KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
14th meeting. The Redskins lead the series 7-6, but have lost their last four visits to Tampa, including the 14-13 divisional playoff loss in 1999. Brian Mitchell returned a kickoff for Washington's only touchdown that day, while Tampa Bay's only touchdown came after Shaun King was sacked by Shawn Barber only to have the ball squirt forward for a 14-yard gain. And then a bad snap prevented the Redskins from getting off a potential game-winning field goal with 1:17 left.
Redskins: offense 11th (14th rush, 14th pass); defense 7th (21st rush, 6th pass). Bucs: offense 21st (16th rush, 21st pass); defense 1st (2nd rush, 2nd pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME:
The gameplan for the Bucs sounds simple: run the ball on offense and get after the passer on defense. In Tampa Bay's three losses, it has averaged just 57 rushing yards, and the Redskins will do everything they can to stuff rookie RB Carnell Williams and force the game onto the arm of struggling QB Chris Simms. Simms must make quality decisions because Redskins defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is among the best when it comes to unsettling young quarterbacks. The Bucs' defense is ranked No. 1 overall, but they have just seven interceptions and 16 sacks. Tampa Bay is looking for more big plays out of its defense, which will be much easier if it can stop RB Clinton Portis and put QB Mark Brunell in long passing situations.
Redskins: Are 7-1 when Portis rushes for at least 100 yards. ... Brunell has a 93.5 passer rating on third downs. Bucs: Are 3-20 over the past two years when they lose the turnover margin. ... Are 12-26 in the past 38 games in which they have recorded less than three sacks.
--LDT Cornelius Griffin didn't practice because of the hip flexor injury he re-aggravated on the first play of the 36-0 loss to the Giants on Oct. 30. Griffin hasn't been on the field and likely won't play again on Sunday. He has missed consecutive games just once before during his six seasons.
--RDT Joe Salave'a didn't practice because of the plantar fasciitis in his right foot that he first hurt on Oct. 16 at Kansas City. Salave'a has missed most practices since but hasn't missed a game. This week should be no different.
--FS Sean Taylor didn't practice for a second straight day because of the sprained ankle that he also rested last Thursday. Taylor started three days later and is expected to do so again against Tampa Bay.
--RDE Phillip Daniels returned after sitting out on Wednesday because of the sprained ankle he suffered against the Giants. Daniels sat out last Wednesday and Thursday before returning Friday and starting on Sunday. He should start again against the Bucs.
--QB Mark Brunell returned from the minor calf strain that kept him out on Wednesday and also last Friday. Brunell started two days later and is expected to do so again this Sunday.
--WR Ike Hilliard will make his first start of the season for the Bucs on Sunday against the Redskins.
"Yep, he's been stepping up for us. Ike will play, Ike will start," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. "And Edell Shepherd obviously will be part of the package, also."
--WR Michael Clayton, who has played with a shoulder separation this season, was injured in the first quarter of Sunday's 34-14 loss to Carolina when he landed hard on his knee making his first pass reception. Clayton did not practice again Thursday and is listed as questionable for Sunday's game against the Redskins.
If Clayton is unable to play, it will be the first time he has missed a game after playing in 24 straight during his young career.
--T Anthony Davis, who suffered a sprained knee and was forced to leave the game against Carolina, returned to practice and is probable for Sunday's game against the Redskins.
--RB Michael Pittman (shoulder stinger) practiced on a limited basis Thursday. Pittman is listed as questionable.
--S Dexter Jackson (hamstring) did not practice Thursday and is listed as questionable for Sunday's game.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Thanks to a 17-10 victory over Philadelphia, their first over the defending NFC champion Eagles in eight meetings, the Redskins are in the playoff race at midseason for the first time since 2000, when they turned a 6-2 start into an 8-8 finish that cost coaches Norv Turner and Terry Robiskie their jobs.
The second-biggest crowd (90,298) in FedEx Field's nine seasons enjoyed the end of a negative streak against an NFC East rival for the second time this year - the Redskins won at Dallas for the first time in 10 years on Sept. 19. The win came a week after Washington was blasted 36-0 by its other division rival, the New York Giants.
The Redskins, who had lost three of their previous four games, have the edge on the second wild-card spot, thanks to their victory over the Cowboys, with whom they're tied, one game behind the Giants.
"Maybe we'll look back at this game as perhaps a defining moment," said quarterback Mark Brunell, who rebounded from a down day at Giants Stadium to complete 21 of 29 passes for 244 yards. "Hopefully, we can build some momentum off this one. To be 5-3 halfway through is good for any football team, so we're pleased."
Thanks to largely to the miraculous resurrection of the 35-year-old Brunell (12 touchdowns and three interceptions after getting benched last November) and the acquisition of top-flight receiver Santana Moss (49 catches, 856 yards, five touchdowns), who have jump-started the offense from 30th last year to 11th, the Redskins are thinking playoffs, a destination they haven't reached since 1999.
Washington's confidence is buoyed by its 4-1 record against fellow NFC contenders Philadelphia, Dallas, Chicago, Seattle and the Giants. Sunday comes a similar test at Tampa Bay.
Pro Bowl linebacker Marcus Washington said despite the high from finally beating the Eagles, the Redskins won't be as cocky as they were going to New York after crushing San Francisco 52-17 the previous week.
"The Giants game definitely knocked us off our high horse," Washington said. "You definitely learn more from a loss than you do from winning. You break it down more. We didn't like the taste that left in our mouths and we don't want to go back to that so we'll approach every game ready to play our best."
The Redskins know that they're far from perfect. They have a minus-9 turnover margin, average seven penalties per game and have allowed five touchdowns of at least 30 yards in the last five weeks, compared to two all of last season.
But for a change, Redskin Park is an upbeat place at midseason.
"There's a completely different attitude around here," tight end Chris Cooley said. "Everybody is excited this week for another big game, and last year we were down and didn't want to be around here too much."
Tampa Bay has lost three of its last four games, its starting quarterback and its share of the lead in the NFC South.
But Bucs coach Jon Gruden made it clear the Bucs are in no need of motivational speeches or confidence boosters.
Just consider a few of his takes from Thursday's post-practice session with reports.
Asked what, if anything, he has done or said to boost his team's confidence amid a two-game losing streak, Gruden responded, "What do you mean what have I done? Hug em? What do you want me to do? Pat them on the back and give them a fight song? No. You probably just let them know you're going to have moments in this league now where you're going to be tested. I try to explain that to them. I try not to get too deep and philosophical.
"Play one game at a time. Have fun playing, man. Just let it go and play. I've been doing this 15 years, I haven't had a tight end come in here and do what Alex Smith has done. I've been playing 15 years and I haven't had a running back come in and play three games - nor has the NFL in the history of the league - (and) have what Cadillac Williams did. Dan Buenning, what he's done in the first eight weeks is pretty damn good. I'm excited about what Anthony Davis has done and the toughness and the grit he has shown. Some of the other guys, now, you've been thrust into some very prominent positions. Quarterback. Edell Shepherd now. Some of the others. Do something with it. Let it go and do something with it."
When asked how the Bucs can get their swagger back, Gruden snapped, "I keep hearing that, 'Gee guys, let's get our swagger back. Go out there and play with swagger.' How 'bout smashing somebody's ass? Put it on tape. That's what swagger is. You know what I mean? That's a bunch of bull----, you know what I mean? Where you just talk about swagger. Swagger is execution and coming off the ball and making yards and doing the things that really good football players and teams do, in my opinion. I don't think we're lacking for confidence."