DE Simeon Rice knew the difference in the game came down to turnovers
You can look at the offensive total amassed by the Washington Redskins on Saturday in two ways:
1) It was the fewest yards ever gained by a winning team in an NFL playoff contest; or
2) It was the fewest yards ever allowed by a losing team in an NFL playoff contest.
That's two sides of the same coin, obviously, but guess which note you would rather be writing on the day after the game?
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' top-ranked defense pulled off the latter feat in Saturday's Wild Card playoff game, holding the Redskins to 120 yards of total offense despite losing, 17-10. That's an extremely impressive accomplishment by a defense that has been the league's best for the last decade but it is, unfortunately, something of a moral victory. The Redskins will live to fight another day in the 2005 playoffs while the Buccaneers will begin preparing for 2006.
Thus, it might take a bit of time before Tampa Bay's defenders can garner any enjoyment from their performance on Saturday, as rare as it was. Had this game occurred during the regular season, at least the Bucs could have found a few things on which to build confidence for the next big game.
"At this point, it does not matter, does it?" asked cornerback Ronde Barber, who helped limit Mark Brunell and the Redskins to, amazingly, 25 net passing yards. "We are not building towards anything right now. We are stuck in 2005 and all we can do is look forward to next season. The what-ifs, the what-if game, at this point, means nothing to me."
Of course, had this effort occurred during the regular season, it wouldn't be as impressive, either. Holding a playoff team to 120 yards over 60 minutes is a ridiculous accomplishment; in fact it is easily one of the best postseason defensive performances of the modern era.
Here are the only nine playoff games in the entire history of the NFL in which one team was held to 120 yards or less:
|**Rank**||**Yds. Allwd.**||**Team**||**Opponent**||**Playoff Game**|
|1.||86||N.Y. Giants||Cleveland||1958 Divisional|
|2.||99||Philadelphia||Chicago Cardinals||1948 Conf. Champ.|
|3.||109||Philadelphia||L.A. Rams||1949 NFL Champ.|
|4.||112||Washington||N.Y. Giants||1943 Divisional|
|5.||114||N.Y. Giants||Minnesota||2000 NFC Champ.|
|6.||116||Green Bay||Boston Redskins||1936 NFL Champ.|
|7.||118||Dallas||L.A. Rams||1975 NFC Champ.|
|8.||119||Pittsburgh||Minnesota||1974 Super Bowl IX|
|9.||120||Tampa Bay||Washington||2005 Wild Card|
Five of those nine games, as you can see, happened well before the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, in an era that is hard to compare with ours, given the far less sophisticated passing games. Two more are from the first half of the 1970s, when the running game was still king. Only the Giants' dismantling of the Vikings in the 2000 conference championship game is directly comparable, and it's worth noting that New York won that game 41-0.
What's tough for the Buccaneers is being the novelty item on this list. The one game that, somehow, wasn't a victory. Think the Redskins care that they're number-one among winning teams on that list? Think they were happy about gaining 389 yards in a loss in Tampa in November?
"That is one of the positives you can take from the game," said linebacker Derrick Brooks, trying for a few seconds at least to gain some perspective. "We did not win and I would give up one thousand yards to get a win. At the end of the day that is what it is about. It is really not about that, it is about the 'W.' And we did not make enough plays to get a 'W' and to me that is the most important thing."
Still, we're talking about it, aren't we? The Buccaneers' defense came into the first round of playoffs as the top-ranked unit in the league, having grabbed that title from Chicago on the last weekend. It's safe to say, however, that few analysts really considered the '05 Bucs the best defense in the league, unlike in 2002, when the rankings title was just the last validation of what everyone already knew. This year, most gave that distinction of best defense to the Bears, who would have been the Bucs' second-round opponent had they won.
Perhaps it is particularly impressive, then, that this defense came out and stymied an offense that, over the last five weeks of the regular season, had averaged 326 yards and 28 points per game. Behind Clinton Portis' five straight 100-yard rushing games, the Redskins' offense was rolling coming into the postseason. They expected similar success on Saturday.
"Our guys on offense were giving it everything we had," said Washington Head Coach Joe Gibbs. "We tried a little bit of everything, and we couldn't get anything to work. I thought we tried to mix it up. I think you have to give [Tampa Bay] credit. They had a heck of a game plan. On the first time around here, we got quite a few yards. I was concerned coming back because I think they've got a lot of pride, and they're number-one on defense because they're real good."
Maybe they were even a little better than most analysts were willing to concede. This is a defense that, even down 14-0 due to two turnovers on offense, absolutely refused to wilt. Trailing 17-3 at halftime, the Bucs' defense came out and held Washington to fewer than 10 net yards on every single possession in the second half. Perhaps that kind of dominance couldn't have been foreseen, but the Bucs definitely expected to have a good game on Saturday.
"We played well; we knew we were going to play well," said Barber. "The game set up for us to play well. It just wasn't enough. We did not generate enough turnovers to match theirs, unfortunately. Give them credit."
Of course, the flow of the game was important in generating the final statistics, too. It's safe to say that Washington called a more conservative game in the second half with a two-touchdown lead to start the third quarter. Brunell may have completed only seven passes on the day, but he also tried only 15. Still, given all of that, the Redskins still realized they had overcome an incredible defensive performance on Saturday.
"They mixed it up, and there is a reason they were the best defense in the NFL," said Brunell. "They were impressive. They had a lot of speed. They had a great game plan. We couldn't run it, and obviously, we didn't throw well either, but our defense was incredible. You have to give a lot of credit to the Tampa defense, they were very impressive today."
At the beginning of the 2005 season, which most observers felt would be another tough one for the Buccaneers, the team made a point of studying the factors that most often lead to wins and losses in the NFL. It should come as a surprise to no one that giveaway/takeaway differential was at top of that list. In the end, it is the reason the Bucs are not celebrating one of the best defensive performances in NFL playoff history.
"It is funny, ironic, that the thing we stressed most is the thing that we could not get over, and that was the turnover margin," said defensive end Simeon Rice. "We held them in yards. We had more yards than them. Everything, statistically, went our way, except for the turnover margin."