- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 7, 2006

At only seven years old, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., already has been the site of two memorable losses for the Washington Redskins.

In their most recent postseason game six years ago, the Redskins lost 14-13 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an NFC divisional playoff game.

On Nov. 13, the Redskins suffered their most agonizing loss of this season 36-35. Officials flagged the Redskins for jumping offsides on the Bucs’ late point after attempt, then didn’t overturn the ruling that Mike Alstott had crossed the goal line on a two-point conversion run.

And so the Redskins return to Raymond James for today’s wild-card playoff game hoping that kind of luck doesn’t continue.

“We just can’t allow the opportunities to slip out of our hands like we did the last time,” said left end Renaldo Wynn, who was part of a Redskins defense that was surprisingly picked apart by young Bucs quarterback Chris Simms for 279 yards and three touchdowns. “We’re going to make sure the refs don’t have a chance to make it so close.”

Although Washington’s offense scored 28 points on a Tampa Bay defense that wound up tops in the NFL — Ladell Betts returned a kickoff for the other Redskins touchdown — right tackle Jon Jansen blamed the loss on failing to gain 4 yards on two runs before the controversial calls. That gave the Bucs the ball back with 1:52 left.

“If we get a couple of first downs when we have the ball, we’re able to take a knee and end it on our terms,” Jansen said.

Six weeks ago, it seemed almost certain Washington’s season would end without a playoff game for the 12th time in 13 seasons. Three consecutive losses had the Redskins at 5-6 with three road games and home dates with NFC East contenders Dallas and the New York Giants left.

“This team could have said that it was over, and they didn’t,” coach Joe Gibbs said. “Our players have guts, determination and character.”

Led by running back Clinton Portis and a suddenly opportunistic defense, the Redskins won five straight to clinch a wild-card spot and a return engagement with the NFC South champion Bucs (11-5).

“I was talking to [Bucs linebacker] Derrick Brooks after that game, and he was like, ‘See you guys in the playoffs,’ ” Wynn recalled. “I don’t think he realized how true that would be.”

Brooks knows the Redskins are a better team than the one that left Tampa eight weeks ago.

“Their running game has picked up,” Brooks said. “They’re playing with confidence, making a lot of big plays on defense. If you can run the ball and get turnovers, you’re a tough team to beat.”

Jansen said the Redskins also will benefit from playing in high-pressure games the past five weeks.

“Our backs have been up against the wall for a long time, which isn’t the case for a lot of playoff teams,” said Jansen, the only Redskins player who has been with the team continuously since that last playoff loss in Tampa. “When your back’s up against the wall, you have to be able to fight through certain things. We’re comfortable with that situation, so I think going into the playoffs, we have a slight advantage.”

Coach Jon Gruden and the Bucs haven’t exactly been on auto-pilot of late, winning four of five to clinch their first playoff appearance since they won the Super Bowl three years ago.

“[Veteran receiver] Joey Galloway has really come on strong, and [rookie running back] Carnell Williams has gotten healthy and really made a difference for us in the last six or seven weeks,” said Gruden, whose team is without injured No. 2 wideout Michael Clayton.

Other than top cornerback Shawn Springs, who figures to see limited duty today at best because of an ailing groin, the Redskins are remarkably healthy, too. Top draft pick Carlos Rogers returns from a three-week absence with an injured biceps to replace Springs.

While the Redskins are 0-5 in Tampa since 1993, Gibbs owns a sterling 16-5 playoff record with just one opening-round loss.

Expecting the offense and special teams to score more than 35 points isn’t realistic, so reversing the loss to the Bucs is up to the defense.

“We didn’t hold up our end of the bargain the last time,” assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said. “We got beat over the top in coverage three or four times. I still have a sour taste in my mouth about that.”

A way to resolve that could be to get pressure on the 25-year-old Simms, who’s making his postseason debut.

Washington’s defense is bolstered by the presence of top tackle Cornelius Griffin and gifted free safety Sean Taylor, both of whom missed the Nov. 13 game with injuries.

“We’re not content,” Wynn said “These guys are like a wild pack of wolves. It’s like we’ve tasted blood and we’re ready to roll. We’re ready to keep this thing rolling.”

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