With 30 minutes left in the 2011 preseason, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have two primary objectives for the second half of their preseason finale against the Washington Redskins: Stage a big comeback and, perhaps more importantly, take another long look at the bottom half of the roster.
The Buccaneers got an early start on that first goal, as QB Rudy Carpenter directed a 57-yard field goal drive in the final minute of the half, following CB D.J. Johnson's interception in the opposite end zone. That cut Washington's lead to 17-3 in a half that featured just 257 yards of offense between the two teams combined.
Carpenter got the start in the Bucs' preseason finale for the second straight year and completed six of 13 passes for 62 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. He missed most of the second quarter after taking a hard hit on a sack by LB Rob Jackson, but returned in time to lead that final drive. The Bucs got in position for K Connor Barth's 42-yard field goal on a 30-yard catch-and-run by WR Preston Parker, a former undrafted free agent who is trying to secure a spot on the 53-man roster for a second straight season.
The Buccaneers and Redskins rested most of their starters, as is customary in the final week of the preseason. However, Washington played the entire first half with potential starting QB John Beck – in a battle for the job with Rex Grossman – and the starting offensive line in front of him. Still, it was big plays in the other two phases of the game that broke up a scoreless tie and put Washington in the lead late in the first quarter.
Jackson's hit on Carpenter forced a fumble that was recovered by LB Markus White and returned to the Bucs' two-yard line. RB Evan Royster scored on a two-yard run three plays later. The Bucs' ensuing offensive possession faltered near midfield and Washington return man Brandon Banks returned Jacob Rogers' punt 95 yards for another score.
The Bucs' offense failed to mount any sort of comeback behind fourth-string QB Jonathan Crompton in the second quarter, but a strong performance by the Bucs' defensive reserves kept the game close. Beck completed just 10 of 21 passes for 108 yards, no touchdowns and one interception, compiling a passer rating of 43.4. The Redskins' rushing game managed just 42 yards on 15 carries despite making heavy use of potential starter Ryan Torain.
CB Elbert Mack started and led the Bucs' defense with seven tackles plus a pass defensed. LB Simoni Lawrence might have been the team's top defender in the first half, racking up six tackles, one for a loss and generally shutting down the Redskins' rushing attack. DT John McCargo recorded the Bucs' only sack.
The Redskins won the toss and elected to receive, ending up with good field position despite the Bucs' cover time trapping Banks at the 16. The opening yard line was actually the 30 due to facemask call on Parker.
That proved no problem for the Bucs' defense. After Beck tried a deep pass on the first play to Anthony Armstrong, Royster tried to run right but lost the ball. The loose ball squirted back to the middle of the field, where it was recovered by DE Da'Quan Bowers. In an attempt to convert the turnover into points, Bowers tried to flip it to a teammate but was flagged for an illegal forward pitch.
The Bucs thus took over at the Washington 19 on their first possession, and got a first down two plays later when RB Kregg Lumpkin cut back into the middle for 11 yards. After an incomplete pass, Lumpkin ran it down to the one yard line with another cutback to the middle. However, two more Lumpkin runs into the middle failed and the Bucs turned the ball over on downs.
A rollout pass to RB Mike Sellers worked perfectly on first down, picking up nine yards to get the 'Skins out of trouble. Beck then threaded the needle down the left seam for an 18-yard completion to Armstrong. On the next snap, Beck found WR Niles Paul over the middle for 19 yards, getting the ball almost to the midfield stripe. The Redskins faced a third-and-six three plays later, and rookie CB Anthony Gaitor came up big again, knocking down what would have been a first-down pass to WR Terrence Austin. The Redskins punted and Armando Allen called for a fair catch at the Bucs' 12.
Carpenter's impressive second-down scramble left the Bucs in a short third-and-two at their 20, but they had to punt after a failed third-down throw to WR Dezmon Briscoe. Briscoe ran an out and was well-covered but he had a chance to pull in Carpenter's high throw.
Beck rolled out right – a common strategy for the 'Skins' offense in this game – and threw back to Sellers for a gain of five. After the Bucs' defense defended a bubble-screen to Austin perfectly, Beck moved the chains with an eight-yard buttonhook pass to Paul at the Bucs' 46. Two plays later, CB Elbert Mack made a diving pass break-up and Beck was hurried into an incomplete pass on the next snap, leading to another punt. Sav Rocca booted this kick down to the Bucs' one-yard line to keep the Redskins' field position advantage.
During the long commercial break, the Bucs got a good look at the replay of Rocca's punt and chose to challenge it, as Brandon Thompson was seen to step on the goal line before downing the ball. That moved the ball out to the 20, but the Bucs faced a third down moments later after a short pass to TE Nathan Overbay and an incompletion in the direction of TE Ryan Purvis. Carpenter's pass sailed over Briscoe's head but the Bucs got a new set of downs after a late-hit call on DeJon Gomes. Two plays later, after a false start backed the team up five yards, Briscoe caught a pass in the left flat and made a move to slip a defender and pick up 13 yards to the midfield stripe.
On the next play, however, Jackson blitzed and hit an unsuspecting Carpenter from behind, forcing a fumble. White recovered and returned it to the Bucs' two-yard line. Three plays later, Royster ran it in over right guard for the game's first points.
After a three-yard Allen Bradford run brought the first quarter to a close, Jonathan Crompton's first pass as a Buccaneer found Preston Parker for a gain of 12 to the Bucs' 40. Two Bradford runs lost two yards to set up third-and-12, and Crompton's third-down pass to Overbay came up three yards short, leading to another punt. Rogers hit a nice punt down to the five, but Banks found a seam and took it 95 yards for the game's second TD.
The Bucs' next possession didn't last long. Crompton faked a handoff to Bradford and tried to throw to a pass to WR Micheal Spurlock on the left side, but he overshot Spurlock and it was intercepted by CB Josh Wilson.
The Redskins thus started anew at the Bucs' 23, but threw an incompletion and lost two yards on a Ryan Torain run. However, Beck moved the sticks with a precise 16-yard out to WR Donte' Stallworth. LB Simoni Lawrence made a nice cut through a moving line to stop Torain for a loss of one yard on the next play, and LB Adam Hayward swarmed over Stallworth after a short pass at the four. Beck tried to hit Paul on the left edge of the end zone but it was out of reach and the Redskins' settled for Graham Gano's 22-yard field goal.
The Bucs' offense failed to gain a first down on its next possession, though Crompton did find Spurlock for a nice seven-yard slant on second down. After Crompton's third-and-two pass in Bradford's direction was deflected at the line, Rogers came in to punt the ball to the Washington 30.
Runs of seven and four yards by Torain gained a first down for Washington at their 41, but McCargo sacked Beck for a loss of two on the next play. Two plays later, LB Tyrone McKenzie knocked down a pass at the line on third-and-three, forcing another punt that was downed by Allen at the Bucs' 14. A holding penalty on S Devin Holland pushed the Bucs back to their own seven.
Carpenter returned to the game on the next drive, and two plays later tried to find Purvis down the middle, but the ball was deflected by Jackson. On third-and-eight, Carpenter tried to scramble out of trouble but was sacked for a loss of three yards. Rogers' angled punt went out of bounds at the Washington 49.
Two plays into the Redskins drive, Beck rolled left and found TE Logan Paulsen for a gain of 22 to the Bucs' 29. After the two-minute warning, Lawrence delivered a big hit on Royster on a second-down flare pass to make it third-and-six at the Bucs' 15. Holland blitzed on third-and-six, hurrying Beck into an end zone lob that was intercepted by Johnson in front of Paul.
With 1:06 left to work with, Carpenter threw a pair of short passes to Spurlock to pick up 16 yards out to the 36. Carpenter then hooked up with Parker over the middle and the second-year receiver broke a tackle and shot up the middle for a big gain of 30. After a horse-collar call against Anderson Russell, the ball was moved down to the Redskins' 19 with 38 seconds to play. Brandyn Thompson broke up another pass intended for Parker inside the 10 on the next play, and a false start backed the Bucs up five yards. Two more incompletions followed and Barth came in to boot a 42-yard field goal that made it 17-3 with 17 seconds left in the half.