FB Mike Alstott scored two touchdowns and the game-winning two-point conversion in the final minute
Move aside, Dick Vermeil. The all-guts, all-glory trophy now belongs to Jon Gruden, at least for a week.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Washington Redskins, 36-35, on Sunday afternoon in what will go down as one of the most – if not the most - dramatic finish in franchise history.
WR Edell Shepherd made a diving, 30-yard touchdown catch with 58 seconds left in the game, pulling Tampa Bay to within one at 35-34. The Bucs initially lined up to kick the extra point and tie the game, only to have Washington commit two consecutive penalties. Gruden took the first one on the ensuing kickoff, but when Washington jumped offside on the second one and blocked Matt Bryant's kick, he changed his mind.
Off came Bryant and on came the offense, with Mike Alstott lined up in the backfield. The play call was simple and surely no surprise to Washington: Alstott up the middle.
Alstott had already scored twice on two goal-line situations, diving in from one and two yards out in the first half. Gruden figured he could get one more yard to win the game, and he did, though it took a never-quit second-effort after he was hit and spun backwards at the one-yard line. Alstott powered over the line in reverse, just falling over the white stripe. The play was challenged upstairs but upheld.
Last week Vermeil, the Kansas City Chiefs' head coach, was rightfully lauded for his decision to go for the touchdown with five seconds left against Oakland rather than accept the gimme, game-tying field goal. On Sunday, Gruden considered the two-point conversion just after the touchdown, then finally decided it was the only way to go after the penalty.
"After the second penalty I wouldn't have been able to wake up tomorrow morning not knowing what we could have done with Mike Alstott," he said. "I didn't think about passing it. If we're going down, we're going down with our best player."
The victory improved the Bucs to 6-3 on the season, keeping them a game behind division-leading Carolina in the NFC South. They moved back into a tie with Atlanta in second place and will travel to the Georgia Dome next Sunday to take on the Falcons. The victory was certainly big in the Bucs' playoff hopes, as it also dealt NFC competitors Washington a loss, dropping the Redskins to 5-4.
"It was a heck of a win for us," said Gruden. "I'm really proud of our team and really appreciative of our fans. They helped us out a lot at the end. It was a dramatic victory, one I'll never forget."
Those fans were undoubtedly appreciative of the increased role played by Alstott, one of the most popular players in franchise history. They had chanted for his inclusion in the game plan in recent weeks and were certainly thrilled when Alstott got his two first-half touchdowns. On both occasions, he leapt high over the pile. His final winning run, though was the stuff that made him a six-time Pro Bowler and a highlight-reel regular earlier in his career. Alstott simply refused to go down when it mattered the most, scoring the second two-point conversion of his career.
In the end, he had a team-leading 21 rushing yards on nine attempts, as the running game struggled mightily for the third straight week. He also made one catch for 18 yards. Tampa Bay is now 42-10 all-time when Alstott scores at least once.
When not near the goal line, the Bucs did most of their damage through the air, thanks to the best performance of QB Chris Simms' young career. He threw several perfect deep balls, finishing with 15 completions in 29 attempts for 279 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating was 119.8
As exciting and gratifying as the victory was, it was far from perfect for the Buccaneers. It was, in fact, nerve-wracking, thanks to problems stopping the run and getting off the field on third down. Washington ran for 185 yards, 144 by Clinton Portis, and converted seven of 15 third-down tries.
Portis has been a solid if unspectacular addition since coming over to the Redskins in the 2004 Champ Bailey trade. Against the Bucs, however, he's a seemingly unstoppable big-play back. In last year's season opener, Portis went 64 yards for a touchdown on his first carry against the Buccaneers. On Sunday, he had a 100-yard game in the books by halftime and finished with an average of 6.3 yards per carry.
There was some indication early that Sunday's game would be different than the last few weekends, however, as a two-game turnover drought was finally broken by nickel back Juran Bolden's interception. Washington had taken its second drive into Buccaneer territory on a 31-yard run by Clinton Portis, but Bolden picked off Mark Brunell's third-down pass when he dropped WR David Patten and grabbed the resulting deflection.
The Bucs took the ball away three times, all of them in the first half. DE Simeon Rice caused two fumbles with arm-swiping sacks, one that was recovered by Dewayne White at the Washington five-yard line in the second quarter, setting up Alstott's second touchdown. Rice also intercepted a pass after Bolden broke up another attempt to WR Santana Moss in the second quarter.
The Bucs ended up with their first points off a turnover since the Miami game almost a month ago when S Will Allen returned a fumble for a touchdown. Bolden returned his first interception as a Buccaneer to the Washington 47 and the Bucs needed six plays from there to get it in. Galloway once again provided the big play, making a 34-yard sideline catch at the four-yard line. Two plays later, Alstott jumped over the pile for a two-yard touchdown, his second in as many games.
Alstott appeared to be a larger part of the game plan than he had been in some time, particularly after Cadillac Williams' first few runs went nowhere, and particularly when turnovers kept putting the ball near the Washington goal line. The initial first down of that scoring drive came on Alstott's five-yard run, and he got the ball twice in a row inside the five. After DE Dewayne White's fumble recovery at the five, Alstott again got it twice in a row, again got the necessary yards and again scored on a gravity-defying dive.
It was Alstott's first multiple-touchdown game since September 21, 2003, when he scored on two short runs in a win at Atlanta. His 18-yard catch-and-run in the second quarter set up Tampa Bay's third touchdown, a 24-yard Galloway catch on third-and-two.
The Redskins responded to Alstott's second touchdown with their own immediate score, though it was steeped in controversy. RB Ladell Betts took the ensuing kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown, apparently dancing on the right sideline so deftly that his heels never came down on the white paint. BucVision replays seemed to say otherwise while the play was challenged – in fact, they were convincing enough to prompt the Washington players to retreat to midfield – but Referee Bill Vinovich called the television replays inconclusive.
"That was a big play obviously," said Gruden. "We established momentum and they took it right back with that return. I thought it was close enough to challenge [but] … I'm under the Mendoza line on challenges."
The Bucs could do nothing about that decision except answer on the field, and they did. Simms led a precise, five-play, 67-yard drive that ended in Galloway's catch-and-run. The play marked Galloway's team-high seventh touchdown of the season, and his fourth in the last four games. He has scored in four consecutive contests and six of the last seven.
Washington tacked on a field goal before halftime, but it was the first few minutes after the intermission that almost proved disastrous for the Bucs. Williams fumbled inside the Bucs' 10, setting up a seven-year Mike Sellers touchdown catch and a two-point conversion to tie the game at 21-21 less than two minutes into the half.
A holding penalty on the first kickoff of the second half contributed to that chain of events. It was, however, one of only two penalties drawn by the Buccaneers in the game, by far their lowest total of the season.
"That was a horrific way to start the second half," said Gruden. "But we did show some discipline in a very difficult situation and that's hopefully something we can continue."
Washington scored another touchdown eight minutes later, as Brunell commanded an impressive, 73-yard drive, converting three third downs along the way. The last was a 17-yard touchdown pass to Betts on third-and-nine, giving the Redskins their first lead of the game at 28-21.
Simms answered with his own long march, taking the Bucs 70 yards on seven plays. The big play was Shepherd's 46-yard catch on third-and-two, down to Washington's seven. Two plays later, Simms found Hilliard wide open for a four-yard touchdown, tying the game.
Shepherd caught three passes for a career-high 87 yards in the most extensive action of his three-year career. He also caught a 46-yard pass before an earlier Buc touchdown.
"Shep played great for us," said Gruden. "I've been saying to everybody all along that he's a bright prospect. We had maximum protection and it was a great route and a great throw."
With Clayton inactive due to his knee injury, Shepherd and Ike Hilliard played larger roles, with Hilliard making three catches for 37 yards. Galloway still led the way, of course, with 131 yards on seven receptions. His amazing, one-handed 33-yarder on the Bucs' penultimate drive appeared to set up a game-tying score before the drive fizzled at the 10.
All the Chiefs had to do after their dramatic victory last week was celebrate after they walked off the field. Tampa Bay's defense had to come up with one more stop. QB Mark Brunell completed a 24-yard pass to TE Chris Cooley to start Washington's final drive, getting the visitors out to their own 44 with 46 seconds to play. That's where the Bucs made their final stand, forcing three straight incompletions and a Brunell scramble on fourth down. DE Dewayne White grabbed Brunell from behind at the 46 to end the threat.
Brunell nevertheless had a strong day against the Bucs' second-ranked defense, despite the two interceptions on deflected passes. He completed 23 of 35 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns. And also scrambled three times for 15 yards. His third-down passing was particularly sharp, and he converted several first downs with his legs.
Rice finished the game with four tackles, an interception, a passed defensed, two forced fumbles and his first two-sack game of the season, giving him seven overall. It was the first time he had forced two fumbles in one game in his five seasons as a Buccaneer.
S Jermaine Phillips added eight tackles and two passes defensed. Bolden broke up three passes and contributed three tackles.
Game Notes: TE Dave Moore played in his 200th game on Sunday, becoming just the seventh tight end in NFL history to reach that milestone. Moore is the 17th active player to reach 200 games and the 207th NFL player ever. … The Buccaneers almost evened the all-time series with Washington on Sunday. Tampa Bay's win gave them a 6-7 record against the Redskins, and it's 7-7 if one includes the Bucs' playoff victory over Washington in January of 2000. Even though they are still down in the all-time regular-season series, the Bucs have the edge in overall scoring, having totaled 253 points in those 13 games to Washington's 241 … FB Mike Alstott recorded the game's first touchdown on a two-yard dive in the first quarter. Coupled with his one-yard score the Sunday before against Carolina, Alstott had found the end zone in consecutive games for the first time since the 2002 season. He scored against St. Louis on 9/23/02 and Cincinnati on 9/29/05. Including the postseason, he also scored in all three 2002 playoff games: the Divisional Playoffs against San Francisco, the NFC Championship Game against Philadelphia and Super Bowl XXXVII against Oakland. … DE Simeon Rice's interception in the second quarter was the fifth of his career, his first since October 19, 2003 at San Francisco. … RB Ladell Betts' 94-yard kickoff return in the second quarter was the first for a touchdown against Tampa Bay since 12/19/04, when RB Aaron Stecker did it for New Orleans. … The Bucs' 21 points in the first half against Washington marked their most prolific scoring half in any game of 2005. … WR Edell Shepherd's 46-yard reception in the third quarter, which set up Ike Hilliard's four-yard touchdown catch, was the longest of Shepherd's career. The score marked Hilliard's first as a Buccaneer and the 28th of his nine-year NFL career. … P Josh Bidwell, the NFL's leading punter coming into the game, had another strong game. He kicked four times, averaging 45.3 yards per punt, with a net of 39.5. He also saved the Bucs from a botched PAT in the third quarter when he got a rolling snap down in time for Bryant to kick it through.
Inactives: The Bucs named the following eight players inactive prior to Sunday's game: S Dexter Jackson, LB Wesly Mallard, T Chris Colmer, DT Anthony Bryant, C Scott Jackson, WR Michael Clayton, WR J.R. Russell and designated third quarterback Tim Rattay.
The Redskins named the following eight players inactive: S Sean Taylor, S Omar Stoutmire, RB Nehemiah Broughton, C Cory Raymer, TE Robert Johnson, DL Cedric Killings, DT Cornelius Griffin and designated third quarterback Jason Campbell.
Injuries: S Will Allen suffered a left knee injury early in the third quarter and did not return. DE Greg Spires suffered a sprained left shoulder in the fourth quarter and did not return.