RB Clinton Portis came to Washington in the biggest deal of the offseason
The first thing the Buccaneers want to know before heading up to the capital this weekend: How's the weather?
Okay, the coaching staff might do just a bit of research on new Washington running back Clinton Portis and a Washington offensive line that allows fewer leaks than the Pentagon (three sacks surrendered in five preseason games). And they might want to find some information on the state of LaVar Arrington's knee injury, which did not keep the Pro Bowl linebacker out of the Redskins' final preseason game. Someone will be looking to see if the 'Skins use left cornerback Shawn Springs in the same manner as they did the man Springs replaces, Champ Bailey.
But the Bucs would certainly like to know if a trip north will allow them to escape the weather issues that have plagued the state of Florida, affected millions of lives and sent various teams' schedules into disarray. A clear sky would be a nice greeting upon touch down in D.C.
The Buccaneers can't afford to become too distracted from their main focus, because the hyper-aggressive Redskins have once again tweaked their roster in pursuit of immediate winning ways. Among the starters who were added since last season are Springs (free agent), Portis (acquired from Denver in exchange for Bailey), QB Mark Brunell (trade with Jacksonville), C Cory Raymer (free agent), DE Phillip Daniels (free agent), LB Mike Barrow (free agent), LB Marcus Washington (free agent) and Springs (free agent).
Oh, and the Redskins had one other fairly notable acquisition, a man of whom you just may have heard a thing or two: Joe Gibbs. After years on the NASCAR circuit, Gibbs lifted his own term limits and returned to take his seat again in Washington.
In his first 12-year stint as the Redskins' head coach (1981-92), Gibbs led the team to four Super Bowls and three championships, a .674 winning percentage in the regular season and, remarkably, a .761 winning percentage in the playoffs. It is no wonder that he is seen as a returning savior for a franchise that has just three winning seasons under four head coaches since his departure. Gibbs, in fact, was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame during his time away from the team, so he returns with rock-solid credentials and, reportedly, as great a desire to win as ever.
Washington, in fact, has to be considered one of the more interesting and promising teams entering 2004. For the Buccaneers, it marks the second straight year that the team has opened on the road against the hot team of the NFC East. Last year, the Bucs doubled up on their 2002 NFC Championship Game in Philadelphia by opening the new Lincoln Financial Field with a dominating, 17-3 win over the Eagles. A similar road win to start 2004 would definitely give the Bucs a nice bit of momentum for the rest of the season.
So how do the two teams match up? Well, the Buccaneers finished 10th in the NFL in offense and fifth in defense last season, despite missing the playoffs, while the Redskins were 23rd and 25th respectively. Of course, that ignores the rather substantial moves made by both teams. If the Redskins weren't the busiest team of the offseason, the Buccaneers probably were, importing roughly 20 veterans, beginning with Joey Galloway, Tim Brown, Charlie Garner, Todd Steussie, Derrick Deese, Matt Stinchcomb, Ian Gold and Mario Edwards. The 'Skins definitely had the trade of the offseason – Bailey for Portis – but the Buccaneers may have been more aggressive overall.
The Bucs and Redskins met fairly early during 2003, when Tampa Bay's title defense season still seemed on track and Washington was feeling rather hale after a 3-2 start. Things got a little ugly for both teams after that; Tampa Bay limped to a 7-9 finish under a blizzard of injuries and the Redskins endured a quarterback carousel and a 5-11 record in Steve Spurrier's second and final year at the helm.
After their respectively busy and purposeful offseasons – while the Redskins changed head coaches, the Bucs brought in a new general Manager, Bruce Allen – both teams built confidence with strong preseasons. Tampa Bay finished 3-1 and had, not surprisingly, the league's best defense during the preseason (tied with Baltimore). Washington wasn't far back, at ninth, allowing 274.2 yards per game. The Redskins shut out two of their five preseason opponents, including Atlanta, 27-0, in the season finale. In that game, the Washington pass rush completely harried Falcon QB Michael Vick, leading to one interception and one fumble in five snaps. In addition, rookie safety Sean Taylor, the sixth overall pick in this year's draft, led all NFL players with three interceptions.
Neither team's offense was in the top 10 during the preseason, but the Bucs did get good play from all three quarterbacks and the Redskins saw solid debuts by Brunell and Portis.
If anything, those relatively strong preseason results left both teams hungry for more, and more meaningful, action. They'll get it this Sunday in one of the most intriguing matchups of the NFL's opening weekend.