Two defensive touchdowns by the Redskins in the second half -- a 66-yard fumble return by defensive lineman Greg Scott, and a 20-yard interception return by linebacker Donte Curry -- turned a close game into a runaway. The Bucs turned over the ball an astonishing seven times compared to only two by the Redskins, and Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden was not pleased.
"I was very disappointed in the football game tonight," Gruden said. "We turned the ball over way too many times. Seven times I believe tonight. I told the team that in this league, you get what you deserve when you turn the ball over. That's what you should expect."
The game, at times resembled a flag football contest because of all the yellow laundry on the gridiron. Both teams were penalized 10 times with the Bucs amassing 126 yards and the 'Skins chalking up 76 yards. Some of the calls were of the questionable variety, but they weren't a surprise to Gruden when they were called.
"We've had five penalties in the last two games on our tackles for lining up ineligibly," Gruden said. "They say that they aren't on the line of scrimmage. It's a point of emphasis in the National Football League this year. The officials told every team in the league when they visited training camp about that. Obviously we have to get the message across a lot clearer because they are enforcing it dramatically during the preseason. They're just looking for the split hair foul and they‚re going to call it.
"A couple of penalties were costly. The first series in the second half we had Karl Williams on a corner route to make it first-and-goal. The next thing you know it was first-and-15. Those penalties stymied some drives as well. We just have to improve the etiquette of what were coaching and getting done on the line of scrimmage."
The complexion of the game changed 30 minutes before kickoff when it was announced that Redskins starting quarterback Danny Wuerffel was a game-time scratch due to a stomach ailment. Also, the Buccaneers shelved running back Michael Pittman with a sore ankle and middle linebacker Shelton Quarles with a strained calf muscle. It was obvious that neither side was going to take a chance on having one of their starters further aggravate an injury in a meaningless preseason contest.
The Bucs had their first two drives of the game stopped by interceptions. On the first one, strongside linebacker LaVar Arrington was the recipient of being in the right place at the right time.
On a third-and-four from the Redskins' 38-yard line, quarterback Brad Johnson tried to hit receiver Keenan McCardell on a short slant route over the middle. Cornerback Fred Smoot was credited with deflecting it to an opportunistic Arrington who returned it 26 yards to the Bucs 43-yard line.
The second turnover was a poor decision by Johnson. On a third-and-three from the Tampa Bay 30-yard line, Johnson was flushed out of the pocket to his right and tried to throw the ball away to avoid the sack in the direction of McCardell on the right sideline. Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey, who had McCardell covered like a blanket, made an excellent diving interception at the Bucs' 32-yard line that was originally ruled out-of-bounds, but was overturned by a Washington challenge.
Johnson just made an error in judgement, and Gruden admitted it was a high price to pay for that indiscretion.
"He was trying to throw the ball away," Gruden said. "I think he thought that ball was thrown clearly out of bounds. I think he underestimated the proximity of the Redskins defenders. It was a careless play on his part and it was very uncharacteristic for him."
The 'Skins made the Bucs pay for that mistake two plays later to take a 7-0 lead midway through the opening period. On second-and-1 from the Tampa Bay 23-yard line, quarterback Shane Matthews hit wide receiver Rod Gardner streaking up the left sideline on a fly route. Gardner managed to get behind cornerback Dwight Smith, who bit on a pump fake, and made a nice running catch in the corner of the end zone to put Washington on the scoreboard.
The Redskins increased their margin to 10-0 early in the second stanza. After a poor 31-yard punt by Tom Tupa, the Redskins took 14 plays to get James Tuthill into field goal range. Tuthill split the uprights from 23 yards out to put Washington two scores up.
The Bucs finally dented the scoreboard to cut the Redskins' margin to 10-7 on their next possession. Johnson hit McCardell on a 7-yard scoring strike on a beautifully designed pass play.
The Bucs lined up McCardell as a flanker to the left side and put running back Mike Alstott in motion. This forced the Redskins free safety David Terrell to cover Alstott outside the numbers and left McCardell with single man coverage because strong safety Sam Shade was favoring the left side where receiver Keyshawn Johnson was split. McCardell ran a quick crossing pattern and beat Smoot to the inside for his second preseason touchdown grab.
Washington came right back to extend the lead to 16-7. Running back Kenny Watson rumbled in from two yards out, but kicker James Rheem had the extra point blocked to keep the Bucs within nine points of the Redskins at halftime.
Early in the third quarter, the Bucs closed the gap to 16-10 after free safety John Howell intercepted quarterback Patrick Ramsey at the Tampa Bay 44-yard line. Howell stepped in front of wide receiver Kevin Lockett on the left sideline and returned the pick 27 yards to the Washington 29-yard line. But the Buccaneers offense couldn't generate any movement and kicker Martin Gramatica was called in to drill a 48 yarder from the right hash mark to pull the Bucs within a touchdown.
The turning point of the football game came on the Bucs' next possession. Returner Aaron Lockett had given the Bucs excellent field position with a 31-yard punt return. On second-and-eight from the Redskins' 18, defensive tackle Delbert Cowsette sacked quarterback Rob Johnson and jarred the ball loose. Scott scooped it up at the Washington 34-yard line and went untouched for a 66-yard touchdown. That extended the Redskins lead to 23-10 midway through the third quarter and they never looked back.
The 'Skins added another field goal by Rheem with less than a minute to go in the third period to up the lead to 26-10. After Mark Washington recovered the fumble of returner Travis Stephens on the ensuing kickoff, the Redskins upped their advantage to 33-10 on the first play of the last period when Ramsey found former Buccaneer Jacquez Green on an out route in the left corner of the end zone. Washington pushed the final score to 40-10 late in the final quarter when Curry stepped in front of an out route thrown by quarterback Shaun King at the Bucs' 20-yard line and went untouched into the end zone as the Redskins scored 24 unanswered points.
With just one preseason game left, it will be interesting to see which Bucs team shows up in Houston next Friday -- the one that crushed Jacksonville 20-0 or the one that got swamped by Spurrier and the Redskins.
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