TAMPA – It’s always a close game when Washington and Tampa Bay tussle. Heading into Sunday’s game at Raymond James Stadium, seven out of the last eight games have been decided by seven points or less.
The ninth contest would be no different as it took six turnovers by the Buccaneers defense, including an interception by cornerback Brian Kelly in the back of the end zone with 16 seconds left, to defeat the visiting Redskins, 19-13. Thankfully for Tampa Bay, it didn’t commit a turnover of its own.
With quarterback Jeff Garcia sidelined for much of the game with a back bruise, the Buccaneers’ young guns on defense got the ball rolling, forcing four fumbles in the first half – all deep inside Washington territory. Defensive end Greg White forced two fumbles, recovered one and also had a sack against Washington. Cornerback Phillip Buchanon and strong safety Jermaine Phillips forced the other two fumbles, with rookie free safety Tanard Jackson recovering two in the first quarter to help Tampa Bay build an early 10-0 lead thanks to short fields.
In the second half, it was the old guard’s turn to come up with crucial stops with linebacker Derrick Brooks, who led all tacklers with 12, forcing a turnover by tackling Washington running back Clinton Portis on fourth-and-1 for no gain at the Tampa Bay 3-yard line in the third quarter with the Bucs leading 19-10.
With 3:40 left in the fourth quarter, cornerback Ronde Barber picked off quarterback Jason Campbell, who brought Washington back from 19-3 deficit by completing 30-of-49 attempts for 301 yards with a touchdown. The pick was Barber’s franchise-record 32nd career interception. Barber surpassed cornerback Donnie Abraham on the Bucs’ all-time interception list with his first pick of the 2007 season and it couldn’t have come at a more important time in the game.
But Washington would get one more shot to win the game with 25 seconds left from the Tampa Bay 16-yard line when the final big play of the old guard came on Kelly’s end zone interception. That sealed Tampa Bay’s third-straight victory as the Buccaneers moved to 7-4 on the season.
Tampa Bay needed an outstanding effort from its defense because it gained very little from its offense, mainly due to the fact that Garcia was injured on the first play of the game on a 1-yard scramble. Garcia dove for yardage and was drilled on the lower right side of his back by Redskins defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin.
Garcia was really laboring for the next couple of plays and was eventually replaced by Bruce Gradkowski at the 13:15 mark of the first quarter. The Bucs would have to punt two plays later as Garcia went to the locker room for medical evaluation.
If you didn’t know how valuable Garcia is to Jon Gruden’s offense before Sunday’s game, you do now. With Garcia out of the game for the better part of three quarters, Tampa Bay’s offense was out-gained by Washington’s 412-192 and converted only 1-of-12 third downs (8 percent), while the Redskins converted 9-of-17 (53 percent).
Showing little improvement from a year ago when he slogged to a 3-8 record as Tampa Bay’s starter during his rookie season, Gradkowski struggled mightily under center against Washington. He completed 9-of-19 passes for 106 yards and was sacked twice. Gradkowski had Joey Galloway open downfield on several occasions, but missed a couple of deep ball opportunities.
Gradkowski was pulled in favor of Garcia, who was vigorously stretching and throwing on the sidelines, trying to convince the team trainers and coaches to let him return to the contest as the game was slipping away in the second half. Garcia fared no better as he was sacked once upon his return and completed just 2-of-4 passes for 9 yards in the entire game.
Buccaneers running back Earnest Graham led all rushers with 75 yards on 21 carries, including his sixth-career rushing touchdown, which gave Tampa Bay a 7-0 lead, but he was held to just 15 yards on five carries in the second half as the Redskins were crowding the line of scrimmage, daring Gradkowski to throw the ball. That feeble production matched Tampa Bay’s total yardage in the second half.
While Tampa Bay’s first play from scrimmage was costly due to Garcia’s back injury, the Redskins’ first play was just as disastrous as Buchanon stripped wide receiver Santana Moss of the ball at the Washington 27-yard line where Jackson recovered the ball and advanced it to the 19.
A 12-yard run by Graham set up Tampa Bay with a first-and-goal at the 7. Two plays later, Gradkowski handed off to Graham for a 1-yard touchdown. With 10:00 left in the first quarter, Tampa Bay led Washington 7-0.
Washington’s next offensive series ended with the same result – a fumble. On second-and-15 at the Redskins 25, Portis fumbled when he was tackled by defensive end Greg White. Once again, Jackson recovered the ball for Tampa Bay, advancing the ball to the 23.
With Garcia still sidelined, Gradkowski came in and moved the ball to the 6-yard line, due to a 9-yard slant to Joey Galloway. But a 6-yard sack on third down and a false start on rookie left guard Arron Sears pushed the line of scrimmage back to the Washington 17-yard line. On fourth down, Matt Bryant’s 35-yard field goal with 6:27 left gave Tampa Bay a 10-0 lead.
On third-and-10 at the Washington 20, Campbell got sacked from behind by White and fumbled. The loose ball was recovered by Tampa Bay defensive tackle Kevin Carter, who went over 100 career sacks on Sunday, at the Redskins’ 18-yard line. The play was challenged by Washington head coach Joe Gibbs, but instant replay upheld the call on the field.
The Bucs’ drive stalled at the 9-yard line on third down, but a 27-yard field goal by Bryant increased Tampa Bay’s lead to 13-0 with 12:28 left in the second quarter.
The song remained the same for the Redskins as Portis fumbled again on their next possession when hit by Phillips. White recovered for the Buccaneers at the 32-yard line. Within the first 20 minutes of the game, Tampa Bay had recovered four Washington fumbles.
Tampa Bay had three plays to get a first down, but two Gradkowski incompletions forced Bryant on to the field again where he nailed his third field goal, this time from 48 yards, to give the Bucs a 16-0 lead with 10:13. Those wasted red zone opportunities would come back to haunt Tampa Bay in the second half.
After an 11-play, 35-yard drive, Washington finally put some points on the board, thanks to a 43-yard field goal by kicker Shaun Suisham. The big play of the drive was a 24-yard catch by tight end Chris Cooley that got Washington into Tampa Bay territory for the first time today. With 6:11 left in the first half, Tampa Bay still had a 16-3 lead.
Tampa Bay added another Bryant field goal, this time from 40 yards away, with no time remaining in the first half to give the Bucs a 19-3 lead.
Washington scored on its first offensive possession in the second half, driving 73 yards in nine plays. Campbell was 3-of-4 on the drive, hitting Cooley for a 7-yard gain on third-and-9 at the 50-yard line before finding him open down the left sidelines for a 39-yard touchdown on third-and-9. Cooley slipped past Brooks and Buchanon on the play. With 10:38 left in the third quarter, Tampa Bay’s lead was cut to 19-10. Cooley finished the game with 96 yards and one score on six catches.
The Redskins appeared to be driving for their second touchdown of the third quarter, but were stopped at the 3-yard line on fourth-and-inches when Brooks shed his block and got into the backfield to stop Portis for no gain. After a 67-yard drive, which featured two Keenan McCardell catches on third-and-long, led to zero points for Washington, Tampa Bay took over at the 3. McCardell caught six passes for 60 yards, with five of them picking up first downs and three of them converting third downs in the second half.
Washington did capitalize on its next drive, closing the gap to 19-13 thanks to a 38-yard field goal by Suisham with 11:19 left in the fourth quarter. The Redskins’ drive covered 36 yards in 12 plays.
The Redskins were threatening again when Barber recorded his record-breaking interception at the 3:40 mark of the fourth quarter before Kelly’s interception sealed the deal for Tampa Bay.
IT WAS OVER WHEN… It should have been over at the 10:13 mark of the second quarter as Tampa Bay’s defense set up its offense in fantastic field position at the 19, 19, 18 and 32-yard line deep in Washington territory thanks to four fumble recoveries. But out of those four possessions in the first 20 minutes of play, the Bucs could only score one touchdown with quarterback Bruce Gradkowski at the helm, settling for three Matt Bryant field goals instead in building a 16-0 lead instead of a 28-0 lead. Instead, this game went down to the wire with Washington out-gaining Tampa Bay 316-15 yards in the second half. It took a key fourth down stop by linebacker Derrick Brooks at the Buccaneers’ 3-yard line, in addition to two late-game interceptions by cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly, whose first pick of the season came with 17 seconds left in regulation, to put away the Redskins.
PEWTERREPORT.COM’S PEWTER PLAYERS OF THE GAME Where do we begin? Tampa Bay rookie free safety Tanard Jackson continues to impress. Not only does play smart football and doesn’t give up big plays he also makes big plays. Coming into the game with two interceptions and one fumble recovery, Jackson added two more fumble recoveries in the first half against Washington to push his season total to three. Both of those turnovers led to points as Tampa Bay built a 10-0 lead. Jackson finished the game with six tackles.
Bucs defensive end Greg White also had a stellar game against Washington. After recording two sacks and forcing two fumbles last week at Atlanta, White recorded a sack, forced two fumbles and recovered a fumble in the first half. White, who finished the game with four tackles, now has a team-leading 5.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and one fumble recovery on the season.
In addition to those performances, key second half stops by linebacker Derrick Brooks and cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly should be recognized, as well. But this week, PewterReport.com bestows its Pewter Player of the Game honors to kicker Matt Bryant and punter Josh Bidwell. With Tampa Bay’s offense struggling, Bryant was the key point-producer, hitting a career-tying 4-of-4 on his field goals, including a 48-yarder. Bryant has now made 18-of-22 field goals (81.8 percent) on the season.
Bidwell changed the field position all day, averaging 50.4 yards per punt with a net of 42 yards. Bidwell also downed three punts inside the Redskins’ 20-yard line, including a 61-yarder, which tied his season long. Winning the battle of hidden yardage typically gives team’s a “W” and that’s what happened on Sunday for Tampa Bay thanks to Bidwell’s strong leg.
RECORDS, MILESTONES AND NOTES • The Buccaneers (7-4) maintain a two-game lead in the NFC South division over the Saints (5-6), who beat Carolina (4-7) on Sunday. The Bucs are 3-0 in the NFC South while the Saints are 2-2 in the division.
• Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks made his 200th career start on Sunday.
• Tampa Bay running back Earnest Graham now has rushed for a touchdown in three straight games and has a career-high six rushing scores this season.
• The Buccaneers have generated seven sacks, eight forced fumbles seven fumble recoveries and five interceptions during their three-game winning streak and have won the turnover battle 12:2. That’s a plus-10 turnover ratio over the past three contests.
• Tampa Bay improved its 2007 home record to 5-1 with the 19-13 win over Washington.
• Bucs defensive end Kevin Carter recorded his third sack of the season against Washington. That gives him 100.5 career sacks, which is the fourth most among active players. Carter finished the game with two tackles and one fumble recovery.
• Tampa Bay defensive end Greg White became the first player in franchise history to record two forced fumbles in back-to-back games. White, who had two sacks and two forced fumbles last week at Atlanta, now leads the team in sacks (5.5) and forced fumbles (four). White recovered his first career fumble against Washington.
• The Buccaneers defense recorded four fumble recoveries, tying a team record for the most fumble recoveries in a game. Tampa Bay’s defense has done this twice before, at St. Louis (11/26/01) and at Pittsburgh (10/30/83). STATS THAT COUNT Bucs rookie fullback Byron Storer had a career-high two special teams tackles against Washington. That tied wide receiver Maurice Stovall’s special teams output on Sunday. … Tampa Bay weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks led the team with 12 tackles on Sunday. Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud had 10. … Bucs wide receiver Ike Hilliard led the team with four catches for 44 yards. … Tampa Bay broke up eight passes, led by cornerback Ronde Barber, who had three. … Washington held a 34:53 – 25:07 time of possession advantage over Tampa Bay, and held on to the football for 24:46 of the second half.
BUCS’ STARTING LINEUPS VS. THE REDSKINS
Starting offense: WR Joey Galloway LT Donald Penn LG Arron Sears C John Wade RG Davin Joseph RT Jeremy Trueblood TE Alex Smith WR Ike Hilliard FB B.J. Askew RB Earnest Graham
Starting defense: LE Kevin Carter UT Jovan Haye NT Chris Hovan RE Gaines Adams WLB Derrick Brooks MLB Barrett Ruud SLB Cato June LCB Phillip Buchanon FS Tanard Jackson SS Jermaine Phillips RCB Ronde Barber
Starting specialists: K Matt Bryant P Josh Bidwell LS Andrew Economos
BUCS-REDSKINS INACTIVES Bucs Inactives: RB Michael Pittman, DE Greg Spires, MLB Jeremiah Trotter, CB Keiwan Ratliff, DL Greg Peterson, TE Keith Heinrich, OL Dan Buenning and QB Luke McCown (emergency quarterback).
Redskins Inactives:â€¨ SS Sean Taylor, CB David Macklin, FB Mike Sellers, OL Todd Wade, DT Ryan Boschetti, G Randy Thomas, WR James Thrash and QB Mark Brunell (emergency quarterback).
BUCS INJURIES Bucs defensive end Greg Spires (calf strain) and running back Michael Pittman (ankle sprain) were the only players who did not play due to injury. Quarterback Jeff Garcia injured his ribs on the Buccaneers’ first offensive play and was replaced in the lineup by Bruce Gradkowski after four plays. Garcia returned at the 11:13 mark of the fourth quarter. No other in-game injuries were reported.
KICKOFF CONDITIONS The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Redskins game at Raymond James Stadium was 65,596. The kickoff temperature was a warm 81 degrees with 61 percent humidity.
UP NEXT The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-4) travel to New Orleans to play the Saints (5-6) next week at the Super Dome on December 2. Kickoff is set for 4:15 p.m.
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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org