'Skins D phenomenal for wild card
Published: Sunday, January 8, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 8, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
TAMPA - Joe Gibbs' teams always had a knack for peaking at the right time, and these Washington Redskins are no different.
With the Hall of Fame coach back in the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, the Redskins - at least on defense - looked like a Super Bowl contender again in beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17-10 in the NFC wild-card round Saturday.
The victory was the sixth straight for the Redskins (11-6), who won despite gaining only 120 yards on offense - the lowest total for a winning team in a postseason game since the Baltimore Ravens had 134 yards in a 24-10 victory at Tennessee on Jan. 7, 2001, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
"It's been a tough fight these last six weeks," said linebacker Marcus Washington, who recovered a fumble and had a fourth-quarter interception. "We ain't ready to go home yet, so we're going to keep sawing wood."
LaVar Arrington's interception set up Clinton Portis' 6-yard touchdown run, and Sean Taylor returned a fumble 51 yards for another first-quarter score for the Redskins, who rebounded from a three-game losing streak to win five straight to get into the playoffs.
"I go to work with a great bunch of guys, and they have a lot of fight to them," Gibbs said after his first playoff game since a divisional-round loss to San Francisco on Jan. 9, 1993. "They never gave up no matter what the circumstances."
Taylor was later ejected for spitting in the face of a Bucs player, further depleting an injury-riddled defense that held off two Tampa Bay scoring threats in the closing minutes, including a near catch in the end zone that could have tied the game with just less than three minutes to go.
Chris Simms lofted a perfect spiral to Edell Shepherd on third-and-10 from the Washington 35, but the Tampa Bay receiver lost control of the ball as he was coming down in the end zone.
Simms, unaware the pass was ruled incomplete, began celebrating near the sideline - and the Bucs' stadium crew set off premature fireworks. Tampa Bay asked for a video review, burning its final timeout, but the call was correctly upheld by instant replay.
"It's unfortunate," coach Jon Gruden said. "He was open, he had his hands on the ball, and he was in the end zone."
The Redskins advanced to a divisional round game next Saturday at Seattle (13-3). They also avenged a 36-35 loss to Tampa Bay (11-6) this season, a game the Bucs won on Mike Alstott's 2-point conversion run with less than a minute remaining.
"Our defense was incredible," Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell said. "You can't say enough about them."
Gibbs, who came out of retirement two years ago, took over sole possession of third place on the career playoff wins list for a coach, improving to 17-5 in the postseason, including three Super Bowl titles during his first stint with the Redskins from 1981-92.
The Hall of Famer is known as an offensive innovator, but the Redskins were outgained in this one 243-120.
"Our guys on offense were giving it everything we had," Gibbs said. "We tried a little bit of everything, and we couldn't get anything to work."
Brunell went 7-of-15 passing for 43 yards and one interception, and Portis was limited to 53 yards rushing on 15 carries.
Simms threw for 198 yards in his first playoff start for Tampa Bay but was intercepted twice and sacked three times.
The Bucs were stopped on downs when Simms threw an incompletion on fourth-and-1 at the Washington 18 midway through the fourth quarter.
Tampa Bay's Brian Kelly intercepted Brunell's pass at the Redskins 35 four plays later. But Simms was stopped again when Shepherd failed to make his potential game-tying catch on third down, and the quarterback overthrew the same receiver in the end zone on fourth down.
The Bucs got one more chance, taking over at their 46 after a 14-yard punt with 1:05 to go. But Simms' first-down pass was tipped at the line and intercepted by Washington, and the Redskins ran out the clock.
"I don't even know if it's sunk in yet," Arrington said. "This is unbelievable, to come and win in such a great arena. Wow."
Arrington picked off Simms' first pass of the game and returned it 21 yards to the Tampa Bay 6 to set up Portis' TD run on the next play for a 7-0 lead. Less than five minutes later, the Redskins' defense struck again.
Washington stopped Carnell "Cadillac" Williams for a 1-yard gain, forcing a fumble that the linebacker recovered before scrambling to his feet and taking off with the ball.
Tampa Bay's Dan Buenning punched the ball loose from Washington at the 41 before Taylor scooped it up at the 49 and raced to the end zone for a 14-0 lead. The Bucs challenged the TD, arguing that Washington was down by contact when he recovered the ball, but the score was upheld by replay.
The Bucs drove 51 yards in seven plays early in the third quarter to trim a 17-3 halftime deficit to seven points on Simms' 1-yard run.
The Redskins' defense, already without injured cornerback Shawn Springs, lost defensive end Renaldo Wynn with a broken right forearm and was further depleted when Taylor was tossed for spitting in the face of Michael Pittman as the two stood face-to-face after a play in the third quarter.
Pittman hit Taylor in retaliation, but referee Mike Carey did not penalize the Tampa Bay running back.
"There was a lot of trash-talking the whole game," Pittman said. "He spit in my face, and no man is going to spit in my face. ... He'd get a lot worse if it was on the street."
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