Tampa Bay found itself in uncommon territory Sunday afternoon and then ended up with an all-too-familiar result.
Up 24-0 midway through the second quarter, the Bucs found a way to blow a huge lead and watch the Washington Redskins celebrate their biggest comeback in franchise history.
“All losses really hurt, but there are some that really leave a deep scar,” Tampa Bay head coach Lovie Smith said after the 31-30 defeat that drops the Bucs to 2-4 on the year. “This is definitely one of those … with two drastically different halves that we played.”
Quarterback Kirk Cousins delivered the decisive blow with 24 seconds remaining. The fourth-year signal caller took over trailing 30-24 with 2:24 to work with and proceeded to march Washington 80 yards downfield. Cousins punctuated the drive by splitting a trio of Bucs defenders with a 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Reed.
Before that sequence occurred it was the Redskins defense coupled with a wasted opportunity by Tampa Bay that set up the late-game dramatics. The Bucs were in a first-and-goal situation from the Washington 5 and could have gone back up by two scores, but three straight stuffed runs resulted in a 21-yard Connor Barth field goal. On third down from the 1, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter opted for a pitch-left to running back Charles Sims that got blown up in the backfield for a 2-yard loss.
The final miscue of the gut-wrenching defeat came as Tampa Bay and quarterback Jameis Winston tried hurrying to get into field goal range. Two straight completions to wideout Mike Evans and tight end Cameron Brate got the Bucs to their own 42. Winston then dumped a short pass to Sims, who proceeded to pick up 19 yards before committing a costly gaffe in Washington territory. As he was being taken down, Sims tried to toss the ball backward to a non-existent teammate. The fumble was jumped on by Redskins defensive lineman Chris Baker with 5 seconds left, effectively ending the game.
Sunday’s depressing finish ruined what began as the Bucs’ best performance of the season. After forcing a three-and-out on Washington’s opening possession, Tampa Bay needed all of three plays to go up 7-0 when Winston hit Evans for a 40-yard touchdown.
That hookup was the first of eight on the day as Evans shredded the Washington defense for a second time in as many years. The second-year pro finished with 164 yards and the touchdown.
The fast start didn’t stop with those early fireworks, either. Tampa Bay scored points on each of its first three drives, then added a defensive touchdown when Jacquies Smith strip-sacked Cousins and Howard Jones raced 43 yards to the end zone.
There wasn’t much to celebrate after that big splash play.
Beginning with Cousins’ 8-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to get Washington on the board, the Redskins went on to post 21 unanswered points and outscored the Bucs 24-6 in the second half. Not helping the cause was another afternoon littered with yellow flags. As the Redskins were busy setting a franchise comeback record, Tampa Bay was approaching a mark of its own by committing 16 total penalties for 142 yards.
During his postgame press conference, Winston spoke about Tampa Bay failing to close out what could have been the team’s third win of the season.
“Gotta finish. You’ve gotta finish,” the rookie quarterback said. “We didn’t do enough to finish. One thing we always talk about is finishing and starting fast. We started fast this game, now we’ve got to finish. It’s something obviously that we have to go over when we get back.”
Winston ended his day completing 21 of 29 pass attempts for 297 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. His other scoring pass went for seven yards to rookie Donteea Dye in the second quarter. The reception and touchdown were both career firsts for the rookie out of Division III Heidelberg University.
Tampa Bay outgained Washington 479-355 and 190-50 on the ground. Running back Doug Martin went off for 136 yards on 19 carries and Sims chipped in 49 on 10 touches.
Moving the football got a little tougher in the second half after a pair of receivers – Vincent Jackson and Louis Murphy – exited with injuries. Those setbacks led to Martin, tight end Luke Stocker and Sims finishing as the Bucs’ top receivers, respectively, behind Evans.
The Bucs continued with their weekly tweaking of the secondary and didn’t receive any better results. Johnthan Banks returned to action, Tim Jennings was a healthy scratch and Jude Adjei-Barimah saw his most action ever, but Cousins completed 82.5 percent of his passes (33 of 40) for 317 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Two weeks after Jennings took plenty of heat for his subpar performance against Jacksonville, fellow cornerback Mike Jenkins and safety Bradley McDougald stepped into that role with a pair of forgettable afternoons.
Although Tampa Bay limited Washington running backs Alfred Morris and Matt Jones to 34 combined yards on just 15 attempts, Bucs on the back end didn’t get much in the form of pressure on the quarterback. The final stat sheet credited Tampa Bay with seven hits on Cousins but Smith’s strip of in the second quarter represented the lone sack.
WHAT’S NEXT Tampa Bay stays on the road next week and travels to NFC South rival Atlanta for a 1:00 p.m. kickoff against the Falcons.
OFFENSIVE STARTERS WR Vincent Jackson, LT Donovan Smith, LG Logan Mankins, C Joe Hawley, RG Ali Marpet, RT Gosder Cherilus, TE Luke Stocker, WR Mike Evans, QB Jameis Winston, RB Doug Martin, TE Brandon Myers
DEFENSIVE STARTERS LDE Will Gholston, DT Gerald McCoy, DT Clinton McDonald, RDE Jacquies Smith, SLB Alterraun Verner, MLB Kwon Alexander, WLB Lavonte David, CB Johnthan Banks, CB Mike Jenkins, SS Chris Conte, FS Bradley McDougald
INACTIVES QB Ryan Griffin, CB Tim Jennings, S Keith Tandy, DT Tony McDaniel, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, T Reid Fragel, WR Russell Shepard
DID NOT PLAY QB Mike Glennon, C Evan Smith
GAME SPECS Paid attendance: 72,912, FedEx Field
Game time: 3:14