You can reach Rich Tandler by email at WarpathInsiders@comcast.net
Let's get some facts straight here.
First, it's a fact that Mike Alstott did not get over the goal line before he was down by contact on the Bucs' two-point conversion attempt that won the Week 10 meeting between the Redskins and the Bucs. You can review the indisputable visual evidence presented here at the time, but everybody knows that the referees erred both in the original call and in their failure to reverse it after reviewing it on replay.
It is not a fact, however, that the Redskins would have won the division and gained a first-round bye had the play been called correctly. We know how the rest of that game would have unfolded—the Redskins recover the onside kick and kneel down a couple of times to take the game.
Had the Redskins received the "W" that they earned in that game, however, we don't know how that would have affected the dynamic of the rest of the season. Had they moved to 6-3, the sense of determined desperation that has marked the last five games likely would have been absent. Maybe they would have lost their focus and dropped that game to the Cardinals in the desert or perhaps they wouldn't have come out quite as fired up for the Giants game. They may have wound up 11-5, but they also could have wound up 10-6 or 9-7 or something else. And even if they had finished at 11-5, the Bears would likely have put more effort into their season finale against the Vikings and Chicago would have taken the #2 seed anyway. While it's possible that the Tampa loss cost the Redskins a home game or even a bye, it's not a fact.
Regardless of all that, it's a fact that the Redskins are where they are and that's at Tampa Bay again on Saturday. As the sixth seed, the Redskins are supposed to have the toughest draw in the first round of the playoffs. Instead, they could not have handpicked a better opponent.
Chris Simms had the day of his brief NFL career the first time the teams played. He threw for 3 touchdowns and no interceptions with a gaudy QB rating of 119.8. He wasn't sacked; for that matter, he barely even hit.
It will be different this time around.
First of all, the Redskins defense was without Cornelius Griffin and Sean Taylor the last time the two teams met. The absence of the former had a lot to do with the zero sacks, while Taylor certainly would have helped in coverage. Yes, Shawn Springs is likely to miss the game but Carlos Rogers is back and a starting cornerback tandem of Rogers and Walt Harris is decent enough to get the job done.
The Redskins have something that might be just as valuable as the two players who are back—film. That Week 10 contest was just Simms' third NFL career start. The Redskins didn't have much to go on when it came to breaking down his tendencies and finding his weaknesses.
Washington now not only has film to work with, they have film of him being successful against the very defense that he'll be facing on Saturday. From Simms' point of view, there is no reason to change a thing. A quarterback making his first playoff start certainly is going to have the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality. He will be very fortunate if his rating is half of what it was the first time.
Cadillac Williams won't beat them either. Tiki and LT ran against the Redskins this year and Tatum Bell popped a couple of long ones. Nobody else, not Alexander, not Jones (Thomas or Julius), not Jordan, not Westbrook, not Tiki the second time around, ran on the Skins. Cadillac won't either, and that will worsen Simms' problems.
On the other side of the ball, the Redskins will face the league's #1 defense and this is where the game will be decided. Certainly, the same theory that applies to the Redskins defense having film on Simms applies to Tampa Bay having a good bead on what the Redskins will do as they put up 35 points last game. The Redskins will have to beat them physically and that is a very tall order.
It's a tall order, but not an impossible feat. It took the Redskins a half to find out that the way to deal with Simeon Rice is to run right at him and they'll employ that tactic from the beginning this time around. The tried and true formula of the run with Clinton Portis setting up the pass will let Santana Moss get open. That won't happen often, mind you, but it will happen just enough. With the defense doing its part against Simms and company, it won't take much.
It won't be pretty and it won't be for the faint of heart, but the Redskins will survive and advance.
Washington 17, Tampa Bay 13