One of these days, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will actually beat one of their opponents. Until then, they will continue to beat themselves and remain winless at 0-4, and that’s exactly what happened in Washington as the Redskins came back from a 10-0 deficit at halftime to win, 16-13.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed with the outcome of the game,” said Raheem Morris, who is looking for his first victory as head coach of the Buccaneers. “We played a lot better at a bunch of different areas. We had an opportunity to win that football game and we should have. No … actually, I take that back. [The Redskins] came out and won that football game.
“We’ve got to become better managers. We’ve got to become better finishers. We’ve got to become guys that come out of halftime and absolutely draw blood when we have the ball. We didn’t smell it today. We didn’t take advantage of an opportunity and we had a big one.”
The Bucs left six critical points on FedEx Field in the first half as Mike Nugent missed two field goals from 49 and 48 yards that would have increased Tampa Bay’s halftime lead to 16-0 and made a difference in Sunday’s outcome.
“You get the two missed field goals and we’re not going to blink,” Morris said of Nugent, who is only 2-of-6 (33.3 percent) on the season. “You can’t blink. You’ve got to keep moving on. We still had a chance to win that game with the missed field goals. It’s our job to win the football game. He’ll get his opportunities again. We’ve got to make those things. There’s no doubt about it.”
Those missed field goals weren’t the only mistakes the Bucs made against the Redskins. With 55 seconds left in the fourth quarter and Tampa Bay needing a field goal to tie the game, seldom-used running back Clifton Smith saw his fumbling problems from a year ago resurface at the worst time possible as he picked up a first down on third-and-1 with a 2-yard gain only to fumble away the game. Smith coughed up the ball after being hit by Washington defensive end Jeremy Jarmon. Safety Chris Horton recovered the ball at the Tampa Bay 29 with 48 seconds left to end the game.
“He’s our two-minute back,” Morris said of Smith. “We were in a two-minute situation. He got the first down. He picked it up. He’s just got to hold on to the football. That’s his job. That’s his situation.”
The Bucs had a chance to regain the lead on a 12-play, 48-yard fourth quarter drive that ended at the Redskins’ 4-yard line after a quarterback draw from Josh Johnson only picked up four yards on third-and-goal. Instead of going for the go-ahead touchdown with 4:25 left, Morris sent Nugent out to kick a 22-yard field goal to cut Washington’s lead to three points.
“I felt really good about the defense at that point,” Morris said. “You get the three [points] and you get the ball back like we did with two minutes left, and having the ability to get a field goal to score in the two-minute drive or we get another field goal to put that thing into overtime – I felt really good about it. … That was the decision we made. That was the decision we rode with.”
Yet had the offense failed to get a touchdown, the Bucs defense would have had a much better chance to give the offense better field position with Washington starting at its own 4-yard line.
Johnson, who was getting his first NFL start at quarterback, got off to a great start in the first half, completing 8-of-13 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown, but was a dismal 5-of-9 for 25 yards passing in the second half and also threw a momentum-turning interception to DeAngelo Hall in the third quarter that allowed Washington to put points on the board.
Johnson and the offense struggled mightily on third down, converting just 2-of-13 opportunities (15 percent) on Sunday.
“Gotta get better on third downs. Gotta get better in some of the passing game areas,” Morris said of Johnson’s game. “The turnover was one that came back and got us today. He’ll get better. He’s a young guy.”
Tampa Bay’s inconsistent running game didn’t help matters. Although the Bucs were playing without Derrick Ward due to a knee injury, the Bucs did show some signs of life running the ball after being held under 50 yards rushing the last two weeks, producing 129 yards on the ground and a 4.3-yard average against the Redskins.
The Bucs lost control of the game in the third quarter, gaining just 16 yards rushing on five carries, including a 6-yard scramble by Johnson. The lack of running success in the third quarter contributed to three straight three-and-outs that allowed Tampa Bay to be outscored 16-0 heading into the fourth quarter.
Tampa Bay’s defense, which had forced only two turnovers in the first three games, managed to force three in the first half against Washington, but the Bucs couldn’t capitalize on all of them and only produced seven points from them. The Bucs finished with four takeaways, thanks to a banner day from cornerback Aqib Talib, who had a career-high three interceptions of Jason Campbell.
Those three picks tied the franchise record set by cornerback Ronde Barber against New Orleans on two occasions – December 4, 2005 and December 23, 2001. Despite Talib’s heroics, he did get beat by wide receiver Santana Moss for a go-ahead 59-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
“Aqib Talib had a heck of day, but I bet if he could go back and have one play back he would give the other three [interceptions] back for that one,” Morris said.
Tampa Bay’s 31st-ranked defense easily played its best game of the season, holding the Redskins to 277 yards, which was the first time this year a Buccaneers opponent has not achieved 300 total yards. Tampa Bay also produced three sacks, which matched its output from the first three games.
However, the defense wasn’t perfect, and allowed the Redskins to regain their confidence and take the lead in the third quarter by surrendering two touchdowns and a field goal as the pressure on Campbell that was there in the first half was nowhere to be found. Campbell started the game 5-of-12 for 60 yards with two interceptions, but was a different quarterback in the second half, completing 7-of-8 passes for 110 yards with two scores and one interception.
While the offense did manage to generate 144 yards at halftime against the Redskins and eclipse last week’s total of 86 yards throughout the entire game, the Bucs offense was held to only 85 yards in the second half. Greg Olson’s playcalling seemed timid and Johnson was adverse to throw the ball downfield. His longest completion of the game was a 27-yarder to Antonio Bryant, who had four catches for 44 yards.
On Washington’s first two pass attempts, Tampa Bay’s anemic pass rush came to life as Adams sacked Campbell on the Redskins’ second play of the game, followed by a sack-fumble by defensive tackle Jimmy Wilkerson. Adams recovered the fumble at the Washington 10-yard line. Two plays later on Johnson’s first pass attempt of the game, he threw an 8-yard strike to Bryant off play action for a touchdown, giving Tampa Bay a 7-0 lead with 13 minutes left in the first quarter.
The Bucs’ touchdown on their opening drive was the first since opening day against Seattle on October 19, 2008 – a span of 12 games. Tampa Bay’s touchdown represented the first time the Bucs have scored in the first quarter all season.
The Bucs had another chance for points in the first quarter after fielding a punt at the Washington 40. After Cadillac Williams, who rushed for 77 yards on 16 carries, picked up a first down on the ground, the Bucs’ drive stalled at the 31 due to a delay of game penalty, forcing Nugent to attempt a 49-yard field goal. However, Nugent’s kick hit the right upright and was no good with 3:01 left in the first quarter, leaving him with a 0-for-3 start to the season.
Talib picked off his first two passes in the span of six minutes, the second of which happened at the Tampa Bay 12 and was returned 21 yards to the 43-yard line. Johnson hit Bryant for a gain of 27 yards down to the Washington 30. However, the drive would stall there and with 8:01 remaining before halftime, Nugent was brought out to attempt a 48-yarder, which was wide right.
Washington used that missed field goal as motivation as it drove into Tampa Bay territory on its next possession. A 12-yard catch by running back Ladell Betts on third-and-6 moved the Redskins past midfield. An 11-yard catch by fullback Mike Sellers drove Washington down to the Tampa Bay 34. Yet on third-and-10 from the 34, linebacker Quincy Black sacked Campbell for a 4-yard loss, knocking the Redskins out of field goal range and forcing a punt.
The Bucs took over at their 21-yard line and Johnson led his team to a scoring drive right before halftime. On third-and-2 from the Tampa Bay 29, Johnson hit tight end Kellen Winslow for a 6-yard gain out to the 35. After Sammie Stroughter hauled in a 10-yard catch to move the chains to the 45, Johnson found Winslow for a 15-yard gain down to the Washington 37. Johnson, who had a 5-yard scramble to start the drive, rushed for 15 yards down to the 22 with less than a minute left in the second quarter. The drive stalled at the Washington 19 where defensive end Brian Orakpo, the Redskins’ first-round pick, sacked Johnson on third down for a loss of 1. With two seconds left, Nugent made his first field goal of the season, a 37-yarder, to give Tampa Bay a 10-0 lead at halftime.
Johnson’s impressive start was stymied on the Bucs’ first possession when Hall picked off a deep pass intended for Bryant at the Tampa Bay 41. On third-and-7 from the Bucs’ 38, Campbell scrambled for nine yards to pick up a first down and move the Redskins into field goal range. The ‘Skins would pick up a few more yards, but on third-and-4 from the Tampa Bay 23, Campbell’s pass to Moss was incomplete and Washington had to settle for a 42-yard Shaun Suisham field goal. With 10:36 left in the third quarter, Tampa Bay’s lead had been cut to 10-3.
Washington would use its next series to drive deep into Tampa Bay territory once again. Campbell looked for his Pro Bowl tight end, Chris Cooley, several times on the drive, including a 17-yard pass play to push the ball to the Tampa Bay 44. On fourth-and-2 from the Tampa Bay 36, Cooley picked up 12 yards down to the 24-yard line. On first-and-15 on the Bucs’ 17, Campbell threw a touchdown pass to Cooley, who hauled in the ball behind linebacker Geno Hayes and in front of safety Will Allen. Cornerback Ronde Barber blocked Suisham’s extra point attempt, so with 3:32 left in the third quarter, Tampa Bay held a slim, 10-9 lead.
The Bucs offense stalled again on its next possession after Johnson was sacked for no gain by linebacker London Fletcher, and that would cost Tampa Bay as Washington took a 16-10 lead with 1:22 left in the third quarter when Campbell hit Moss for a 59-yard touchdown on the first play of the Redskins’ next possession. Moss beat Talib in coverage with a double move.
Washington got the ball after another Tampa Bay three-and-out, but for the third time on Sunday, saw its drive end with another Talib interception. On second-and-8 from the Washington 48, Talib stepped in front of Moss at the Tampa Bay 20, returning the pick 13 yards to the 33-yard line. An illegal chop block penalty on center Casey Rabach gave the Bucs an extra 15 yards out to the Tampa Bay 48.
Johnson threw two passes for 10 yards to Williams to move the chains to the Washington 42. Williams picked up 13 more yards on the next two snaps to drive the ball down to the Washington 29. The Bucs kept feeding the ball to Williams, who had gains of eight and 17 yards to pick up two first downs and set up the Bucs with a first-and-goal at the Redskins’ 7. However, the Bucs’ lost two yards on Williams’ second down carry and Johnson’s 4-yard run failed to get a touchdown on third-and-goal from the 8. Nugent’s 22-yard field goal with 4:25 left in regulation cut Washington’s lead to 16-13, which proved to be the final score.
PEWTERREPORT.COM PLAYER OF THE GAME The temptation is name cornerback Aqib Talib as the PewterReport.com Player of the Game and he is certainly worthy of that distinction with a career-high three interceptions against Washington. However, his big day is greatly overshadowed by a key, 59-yard touchdown catch he gave up to Santana Moss in the third quarter that proved to be the game-winner.
While PewterReport.com recognizes Talib’s efforts, the choice for this week’s Player of the Game actually goes to defensive end Gaines Adams, who easily played his best game all year and his best game in quite some time dating back to last year. Adams, who has taken loads of deserved criticism for his shortcomings as a pass rusher, fought through a sore groin and played inspired football against Washington. He recorded his first sack of the season on Washington’s second offensive snap, and recovered a fumble by Jason Campbell at the Washington 10-yard line that led to Tampa Bay’s only touchdown of the game.
While Adams didn’t get to the Campbell for the rest of the game, he did record a quarterback hurry and deflect a pass at the line of scrimmage to end Washington’s second series on third-and-7. He also drew a holding call on center Casey Rabach in second quarter on an inside twist. Adams went against Pro Bowl-caliber left tackle Chris Samuels for most of the game and played with more physicality and vigor than he has all season. Adams was aggressive against the run too, finishing with five tackles, including a career-high two tackles for loss.
IT WAS OVER WHEN… Led by a second-year quarterback in his first NFL start in Josh Johnson, the Bucs didn’t have much of a chance – but they still had a chance – to come back and either tie or win the game with the two-minute drill. With 1:52 left and starting on their own 19-yard line, the Bucs advanced the ball to the 30-yard line and pick up a first down with 55 seconds left. However, on Clifton Smith’s 2-yard run on third-an-1 from the 28, defensive end Jeremy Jarmon stripped Smith of the ball and the Redskins recovered to keep the Bucs winless at 0-4.
STATS THAT COUNT Cornerback Aqib Talib recorded his first interception of the season when he picked off Jason Campbell in the first quarter. He added two more throughout the game to finish with a career-high three. … Defensive end Gaines Adams notched his first sack of the season when he sacked Campbell in the first quarter. … Defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson recorded a sack and leads the team with two. … Strongside linebacker Quincy Black recorded the first sack of his NFL career on Sunday. … Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud led the Bucs with nine tackles. … Cornerback Ronde Barber blocked the first extra point of his career on Sunday. … Earnest Graham had eight yards on five carries. … Michael Clayton, who had a drop on Sunday, was held without a catch for the second straight week. Clayton was also without a catch against New York. … Tampa Bay lost despite having a 4:2 edge in the turnover department. … Josh Johnson (23 years old, 142 days) became the youngest quarterback to start for the Buccaneers since Shaun King (22 years old, 191 days) started as a rookie on December 6, 1999. … Cornerback Elbert Mack made his first NFL start as the Bucs opened the game in nickel defense.
SUNDAY’S STARTING LINEUPS The announced Tampa Bay starting lineup for Sunday’s game was as follows:
BUCS STARTING OFFENSE WR Michael Clayton LT Donald Penn LG Jeremy Zuttah C Sean Mahan RG Davin Joseph RT Jeremy Trueblood TE Kellen Winslow WR Antonio Bryant FB B.J. Askew RB Cadillac Williams QB Josh Johnson
BUCS STARTING DEFENSE LE Jimmy Wilkerson DT Ryan Sims DT Chris Hovan RE Gaines Adams WLB Geno Hayes MLB Barrett Ruud SLB Quincy Black LCB Aqib Talib RCB Ronde Barber FS Will Allen SS Sabby Piscitelli
MISSING IN ACTION Here is a list of Tampa Bay players that were declared inactive for Sunday’s game:
QB Byron Leftwich (emergency QB) C Jeff Faine CB Marcus Hamilton DE Kyle Moore DE Dre Moore OT Demar Dotson OL Marc Dile RB Derrick Ward
BUCS IN-GAME INJURIES Buccaneers left guard Jeremy Zuttah was sidelined with an ankle injury with 9:30 left in the third quarter. He was replaced by Marcus Johnson, but returned on the next series. With 1:48 left in the third quarter, right tackle Jeremy Trueblood had to leave the game with a right shoulder injury. Trueblood returned on the next series.
KICKOFF CONDITIONS The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Redskins game at FedEx Field in Washington was 86,412 The kickoff temperature was 69 degrees under sunny skies with 64 percent humidity.
UP NEXT The Buccaneers (0-4) continue on the road by traveling to Philadelphia to square off against the Eagles (2-1 with a bye week this week) at Lincoln Financial Filed on Sunday, October 11. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. ET and will be televised on Fox.
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: email@example.com