Bucs LG Arron Sears made a rookie mistake early in the game, getting down in a three-point stance, putting his hand down and then coming out of the stance, which is a no-no. That drew a 5-yard penalty.
Bucs LT Donald Penn made a big mistake with Redskins DE Andre Carter on Sunday by not engaging Carter more on a speed rush that led to a sack. Carter basically hit Penn's left shoulder and shoved him out of the way. Penn has played well this season but he still occasionally fails to get away from the line fast and set up in pass protection.
The Bucs ran with success up the middle in the first quarter, as RB Earnest Graham rushed for 52 yards. That disappeared the rest of the game because the Redskins committed to playing eight men in the box after QB Jeff Garcia left the game. They obviously weren't scared of Bruce Gradkowski one bit. It was a simple, yet smart, move by Redskins defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
Gradkowski's intentional grounding penalty late in the first quarter was a great call by the officials. There was no receiver within 20 yards of the ball, and it was impossible to tell who the intended receiver way. Gruden had an extended conversation with referee Ed Hochuli after the quarter ended, probably about that call.
We'll pile on Gradkowski a little later. But his 13-yard bootleg run in the second quarter was a tremendous call by Gruden. The play called for the entire line to shift left at the snap, including FB B.J. Askew. Gradkowski used play action to Graham to sell the play, then turned and headed toward the right. The Redskins bought it. Askew had enough athleticism to reverse course after selling the lead block and get out in front of Gradkowski to block the only Redskin that had a chance to stop Gradkowski from getting a first down.
Gradkowski still has a lot to learn about the deep pass, as evidenced by missing Joey Galloway horribly on a deep route in the second quarter. Galloway obviously expected the pass to come over his left shoulder. Gradkowski threw it 10 feet off Galloway's right shoulder. It was a horrible miscommunication because Galloway had a step on the defender. But it exposed that Gradkowski hasn't progressed in a key element of this offense. The Bucs need the deep pass to fully utilize Galloway and keeps teams from loading up on short passes. If Gradkowski can't do that, he can't be consistently successful in this offense.
Galloway did a tremendous job catching that slant late in the second quarter. He caught it going down, but the ball squirted out of his arm. It didn't touch the ground and Galloway roped it in out of midair, Antonio Freeman style.
The Bucs continue to struggle on third down and in the red zone. The Bucs converted 1 of 11 third downs and were 1 of 3 in the red zone. Those are unacceptable totals even in victory. Gruden went to a conservative approach to protect the lead, and rightly so, because it appeared Gradkowski didn't bring much to the cause. But going an entire half without a first down is embarrassing and can't happen again.
The Redskins' first turnover came down to WR Santana Moss leaving the ball exposed on the top of his body to Bucs CB Phillip Buchanon. Moss spun himself around too much trying to make a play upfield, leaving the football exposed.
The second fumble came on great pursuit by DE Greg White, who appeared to be out of the play after Redskins LT Chris Samuels pushed him more than five yards behind the line of scrimmage. But White got up off the ground, spun around and pursued Clinton Portis, who left the inside of the ball exposed and White punched it out. Coaches teach pursuit, but players have to do it.
Portis' second fumble came on a stretch play that the Bucs contained well, with LB Barrett Ruud and CB Ronde Barber getting out to the side and containing the rushing lanes. Until they wore down in the fourth quarter, the Bucs contained both Portis and Ladell Betts on stretch plays. It's a play I don't believe Portis is built for anymore. But that containment set up Portis for the fumble forced by S Jermaine Phillips.
White did a great job of slipping past Samuels to force Redskins QB Jason Campbell's fumble to start the second quarter. Like Gaines Adams' play against Atlanta, it was a basic speed rush where White gained enough position on Samuels around the corner to get a hand on Campbell's pass. What was interesting to note was how much White leaned into the play. His balance isn't talked about, but you can't make a great leaning play such as that without it. By the way, the Redskins challenge of that play as sheer folly, but at that stage of the game Joe Gibbs had to try.
You had to put some of the blame on the Redskins receivers in the first half of that game. Keenan McCardell dropped a pass in the second quarter that could have led to a first down. Cooley did the same thing. When receivers are dropping good passes, it only compounds the turnovers that were made.
The Redskins needed to do it, but going to the no-huddle early in the third quarter helped change the pace of their game. It's no surprise they scored on that opening possession. The Bucs obviously didn't expect them to do that. It set the tone for how Redskins offensive coordinator Al Saunders called the second half.
Cooley's TD catch was the result of two things. First, the offside blitz the Bucs hoped for was picked up, giving Campbell time to throw. Second, the wide receiver on the edge occupied Buchanon long enough to give Cooley an opening as he ran his up and out route against Bucs LB Cato June. Buchanon had to respect the wide receiver and was late picking up Cooley.
The Redskins came up with a formation the Bucs had trouble defending. Whenever they brought in defensive lineman Lorenzo Alexander, they either lined up in an eight-man front with one wide receiver or a formation that saw Alexander slip into the slot next to Cooley. The Redskins did only two things out of this formation — a pass to Cooley, usually in the middle flat, or a stretch run play to Portis or Betts. The formation eventually paid off as the Redskins used Alexander and Cooley as a wall to set up blocks on those stretch plays. That's part of the reason the Redskins ran the ball effectively in the second half. The Bucs picked up on this, but with those two players out there, plus three linemen shifting to that side, they found pursuit lanes hard to come by.
Derrick Brooks fought through a block to make that tackle on Portis on 4th-and-1 at the Bucs 4, possibly the most important play of the game. It was classic Brooks, fighting through a block to fill the lane and stop the run. Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said afterward that the Bucs expected a quarterback sneak and a running play played right in to the Bucs' scheme that play, which filled every gap. The Bucs used the same play to stop Warrick Dunn on 4th-and-1 in the third quarter last week.
Adams helped Kevin Carter notch his 100th career sack. Adams pushed Samuels to the outside and out of the play, putting guard Jason Fabini in a one-on-one set with Carter. Carter won that battle easily, as he shoved Fabini out of the way. The ensuing sack was timely, as it forced the Redskins to take a field goal when they clearly wanted a touchdown.
Barber's interception was the result of homework. The Redskins had run the same play earlier, which featured a receiver split wide and one in the slot. Barber covered the slot. The Bucs were in a Cover 3 formation and Barber had to fight through the slot receiver to get to Moss in the flat. In a Cover 2 formation, that's not Barber's assignment. But the coverage, plus Barber's knowledge of the play in previous attempts by Washington, put him in the right place to make the play.
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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.