With the likes of Josh Freeman, Gerald McCoy and Mark Barron – not to mention Robert Griffin III, Ryan Kerrigan and London Fletcher – watching from the sidelines, the Washington Redskins jumped out to a 16-0 first-half lead against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Wednesday night at FedExField. As has become customary in preseason finales, both teams elected to rest all of their starters, not to mention several other key reserves.
Washington's Kirk Cousins, the second of two quarterbacks drafted by Washington this spring after Griffin went second overall, was the most effective offensive performer in the first half, completing 12 of 22 passes for 151 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. His 46-yard completion to WR Anthony Armstrong – the only play of more than 20 yards in the first half for either team – set up the only touchdown of the first half, a one-yard run by RB Evan Royster.
Brett Ratliff, the Bucs' third-string passer behind Freeman and Dan Orlovsky, was sacked five times in the half, making it difficult for him to establish much of a rhythm with the team's offensive reserves. Ratliff completed seven of 11 passes for 70 yards but was picked off once just before halftime. The Bucs' running game was ineffective, with young backs Michael Smith and Mossis Madu combining for three yards on seven carries.
T Jamon Meredith played the first half at right guard, getting the first look at that position after Pro Bowl starter Davin Joseph was placed on injured reserve earlier in the week. Of course, Meredith's likely competitors for the job, Ted Larsen and Derek Hardman, also started the game, Larsen at center and Hardman at left guard.
The Bucs were outgained in the first half in net yards, 233 to 38. CB Keith Tandy led the team with five tackles and his fellow West Virginia rookie, linebacker Najee Goode, had several impressive moments, finishing with a tackle, a tackle for a loss and a pass defense that denied Cousins another touchdown on a third-and-goal pass.
Ratliff absorbed a four-yard sack on the first play from scrimmage. His first pass of the game was a third-and-12 attempt in Sammie Stroughter's direction, but it came up short and the Bucs had to punt.
With rookie kicker Kai Forbath handling the punt – and briefly mishandling before getting off a late kick – Washington got to start its first drive close to midfield. Cousins converted an early third down with a 15-yard pass to Armstrong, but DE George Johnson batted down Cousins' next third-down try and the Bucs' defense held. Newly-signed Redskins K Billy Cundiff came on to try a 39-yard field goal and hit it for the game's first points.
Another touchback put the Bucs back at their 20 but they once again failed to move the chains. Ratliff recorded his first completion on five-yard strike to WR Tiquan Underwood, but a draw play to Smith lost a yard and Forbath came on to punt again. He handled the unfamiliar task (and a low snap) impressively, blasting a 53-yarder that Brandon Banks ran back 15 yards to the Redskin 37.
CB Myron Lewis nearly intercepted Cousin's next pass, but the rookie passer completed his next three to get the Redskins across midfield. RB Roy Helu fumbled without being touched and ended up kicking it out of bounds for a loss of 14. Cousins threw another completion to Royster but it was well short of a first down and Jordan Shipley fair caught the ensuing punt at the Bucs' 10.
The Bucs went backwards from there, with DT Delvin Johnson sacking Ratliff at the two-yard line on second down. Forbath had to punt from the back edge of the end zone. Banks caught a low punt on one hop, got the left edge and gained 22 yards on the return to the Bucs' 23. A well-timed hit by S Ahmad Black broke up a near completion at the Bucs' 10, but Cousins was able to escape the pocket on third-and-eight and scramble up the middle for a gain of 11 and a first down. The Bucs' defense held again, thanks to key pass deflections by Lewis and Goode. Cundiff's second field goal of the game, a 27-yarder, doubled Washington's lead to 6-0.
Cundiff is a touchback machine, so Tampa Bay's next drive started at the 20 once again. Ratliff's completion to Underwood on a curl on the second play of the drive (and the first play of the second quarter), picked up 11 yards and the Bucs' initial first down of the game. His next pass was a fade stop to Stroughter on the right sideline that gained 18 more, almost to midfield. However, when Ratliff dropped back on third-and-10 three plays later, DE Kedric Golston broke through the line and sacked him for a loss of eight.
Goode stopped Royster for a loss of one on Washington's next play but Cousins threw deep to Armstrong on the next play and it was good for a 46-yard gain to the Bucs' 14. Three plays later, Royster bounced off a nice hit by Goode and just extended the ball over the goal line for the game's first touchdown and a 13-0 Washington lead.
Cundiff finally kicked one that didn't go out of the end zone and Underwood made several sharp cuts on his return to get 39 yards to the Bucs' 33. Cundiff hit TE Zack Pianalto to start the drive with a 14-yard catch, but a false start, a near sack and a run for no gain by Madu quickly made it third-and-15. Ratliff went down in the grasp of blitzing LB Bryan Kehl for a sack of eight yards and the Bucs had to punt again.
A 50-yard punt by Forbath, which Banks briefly put on the ground, pushed Washington back to their own 16 but they moved out to midfield quickly. A sharp cutback run by Royster got the ball down to the Bucs' 36 but rookie CB Leonard Johnson pushed WR Terrence Austin out of bounds two yards short of a first down on a third-and-five catch. Just after the two-minute warning, Cundiff tried to extend the Washington lead with a 46-yard field goal but he pushed it wide to the right.
Ratliff took his fifth sack of the game at the beginning of the next drive, but passes to Smith for 11 yards and 12 yards to Stroughter pulled the Bucs out of a second-and-23 hole. The Bucs used their first timeout with 53 seconds and the ball at their 46, and during the stoppage the officials decided to review the spot of the ball. And then review it again. The ruling was upheld both times, but Ratliff's next pass was overthrown and intercepted by S Jordan Bernstine, who got off his knees and returned it 10 yards to the Washington 46.
The Redskins used the opportunity to run a two-minute drill and a third-down catch by Helu got 17 yards to the Bucs' 31, where the home team then used its final timeout of the half with 31 seconds left. A pass interference call against Myron Lewis gave the Redskins a first down at the Bucs' four-yard line with six seconds remaining. The Bucs defense blanketed all possible receivers on the next play, leading to an incompletion with one second remaining. Cundiff came on to spike the halftime score by three points with a 22-yard field goal as time expired.