QB Josh Johnson played well in his first career start but the Bucs struggled to score points
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers spent Saturday night on Capitol Hill. On Sunday, they found out how difficult it can be to erase an unwanted deficit.
Tampa Bay saw a 10-point halftime surplus turn into a six-point hole by the end of the third quarter and an eventual 16-13 loss to the Washington Redskins at FedExField. The 0-4 Buccaneers have lost four contests in four very different ways, but Sunday's might have been the most painful because it appeared for 30 minutes that the team had turned the corner from its September struggles.
Instead, the Redskins asserted control with two Jason Campbell touchdown passes in the third quarter and held off a final rally by the visitors in the last five minutes. That negated a fast start for the Buccaneers that could have turned into a coming-out party for first-time QB starter Josh Johnson. Johnson, who threw a touchdown pass on his first dropback of the game, did get one last opportunity to run a two-minute drill, but Washington's defense forced a fumble by RB Clifton Smith with 49 seconds to play, ending the comeback attempt.
Though the offense had some difficulty producing big plays downfield, Johnson's nimble feet and accurate arm helped him complete 13 of 22 passes for 106 yards, one touchdown and one interception in his first NFL start. Johnson also scrambled frequently and added 41 yards of offense on seven carries.
Johnson gave the Buccaneers a 7-0 lead two minutes into the game when he threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to WR Antonio Bryant. The lead swelled to 10 points just before halftime as K Mike Nugent hit a 37-yard field goal as time expired.
Johnson's touchdown pass was set up by the first of four takeaways by the Buccaneers' defense, which had produced just two turnovers through the first three weeks. DE Gaines Adams, who had sacked Campbell on the game's second play, picked up a fumble by the Washington quarterback after DE Jimmy Wilkerson sacked him on the very next snap. Adams, who was challenged by Head Coach Raheem Morris to provide more production from his end position, finished the game with five tackles, two of them for losses, one sack, one quarterback pressure, one pass defensed and one fumble recovery.
Tampa Bay's other three turnovers were all interceptions by second-year CB Aqib Talib, another young player from whom the Buccaneers are expecting more production. Talib joined teammate Ronde Barber as the only two players in team history to intercept three passes in a single game (Barber has done it twice, both times against the New Orleans Saints).
Talib was the closest defender on the second of Campbell's third-quarter touchdowns, a 59-yard pass to WR Santana Moss that put Washington up for the first time in the game. That was the only play of 20 or more yards allowed by the Buccaneers' defense, which allowed a season-low total of 277 yards and held up strong to 25 hard-charging runs by RB Clinton Portis. Portis finished with 98 yards but averaged just 3.9 yards per carry and never got more than 10 on any particular tote.
Talib made up for the Moss touchdown by securing his fourth interception in the final quarter. That set up a 48-yard drive that unfortunately fizzled out inside the 10-yard line. A fantastic run by Cadillac Williams, who finished the game with 77 yards on just 16 carries, got the ball down to the seven but the Bucs' next three plays were all ineffective runs. With 4:30 left, the Bucs elected to go for the field goal to cut the lead for three and then try to get the ball back for one more drive.
That strategy worked, but not before Washington got the ball close to midfield and then punted deep into Buccaneer territory. Tampa Bay could have been at a great advantage if Washington had been forced to punt from deeper in their own territory, because Redskin punter Hunter Smith had suffered an injury on his first kick of the game and placekicker Shaun Suisham had to handle the punts the rest of the way. As it was, the Bucs still had a long way to go in the final minute had Smith not fumbled.
If the Buccaneers had any disappointment from their best half of football so far, it was that they led by only 10 points at the intermission. Nugent missed on field goal attempts of 47 and 48 yards and only three of 10 third-down attempts were converted. Thus, when Washington's offense got untracked in the third quarter and scored 16 unanswered points, the Bucs suddenly found themselves in another second-half chase.
A winding, tackle-breaking kickoff return by Smith to start the second half got the Bucs out to their own 40. However, Johnson's first career interception followed three plays later, as a sideline pass intended for Bryant never reached his target. CB DeAngelo Hall peeled off his man to get in front of the pass, returning it 22 yards to the Buccaneers' 43.
The Bucs forced a third-and-seven and then collapsed the pocket on Campbell, but he was able to escape and weave through traffic for a first down at the Bucs' 29. Tampa Bay held outside its red zone, however, and the Redskins had to settle for Shaun Suisham's 42-yard field goal.
A holding penalty on the ensuing kickoff pushed the Bucs back to their own 13 and they had difficulty advancing from there. On third-and-five, Johnson tried to zip a quick slant in to Winslow but it was well-defended by two Redskins. Fortunately, Antwaan Randle El let the ensuing punt drop and it bounced all the way to the Washington 31.
The Redskins drove into Buccaneer territory but faced a fourth-and-two at the 36. They went for it and converted when Campbell scrambled right and then threw back left for a 12-yard completion to Cooley. Barber then broke up a near-TD pass to Cooley and a screen to TE Fred Davis lost a yard. On third-and-11, Campbell darted out of the pocket and ran for 13 yards and a first down at the Bucs' 12. After a false start penalty, Campbell found Cooley again, this time for a 17-yard touchdown. Barber came around the left end of the line untouched on the ensuing PAT and dived to block it.
Following a touchback, the Bucs faced a third-and-three at their own 27. Johnson ran around on an amazing scramble but was eventually sacked four yards shy of the sticks and the Bucs had to punt again. Washington took the lead one play later with Campbell's perfect bomb to Moss, who got several yards past the Bucs' defense thanks to a well-executed double-move.
Another touchback and runs by Johnson and Williams, and the Bucs were in another short third down, facing third-and-three as the third quarter came to an end. Johnson tried to run for the first down on the first play of the fourth period but slipped on a cut and came up two yards short.
Starting on their own 34 after the Buccaneers' punt, the Redskins stayed on the ground, with Portis pounding for 14 yards on three carries. However, when Campbell tried to throw, Talib reacted to a pump-and-go pass attempt to Moss and leaped to pick it off. A personal foul was tacked on to the end of Talib's 13-yard carry, taking the ball back to the Bucs' 48.
From there, Johnson threw a short pass to Williams that was good for five yards. Johnson's next two passes were also intended for Williams, and the second one was complete and good for just enough yards for a first down at the Washington 42. Two more Williams touches, one catch and one run, moved the sticks again with a total of 13 yards. Three plays later, the Bucs appeared to be in a third-and-inches at the Washington 19, but T Jeremy Trueblood flinched and the ball was backed up five yards.
Still, Williams was able to convert on a hard run over right tackle, with WR Michael Clayton providing the key block. Williams got down to the seven but the Bucs couldn't punch it in from there, as a designed run by Johnson on third-and-goal didn't come close to working. Nugent came on to try a 22-yard field goal and made it even though it was deflected by a Redskins defender. That brought the Bucs within three with 4:25 to play.
Portis shook off a tackle and got to the right edge for a 10-yard gain to start the next drive. Needing only to run out the clock, the Skins took it down to the two-minute warning with Portis' four-yard run on third-and-five. The Redskins elected to punt, with placekicker Suisham doing the honors. Suisham managed a 32-yarder that went out of bounds at the Bucs' 19-yard line.
Three plays into the drive, the Buccaneers ran the ball in order to convert a third-and-one but it backfired when DE Jeremy Jarmon stripped the ball from Smith and S Chris Horton recovered for the Redskins at the Buccaneers' 29. Three kneel-downs ended the game.
Game Notes: Washington's victory ended a three-game winning streak in the regular-season series for the Buccaneers and evened the all-time head-to-head ledger at eight wins apiece. Washington is 5-2 all-time against the Buccaneers in home games. ...DE Gaines Adams' fumble recovery in the first quarter was the first of his three-year NFL career. Adams had sacked QB Jason Campbell on the play before. … CB Elbert Mack made his first career start when the Redskins opened in a three-receiver package and the Bucs countered with a nickel alignment. … WR Antonio Bryant's touchdown catch on Tampa Bay's first drive marked the first time this year that the Bucs have scored in the first quarter. Their 10-0 edge at the intermission also marked the Bucs' first halftime lead in 2009. … Strangely, Tampa Bay has lost the coin toss to open all four of their games so far this season. … CB Ronde Barber's block of Shaun Suisham's PAT in the third quarter was the Bucs' first block of an extra point try since October 7, 2007. That one was accomplished by DE Gaines Adams against Indianapolis' Adam Vinatieri. … Barber now has a blocked field goal, a blocked punt and a blocked extra point in his career.
Inactives: The Buccaneers declared the following eight players inactive prior to Sunday's game: RB Derrick Ward, cornerback Marcus Hamilton, center Jeff Faine, OL Marc Dile, T Demar Dotson, DT Dre Moore, DE Kyle Moore and designated third quarterback Byron Leftwich. Ward, Faine and Kyle Moore were out due to injuries.
The Redskins deactivated these eight men: CB Kevin Barnes, RB Anthony Alridge, C Edwin Williams, LB Robert Henson, T/G D'Anthony Batiste, WR Marko Mitchell, DT Anthony Montgomery and DE Renaldo Wynn. Montgomery was out due to injury. Injuries: For the Buccaneers, G Jeremy Zuttah sustained an ankle injury in the third quarter but returned to the game later in the period.
For the Redskins, P Hunter Smith left the game after his first kick due to a groin injury. He did not return.