- The Washington Times - Monday, November 14, 2005

TAMPA, Fla. — The franchise running back couldn’t get 2 yards to seal the key road victory. The once-salty pass defense couldn’t stop a third-year quarterback when it counted. And the special teams couldn’t stay onside when overtime seemed a given.

Joe Gibbs always says the Washington Redskins lose as a team, and he was right about yesterday’s gut-wrenching 36-35 defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a loss that wouldn’t have happened had the offense not committed three first-half turnovers, the defense not allowed Chris Simms to engineer second-half touchdown drives of 70 and 54 yards and the special teams not jumped offsides on the Bucs’ point-after attempt.

Plenty of folks dressed in burgundy had a hand in the team’s fourth loss in six weeks, which came in shocking fashion when Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden elected to go for two points — from the 1-yard line — and fullback/bulldozer Mike Alstott converted with 58 seconds remaining.

Gruden’s gamble was set up by two plays: Simms’ 30-yard touchdown pass to Edell Shepherd and an offsides call on the left side of the Redskins line (which included Shawn Springs and Pierson Prioleau) that wiped out a block kicked by Walt Harris.

With his team at the 1-yard line, Gruden went for the win instead of overtime.

“After the second penalty, I wouldn’t have been able to wake up tomorrow not knowing what we could have done with Alstott,” he said. “I thought it was the thing to do given the fact Washington had moved the ball very well. Here we had the ball on the one-foot line. You’re not going to get better than that.”

Alstott was initially stopped by safety Ryan Clark, but he slipped free, broke a Khary Campbell arm tackle and scored. The Redskins — who got as far as their 44-yard line before giving up possession on downs with 20 seconds remaining — contended that Alstott’s right elbow hit the ground before he fell over the goal line. The call stood after an instant replay review.

“Everybody in the booth thought they had a great shot of seeing his elbow hit the ground,” assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said. “It doesn’t matter after that if he extends the ball over the goal line — the play is over. That’s why I was so animated and frustrated.”

But in the bowels of Raymond James Stadium, Williams, in what has become a familiar refrain, added: “We should have never let it get to that point.”

The Redskins’ fourth straight road loss dropped them to 5-4 and could prove to be costly later in the season because Tampa Bay (6-3) holds the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Redskins had a chance to tie the New York Giants (6-3) atop the NFC East; instead, if Philadelphia beats Dallas tonight, they will be tied for last in the division.

“I’m usually not speechless, but …” right guard Randy Thomas said. “Everything you think wouldn’t happen happened.”

Said quarterback Mark Brunell, who was equal parts good (23-for-35 for 226 yards and two touchdowns) and bad (two interceptions and a lost fumble): “For the most part, we’ve come out on the better end of these this year. … We let this slip away.”

Before letting their lead slip away, the Redskins found themselves in an 11-point hole. But Ladell Betts’ 94-yard kickoff return (to make it 14-10) and John Hall’s 40-yard field goal (to make it 21-13) kept the Redskins in striking distance. On the first play of the second half, Joe Salave’a forced a Cadillac Williams fumble; three plays later, Brunell hit Mike Sellers for a 7-yard touchdown and then Clinton Portis for the two-point conversion to tie the game.

The second half was the Redskins’ turn to squander leads — they led 28-21 on Betts’ 17-yard touchdown catch and 35-28 with 8:19 remaining on Portis’ 6-yard run.

The Redskins appeared in control when they took over possession with 3:37 remaining after Phillip Daniels batted down a Simms pass on fourth-and-goal from the 12. But the offense couldn’t get a game-clinching first down — Portis gained 6 yards on first down, 2 yards on second down and was held to a yard on third-and-2. Tampa Bay got the ball back at its 46 with 1:52 remaining.

“Third-and-2 was our opportunity to get the win, and we didn’t do it,” Brunell said.

“When we had to go back out there, we thought, ‘Let’s pull a repeat of the Eagles game,’” defensive end Renaldo Wynn said.

Last week, Philadelphia reached the Redskins 7 before Clark’s interception. Yesterday, there was no such big play. Simms hit Joey Galloway (seven catches, 131 yards) for 13 yards, then Shepherd for 11 yards two plays later. Following a spike to stop the clock, Simms found Shepherd in the right side of the end zone, beating Harris to make the sliding catch.

Williams said the Redskins were in a “fire zone” and the field was divided into thirds for the secondary. Shepherd came into Harris’ area, and Williams said Harris “froze on the stutter move.”

The Sean Taylor-less secondary appeared frozen on plenty of plays against Tampa Bay. Simms threw three touchdowns, and Harris and Prioleau were beaten several times for long gains. Before the Philadelphia game, the Redskins ranked first in pass defense but have given up 304 and 279 yards the last two games. After not giving up 36 or more points since the 1999 opener, the Redskins have allowed 36 in two of the last three games.

“When you play good football teams, you’re going to give up big plays from time to time,” Gibbs said.

The Redskins are home the next two games against a struggling Oakland team and a solid San Diego squad. Just like they successfully erased the Giants loss from their psyches two weeks ago, the same kind of mental surgery will be required today.

“The bottom line is we’ve got to have amnesia,” Salave’a said.

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