- The Washington Times - Monday, November 14, 2005

The game was ultimately lost by a foolish gamble on special teams, but the members of the Washington Redskins’ secondary knew where to put the blame for yesterday’s critical 36-35 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“It shouldn’t have gotten to that point,” strong safety Ryan Clark said. “The offense gives us 35 points, and we’re supposed to be the vaunted Redskins defense. That should be a blowout. We found a way to give up 36.”

Clark said previously struggling Bucs young quarterback Chris Simms wasn’t better than he expected, adding “we were worse than I expected. He’s got talent, a good arm. If we leave guys open, he can hit them. We made them one-dimensional [by shutting down the running game], and they still beat us. This was our worst game as a secondary.

“It hurts now, and it will hurt more tomorrow when [assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams] catches hold of us, but we got [to get] ready to try to defend our home turf [the next two weeks against Oakland and San Diego].”

Cornerback Shawn Springs agreed with Clark.

“They made plays, and we didn’t,” Springs said. “I didn’t think Chris Simms could pass on us, but he did.”

Pierson Prioleau, who started for injured free safety Sean Taylor, was beaten on one of Simms’ touchdown passes. Cornerback Walt Harris was beaten for the other.

“They got a lot of deep stuff,” Prioleau said. “We have to play better. If I end up on [wideout Joey Galloway], it’s my job to stop him. I can’t say, ‘Hey, I don’t want to cover that guy.’ I have to do the best I can and make plays. We didn’t do that enough today.”

Big day for naught

Backup running back Ladell Betts returned a kickoff for a touchdown for the first time since high school, caught a touchdown pass for the first time since college and set up what looked like it would be the winning touchdown with some powerful runs in the fourth quarter. But all of that became mere detail after the loss to the Bucs.

“We didn’t quite close the deal the way we should have,” Betts said.

Immediately after Mike Alstott extended Tampa Bay’s lead to 14-3 in the second quarter, Betts caught Matt Bryant’s kickoff at the Washington 6-yard line, ran straight ahead until he beat the first attempted tackle and cut to the sideline in front of the Redskins’ bench. Picking up an especially good block from Mike Sellers, Betts raced to the end zone.

The Bucs challenged the touchdown, believing Betts had gone out of bounds during his tightrope act. However, replay upheld the score. Referee Bill Vinovich said he didn’t have “obviously indisputable visual evidence.”

Said Betts: “I was a little nervous when they were looking at the replay because I didn’t know I was tiptoeing [the sideline] like that. I never really stepped out. It was just my heels kept crossing the line, but they never touched down because I was running on my toes.”

Then Betts put the Redskins ahead 28-21 with 5:19 to go in the third quarter with a 17-yard touchdown catch on third-and-9.

“It was a route called for the running back, and I happened to be in there,” Betts said. “I had one-on-one coverage with the linebacker [Derrick Brooks], and once I made him miss, it was free sailing.”

No Taylor, no Griffin

Cornelius Griffin missed a second straight game with a hip flexor while Sean Taylor missed the first game of his two-year career with a sprained ankle. Demetric Evans started again for Griffin, while Prioleau filled in for Taylor.

“Sean’s a beast,” Springs said. “He brings a lot of speed to the middle of the field. He always make a huge difference. But you have to have guys step up when guys get injured.”

Simms said the Bucs didn’t change their game plan too much because of Taylor’s absence, but “we were definitely happy we were going to get a backup.”

The starts were the seventh and eighth missed by Redskins defenders this year. In contrast, the offense has lost just one start when tight end Robert Royal’s bad ankle kept him out last week against Philadelphia.

Turnovers … again

The Redskins’ three turnovers gave them a minus-2 ratio against the Buccaneers and left them a dismal minus-11 this season.

All three turnovers — two Mark Brunell interceptions and a Brunell fumble — came in the first half, and the Bucs used them to score their first 14 points.

“It’s the same thing, and so far I haven’t found a solution to it,” coach Joe Gibbs said. “Maybe there’s something else we can do to emphasize it, but it sure hurts us.”

The turnovers came on plays that started at the Tampa Bay 39- and 30-yard lines and the Redskins 21.

“We’ve talked all year about not turning over the ball, and we did today and it cost us the game,” Brunell said. “We had some early adversity offensively, and some balls tipped in the air and put them in point-blank range to put some points on the board.”

Brunell recovered from his two first-half interceptions to throw for 226 yards and two touchdowns.

“We had some bad things happen in the first half, but we regrouped at halftime,” he said. “But we didn’t enough and came up short.”

Brunell had his sixth multi-touchdown game of the season and his first two-interception game of the season.

Portis’ day

Running back Clinton Portis had his fourth 100-yard rushing game of the year, running 23 times for a season-high 144 yards. His 6.3 yards a carry also were a season high.

The Redskins are 2-2 when Portis exceeds 100 yards.

In the first half, Portis ran for 41 yards on one play, his longest since Week1 against Chicago. His 6-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown was his fifth of the season, equaling his 2004 rushing total.

One ‘Gutsy’ call

Bucs quarterback Chris Simms was standing on the sideline when it appeared disaster had struck. The Redskins’ Walt Harris broke around the corner to block the game-tying extra point in the final minute.

“I saw the blocked extra point, and my heart went into my throat,” Simms said. “I was glad to hear it was a penalty on them. I was just sitting there thinking, ‘Overtime, overtime.’”

Simms at first thought it was joke when someone told him the Bucs were going for the win with a two-point conversion try.

“I was shocked,” he said. “I realized the offense was out there, so I better get out there, too.”

And he had one word to describe the surprising call by coach Jon Gruden: “Gutsy.”

One-man plunge

Mike Alstott finished the day with a modest 21 yards rushing on nine carries.

However, the 6-foot-1, 248-pound fullback was the Bucs’ special weapon from close range. The compact Alstott finished with two touchdowns — from 2 and 5 yards — and won the game when he rammed it into the end zone on the two-point conversion after Simms’ 30-yard touchdown pass to Edell Shepherd..

“With the big train back there, he is just like Gale Sayers,” Simms said. “Just give him 6 inches and he’ll just run over everybody else.”

Gruden said there was no doubt where the ball was going once he decided to go for the win.

“We were going down with our best player,” said the coach, who half-jokingly suggested he wanted Alstott to plow in without leaving his feet. “We tell him not to go airborne. We tell him to stay on the ground. But I might have to change my theory on that.”

Blast from the past

Three great Redskins quarterbacks were chatting in the press box before the game. Doug Williams, who led Washington past Denver 42-10 in Super Bowl XXII, works in player personnel for the Bucs. Hall of Famer Sonny Jurgensen, of course, broadcasts Redskins game for WJFK-FM. Billy Kilmer, who quarterbacked the Redskins to Super Bowl VII, lives in Florida and was on hand to see his old buddy, Jurgensen.

Two other former Redskins stars, kicker Mark Moseley and defensive tackle Dave Butz, watched from the press box.

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