyder didn’t want, put it best. “Jon’s creative every week,” he said of his brainy young coach. “It’s one of the things that gives us an advantage over other teams. We have contingency plan after contingency plan. That’s why, as a quarterback, you don’t blink no matter who’s in there.”

On this particular afternoon, Gruden made chicken salad out of his No.3 and No.4 tight ends. Todd Yoder hadn’t caught a touchdown pass in his NFL career before yesterday, and Will Heller, an undrafted rookie, hadn’t even caught a pass. But against the Redskins they combined for three of Tampa Bay’s four offensive TDs — on little flips from Johnson of 1, 11 and 4 yards.

Time and again the Bucs undressed the Washington defense in the red zone with, as Johnson called then “nakeds” — naked bootlegs. He would fake a handoff or pitch one way, whirl around and toss the ball to a wide open tight end on the other side. The Redskins never came up with a solution to this — which is odd, because it’s a staple of the Tampa Bay offense.

“We had some tendencies that we [went away from in those situations],” Johnson said, “and they kinda fell for it. They got lost with all our shifts and personal groupings.”

Yup, there’s nothing that throws a defense quite like the sight of Todd Yoder and Will Heller trotting on the field.

“We were two different teams from the first half to the second half,” Jeremiah Trotter said. “I don’t know what went wrong.”

What went wrong was this: The Bucs had a second act, and the Redskins didn’t. The Bucs went in at the break, fixed their problems — specifically their third-down defense, which was getting picked apart by Patrick Ramsey — and it was all Tampa Bay after that.

“They had the ball a lot in the first half,” Warren Sapp said, “but they didn’t put points on the board, and you’ve gotta score in this league. After they got that touchdown at the end of the first half because of a stupid [personal foul] penalty, we said, ‘No more freebies. Let’s make them earn everything they get.’”

And from that point on, the Redskins got very little. If the Bucs special teams hadn’t jumped offside on a punt, giving John Hall an opportunity to boot a 51-yard field goal, Spurrier’s offense wouldn’t have scored at all in the second half (and as it was, it never advanced past the Tampa Bay 33).

There were boos late in the game when the Redskins, down 28-13, began a series with a running play. There were more boos when the Redskins, down 35-13, started a series with two more running plays. To the disappointed crowd of 85,490, it was as if the team was conceding — or, just as bad, as if the Ball Coach’s bag of tricks, supposedly bottomless, was empty.

About the only good adjustment the Redskins made in the second half was removing Ramsey near the end — to spare him further punishment at the hands of Sapp and his co-conspirators. Other than that, the Bucs trumped them at every turn. And it all began at halftime, the Most Important 12 Minutes in Football.

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