WR Jacquez Green snared a 31-yard pass down to the one, setting up the Bucs' first touchdown
If the Buccaneers are indeed going to be battling the Washington Redskins for NFC supremacy in 2000, perhaps they have discovered their foe's Achilles Heel.
The Redskins can't stop a rookie quarterback.
That's a silly generalization, of course, particularly considering the early August date of Friday night's 13-12 victory over the Redskins in the preseason opener. Still, it must be an uncomfortable coincidence for Washington that, for the second time in as many preseasons, Tampa Bay has pulled out a dramatic victory thanks to some rookie signal-calling heroics.
This year, it was seventh-round draft choice Joe Hamilton who led the Bucs to victory with a nine-play, 50-yard touchdown drive, capping it with a 12-yard scoring pass to rookie TE Todd Yoder on fourth-and-10. In 1999, in the preseason finale held in Washington's FedEx field, it was then-rookie Shaun King engineering a game-ending touchdown drive that ended with a three-yard, fourth-down touchdown pass to rookie WR Darnell McDonald and a 16-13 Buc win.
Throw in last January's playoff game in Raymond James Stadium, when King, by then the Bucs' entrenched starter, led Tampa Bay to a 14-13 fourth-quarter win, and the Redskins have surely had their fill of first-year hurlers.
The Buccaneers and their faithful, which packed Raymond James to the gills on Friday night, will enjoy the victory, certainly. However, the team was likely to take a positive impression from the 2000 preseason opener even if Hamilton had not found Yoder alone over the middle.
In the preseason, the story is sometimes told in the first half or first quarter, and that seemed to be the case for Tampa Bay on Friday. The Bucs' first-team units, both offense and defense, appeared surprisingly strong, far better than may have been expected after a grueling first two weeks of training camp.
Tampa Bay's first-string defense was clearly as dominant as ever, and its second stringers came in with very little drop off. Meanwhile, the first string offense passed its first test under new Offensive Coordinator Les Steckel with flying colors.
QB Shaun King, who started the last seven games of his rookie season with phenomenal results but still faces a legion of doubters, got off to an auspicious start in 2000. King completed 10 of 11 passes for 104 yards and no interceptions while directing the team's first three drives. His stat line didn't include a touchdown either, but that's only because a key 31-yard completion to WR Jacquez Green started at the Washington 32. RB Rabih Abdullah punched it through for a one-yard score on the next play, giving the Bucs a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter.
That completed a 10-play, 80-yard drive that began in the first period, and it completed King's work on the day in fine fashion. King's first two drives were also moving along crisply before the first ended in a missed 46-yard field goal by Martin Gramatica and the second was snuffed by a sack and forced fumble by Washington LB Shawn Barber.
During that stint, King delighted the capacity crowd at Raymond James by throwing three times to newly-acquired WR Keyshawn Johnson, the 6-4 Pro Bowler who is expected to give Steckel's offense a new dimension. Johnson caught all three passes for a total of 33 yards, most memorably using his big frame to shield Washington CB Deion Sanders on a 13-yard reception on the Bucs' opening drive.
Meanwhile, the Buccaneers defense hit the ground running, led by an unstoppable defensive line. The Redskins' first series told that story well:
· First down…DT Warren Sapp bullrushes the right guard almost into QB Brad Johnson's lap, forcing an overthrow on an attempted bomb to WR Michael Westbrook; · Second down…DE Chidi Ahanotu catches Johnson from behind for a two-yard sack, with DE Steve White helping to finish the job. · Third down…White does the majority of the work himself this time, chasing RB Adrian Murrell down from all the way across the field on a failed draw play.
Washington gained just 45 yards and two first downs in the first quarter against the Bucs' starting defense, failing on all three third down conversions. They did, however, convert King's fumble into the game's opening score, a 22-yard Pete Elezovic field goal after a 33-yard drive.
In the second quarter, the Bucs' second string defense patrolled the field just as handily, though its starting free safety, Dexter Jackson, stuck around to lend a hand. That was fortunate as Jackson, who started in place of an injured Damien Robinson, snared two picks in the second period, setting up one scoring opportunity (a missed 28-yarder by Gramatica) and ending another for the Redskins as the half ended.
Buccaneers.com provided a detailed interpretation of the events during each quarter. Following is the wrap up from the final two periods, which tells the story of a stalled offense suddenly catching fire under an electrifying rookie.
The Bucs received the opening kickoff of the second half, with RB Rabih Abdullah running it back to the Tampa Bay 35. The Bucs went backwards from there, however, with third-string QB Scott Milanovich suffering a nine-yard sack by DE Derrick Ham on third down. After Mark Royals' first punt of the game, a 47-yarder, the Redskins took over at their own 35.
Substitute running back Chad Dukes started off nicely with a nine-yard reception from third-string QB Todd Husak followed by a two-yard run. However, two plays later, Dukes coughed up the ball after a one-yard loss, with S Shevin Smith recovering at the Washington 47.
Tampa Bay's third-string offense continued to struggle, however, with Milanovich throwing a third-down incompletion that would have been an interception by David Terrell but for a phenomenal effort by first-year WR Drew O'Connor to knock the ball loose.
The team's back-up defenders, conversely followed in their predecessors steps quite well. After a controversial touchback call on John Shay's punt and Floyd Young's downing near the goal line, the Bucs immediately got the ball back when Dukes caught a swing pass and was immediately surrounded by Tampa Bay tacklers. The third wave of Bucs to hit Dukes included LB Jeff Gooch, who forced a fumble and recovered it at the 18.
Unfortunately, that crowd-pleaser was quickly followed by a downer for the Bucs' fans. On third-and-five from the 13, a Milanovich pass attempt to WR Yo Murphy was batted in the air and intercepted on a run by former Buccaneer LB Eddie Mason. Mason appeared to have a direct path to the end zone down the right sideline, but a hustling Aaron Stecker managed to track him down from behind at the Bucs' 13, 77 yards later. Stecker even forced Mason to fumble, but the ball went out of bounds to preserve possession for the Redskins.
The Bucs' defense would have none of Washington's attempt to convert that good fortune into a go-ahead touchdown, stuffing Dukes twice up the middle and stopping Todd Husak at the six on a scramble up the middle. Pete Elezovic finished it with a 24-yard field goal.
The Bucs gained little on their next possession, leading to Royals' punt back to the Redskins' 15. Husak marched Washington into Buccaneer territory thanks in part to a 15-yard pass to WR Derrius Thompson. The quarter ended with the Redskins facing a third-and-two at the Bucs' 39.
The final period began with Washington trailing by a single point but in the midst of their most impressive drive of the game.
On third-and-two from the 39 to open the fourth quarter, RB Chad Dukes gained just one yard. Washington gained a first down, however, with a successful fourth-quarter sneak by QB Todd Husak. Three plays later, Dukes handled a third-down conversion himself, bulling forward for three yards on third-and-one from the 26.
Yet another third down went in Washington's favor a moment later when Husak found WR Marcus Stiggers for an 11-yard completion down to the Bucs' 12. Two plays later, Dukes made up for two third-quarter fumbles by taking a toss to the right side and stepping through the Bucs defense for a 12-yard touchdown. He also tried to score on a sweep to the left on the two-point conversion attempt but was stopped short by DE John McLaughlin. Nevertheless, the 'Skins finished the 17-play, 87-yard drive with a 12-7 lead.
RB Aaron Stecker took the resulting kickoff across midfield, but the runback was nullified by a holding penalty. Tampa Bay thus took over at the 14, with rookie QB Joe Hamilton under center.
Hamilton's unit had no more success than Scott Milanovich's group had before him, forced into a quick three-and-out. Washington had good field position after a John Shay 44-yard punt and was able to get down to the Bucs' 47 on an eight-yard run by Dukes. However, rookie S Jeff Popovich came up with an interception on a tipped pass two plays later and the Bucs began anew at the 29.
A Hamilton incompletion and a false start penalty set up a second-and-15, which Hamilton converted on a screen pass to RB Aaron Stecker that picked up exactly 15 yards thanks to a fine block by rookie WR Michael Williams. The drive quickly stalled, however, and Mark Royals punted Washington back to its own nine.
A quick three-and-out gave way to a punt and another Bucs possession, setting the stage for potential heroics by Hamilton. Hamilton delivered in dramatic fashion, leading a nine-play, 50-yard touchdown drive capped by a 12-yard scoring pass to TE Todd Yoder on fourth-and-10. Hamilton accounted for all 50 yards in one way or another, completing four of seven passes for 47 yards and scrambling once for three. The Bucs' two-point conversion failed, leading to a 13-12 Tampa Bay lead.
Washington kept the drama alive for the final 100 seconds, driving to the Bucs' 35-yard line with completions of 22 and 16 yards. However, the Bucs forced a fourth-and-five with 28 seconds remaining and the Redskins' final chance was snuffed by DE John McLaughlin's eight-yard sack. Tampa Bay ran out the final 21 seconds for the one-point victory.