Ronde Barber's interception with 3:41 left to play helped preserve Tampa Bay's 19-13 victory over the Washington Redskins on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
The victory pushed the Buccaneers to 7-4 this season and maintained their two-game edge in the NFC South entering what will be an important game next week against New Orleans. The Saints beat Carolina on Sunday, improving to 5-6 and keeping them within striking distance of the Bucs for the division lead.
Barber's interception — the 32nd of his career and now the most in team history — came as he jumped a short pass from Redskins QB Jason Campbell to WR Santana Moss. Barber caught the pass and was tackled at the Redskins 30.
The interception was the Redskins' fifth turnover of the game and derailed a productive drive that put the Redskins within striking distance to take the lead.
The Redskins (5-6) received one last chance to steal the victory with less than three minutes left. With no time outs, Campbell moved the Redskins from their own 7 to the Bucs 16 before he was picked off by the Bucs' Brian Kelly in the end zone.
Tampa Bay turned four first-half turnovers into 16 points. The Bucs finished the first half with a 19-3 lead, most of which came on four Matt Bryant field goals.
Washington started a comeback to start the second half as Campbell connected with TE Chris Cooley for a 39-yard touchdown pass with 10:38 left in the third quarter, the Redskins' first touchdown of the day and their first real positive play on offense.
The touchdown gives the Redskins some life after a first half that was disastrous just about all the way around. But their attempt to make it a one-score game failed with 2:05 left in third quarter. The Redskins faced 4th-and-1 at the Bucs 4 and run the football, but Bucs LB Derrick Brooks found a hole and slammed into Redskins RB Clinton Portis for no gain, forcing a change of possession.
The Redskins cut the lead to six points on Suisham's 38-yard field goal. The Bucs defense forced the field goal after Bucs DE Kevin Carter sacked Campbell for a 6-yard loss. The sack put Carter over 100 sacks for his career.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay's offense had done nothing with backup Bruce Gradkowski in the third quarter, prompting the return of Jeff Garcia after Suisham's second field goal. Garcia left the game in the first quarter with an undisclosed injury. Garcia spent most of the game on the sideline watching Gradkowski navigate the Bucs' five scoring drives, all from Redskins territory. Gradkowski took two sacks that forced the Bucs into field goals.
The Bucs went three-and-out on Garcia's first possession back from injury. Their second drive ended in a punt as well, as Joey Galloway dropped a deep pass from Garcia.
The Buccaneers defense forced four fumbles on Washington's first five drives, resulting in 16 points. The Buccaneers would have liked to have had more, as three of the four drives began inside Washington's 20-yard line. But the Redskins defense was able to limit the Bucs to four Bryant field goals after Earnest Graham scored the game's only touchdown, a 1-yarder, early in the first quarter.
Defensively, the Bucs limited the Redskins to 98 total yards in the first half. DE Greg White forced two of the Redskins fumbles, while CB Phillip Buchanon and S Jermaine Phillips forced one each. S Tanard Jackson recovered two of the fumbles, white White and DE Kevin Carter recovered one each.
The Bucs have not lost a game this season in which they've had an edge in the turnover ratio (plus-4) and a lead at halftime.
Washington scored its only first-half points on a 43-yard field goal by Suisham with 6:11 left in the second quarter, the first positive momentum the Redskins mustered in the first half.
All four Washington fumbles set up the Bucs with great field position in Redskins territory. Washington's first five offensive possessions resulted in four lost fumbles and a punt.
On Washington's first offensive possession, Campbell used a play-action fake to run a naked bootleg to his right and threw to WR Santana Moss in the flat. Moss, trying to get extra yardage, exposed the football on the top of his body and Buchanon jarred it loose for a fumble. Jackson picked it up and returned it to the Redskins 19 to set up the Bucs offense.
That set up Graham's touchdown plunge. Graham finished the first half with 60 yards, but he had 53 first-quarter yards as the Bucs offensive line won the early battle with Washington's beefy defensive tackles before the Redskins loaded up to stop the run.
On Washington's second drive, Portis coughed up the ball. White came from behind to dislodge the football and Jackson once again recovered the ball and returned it to the Redskins 19 with 9:34 left in the first quarter.
The Bucs had to settle for Bryant's field goal after Bucs QB Bruce Gradkowski took a sack on third down.
Washington turned it over again to start the second quarter as White used a speed rush to get past Redskins LT Chris Samuels and force a fumble as Campbell tried to throw. Carter recovered and the Bucs turned it into another Bryant field goal.
Phillips set up Bryant's third field goal. Phillips jarred the ball loose from Portis, who was held up by a pair of Bucs, including LB Barrett Ruud. White recovered the fumble to set up the Bucs inside the Redskins 35, but they had to settle for a third Bryant field goal.
Bryant kicked a 39-yarder as time expired in the second quarter, set up by a Redskins punt and Buchanon return to midfield. Once again, Gradkowski took a sack that limited the drive.
The Redskins may have lost starting left defensive end Phillip Daniels in the second quarter to an apparent injury.
Before the game, as expected, the Bucs declared RB Michael Pittman inactive and the Redskins declared S Sean Taylor inactive.
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Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.