The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have rallied from a deficit of 18 points or more to win just once in their 37-year franchise history. On Sunday against the Washington Redskins at Raymond James Stadium, they nearly duplicated the feat before a last-second field goal by Billy Cundiff rendered their rally moot in a 24-22 defeat.
The Buccaneers drop to 1-3 as they head into their bye week. Washington improves to 2-2 in a game that featured 474 yards of offense for the visitors and 373 for Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay trailed 21-6 at halftime, having scored on field goals of 50 and 57 yards by kicker Connor Barth, who hasn't missed in a calendar year. After halftime, a sluggish Buccaneers passing attack caught fire, highlighted by a 65-yard catch by Mike Williams and a 54-yard reception by Vincent Jackson, both of which set up touchdowns. Jackson got the score after Williams' big play on a six-yard pass from Josh Freeman and RB LeGarrette Blount followed the second bomb with a two-yard TD run.
Blount's touchdown and the failed two-point conversion that followed left the score at 21-19, and the Bucs' offense got the ball back with just under four minutes to play. Barth came on to try another long field goal, this one from 47 yard out, and predictably nailed it to give Tampa Bay a 22-21 lead. Unfortunately, electric Redskins rookie QB Robert Griffin engineered a seven-play, 56-yard drive in the game's final moments to set up Cundiff's game-winner. It was certainly no sure thing for Cundiff, who had already missed from 31, 45 and 57 yards, but he snuck his fourth and most important try just inside the right upright for the game's final points.
Jackson and Williams each had huge days, much of it in the second half. Williams finished with four catches for 115 yards while Jackson added six for 100 yards and the one score. QB Josh Freeman fell just one yard shy of his first 300-yard outing of the year, completing 24 of 39 for 299 yards, one touchdown and one interception. In the second half, Freeman was 11 of 17 for 211 yards and a TD, for a passer rating of 127.3 after the break.
Blount returned to a more prominent role in the Bucs' rushing attack, carrying six times for 17 yards and the score, while rookie Doug Martin led the way with 33 yards on eight carries.
The game featured a matchup of Washington's second-ranked rushing attack and the Bucs' top-ranked run defense, and it was the Redskins who gained the upper hand in that battle. Rookie RB Alfred Morris ran for 113 yards on 21 totes and Griffin added 43 yards on seven carries, including a critical 15-yard scramble just before the game-winning kick. Griffin also scored on one run and nearly found the end zone on another, though he needed teammate Pierre Garcon to recover his fumble in the end zone to preserve the game's first TD.
Rookie LB Lavonte David led the Bucs' defense with 14 tackles, including three for a loss. DE Michael Bennett added his fourth sack of the season and had a tackle for loss and two quarterback hits as well. The Bucs, who lead the NFL in tackles behind the line of scrimmage, had six more on Sunday.
That wasn't quite enough to contain Griffin, who completed 26 of 35 passes for 323 yards and a 102.4 passer rating. His favorite targets were WR Leonard Hankerson (seven for 57) and TE Fred Davis (four for 70).
The Bucs struck first on a 50-yard field goal by Barth, completing a seven-play, 38-yard drive. Tampa Bay didn't score on its opening possession for the first time this season, but it did move the ball to midfield before punting, which set up good field position for their second drive. A 20-yard completion to Williams was the key play on the march, which might have yielded more points had a 19-yard Doug Martin run not been erased by a backside holding penalty. RB D.J. Ware broke several tackles on a third-and-eight screen to get the ball to the Washington 32, well within Barth's range.
Washington answered back with a 75-yard touchdown drive on the next possession. Morris got the ball close to midfield on a 17-yard run and a short pass to TE Fred Davis on first-and-20 picked up 24 yards to the Bucs' 16. On third-and-five from the Tampa Bay nine, Griffin shot up the middle on a keeper and made it to the goal line, where he was met by a combination hit from safeties Ahmad Black and Mark Barron. The hit knocked the ball loose and into the end zone, but WR Pierre Garcon was able to fall on it for the touchdown and a 7-3 lead on the final play of the first quarter.
The Redskins had a chance to widen the lead on their next possession thanks to nearly consecutive penalties on Barron and Ronde Barber for unnecessary roughness and pass interference, respectively. The latter flag moved the ball all the way to the Bucs' 25, but the defense allowed only two more yards form there and Washington's Billy Cundiff pushed his 41-yard FG try wide right.
However, Washington got the ball back two plays later when Freeman's pass attempt to Jackson was intercepted by CB DeAngelo Hall, who returned it to the Bucs' 35. The Redskins drove to the end zone on 35 plays, converting a fourth-and-one along the way and once again ending it on a Griffin keeper. This time he held onto the ball as he galloped into the end zone from five yards out.
The Bucs did manage to score again before halftime, though it was once again off the foot of Connor Barth. This time he converted a 57-yarder, tied for the second-longest in team history, at the end of a nine-play, 41-yard drive. Runs of 10 yards by Martin and 17 by Ware accounted for much of the drive, and Barth drove his kick home right after the two-minute warning.
Washington got the ball first after the break and immediately drove into Buccaneers territory, though a clipping penalty pushed them back to their own 41. That helped Tampa Bay force a punt, but Sav Rocca's high, hanging kick and a holding penalty on the Bucs forced them to start at their own six. A beautiful fade-stop pass to Williams helped the offense escape that backed-up situation, but the Bucs soon had to punt. Koenen's 58-yard blast and outstanding coverage by rookie CB Leonard Johnson backed Washington up to its own 10.
A critical turn of events followed. On second-and-12 from the eight, Foster sacked Griffin and drove him back into the end zone, but the play was not ruled a safety. On third-and-19, the Bucs forced an incompletion from the one but Foster was flagged for roughing the passer, keeping the drive alive. S Ronde Barber drew an offensive pass interference call on a deep ball on the next play, but Washington was able to dig out of that hole, as well. A personal foul on a late hit by Garcon on Talib put a crimp in the drive, however, and a beautiful open-field tackle on Hankerson by Barber forced a punt.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Freeman went deep to Williams down the right sideline and hit him in stride near midfield. Williams eluded two would-be tacklers after the catch and got all the way to the Washington 20 on a 65-yard gain. After a neutral-zone infraction made it first-and-five, Blount came in to drive the ball up the middle, blasting through one tackler to get six yards to the nine. After a fade-pass attempt to Williams didn't work, Jackson started to run a similar route, then cut back inside and Freeman hit him for a seven-yard score to make it 21-13 with 1:56 left in the third quarter.
Washington got back into Buccaneers territory using a trick play to convert a third-and-nine. Griffin handed off to WR Brandon Banks, who swept right, then stopped and threw back to the quarterback. The Bucs' defense converged on Griffin, who then stopped and threw downfield to TE Niles Paul for a gain of 30. The Buccaneers challenged that Banks' throw back to Griffin was actually a forward pass, but the original ruling was upheld, making it first down at the Bucs' 32. The Bucs forced a field goal thanks to a superb open-field tackle by DT Gerald McCoy on a third-down designed run by Griffin, and Cundiff surprisingly hooked his 31-yard field goal attempt wide left.
The Bucs went up top immediately after that miss, with Jackson laying out to make a scintillating 54-yard catch at the Washington 25. Two plays later, Jackson again slid down to make a big catch, this one a 22-yarder at the two-yard line. Blount powered through on a second-and-goal effort moments later to make it 21-19 with 10 minutes left. The Bucs went for two but did not convert, with the effort made tougher by a false start on the first attempt.
Tampa Bay's defense then forced a quick punt as the Raymond James Stadium crowd went to full throat. LB Quincy Black sacked Griffin as he tried to scramble on second down, and CB Brandon McDonald made a diving break-up of Griffin's third-down pass. After the punt, Freeman and the Bucs took over again at their own 32.
A quick-hitting 15-yard strike up the middle to Tiquan Underwood got the ball into Washington territory, but a tricky play-action screen to Ware lost seven yards on third-and-three and Tampa Bay had to punt with just under five minutes to play.
The defense needed a quick stop and got it. On third-and-10, after E.J. Biggers broke up a deep pass attempt, Black chased Griffin out of bounds just short of the sticks on a scramble left. Washington challenged the ruling but it was upheld. Rocca came on to blast a 57-yard punt that Parrish returned 13 yards to the Bucs' 36.
A clutch 19-yard throw to Underwood on a play that was nearly blown up by a bad snap got the Bucs into scoring position, and Williams saved the drive with a diving break-up of a pass that was about to be intercepted. Connor Barth came on to drill a 47-yard field goal that gave the Bucs their first lead since the opening period.
Washington answered right back, with Griffin finding a wide-open Davis for 20 yards to the Bucs' 45 and then scrambling downfield to the 26 two plays later. After a false start, a seven-yard catch by Santana Moss put the ball at the 24 with one second left and Cundiff was sent out to try a 42-yard game-winner. He made it, but just barely.
- The Bucs had only one player out due to injury in CB Anthony Gaitor. He was one of the team's seven inactives, along with CB Myron Lewis, RB Michael Smith, S Keith Tandy, LB Najee Goode, T Jeremy Trueblood and WR Chris Owusu.
- Washington's seven inactives were QB Rex Grossman, WR Aldrick Robinson, CB Cedric Griffin, RB Ryan Grant, S Brandon Meriweather, LB Markus White and G Adam Gettis. Robinson and Meriweather reportedly collided on the field during pregame warmups, each sustaining injuries.
- The Bucs came in with the league's best red zone defense through three games, in terms of touchdown percentage. Washington countered that by scoring TDs on two of their three incursions inside the 20, the other ending in a missed field goal.
- K Connor Barth has now made 25 consecutive field goals, by far the longest streak in Buccaneers history and the longest ongoing run in the NFL.
- QB Josh Freeman threw for 299 yards on the afternoon, in the process passing Steve DeBerg for fifth place on the Bucs' all-time list in that category. Freeman now has 9,688 career passing yards for the Buccaneers, while DeBerg finished with 9,439.
- WR Mike Williams recorded his career-long reception on a 65-yard catch-and-run late in the first quarter. That helped him eclipse the 100-yard mark in a game for the second time in his career, as he finished with 115. He and Vincent Jackson are the first pair of Buccaneer receivers to each gain 100 or more receiving yards in the same game since Mark Carrier and Lawrence Dawsey pulled off the trick against Green Bay on September 13, 1992.