The Bucs were 7-5, but they had just lost two games in a row. Those games were close, but two losses can turn into three quickly, and that can turn into a full-scale implosion. The Bucs had to be sharp going into this game against an eminently beatable Redskins team. They were missing Cody Grimm and Aqib Talib, but it's not like the Redskins were actually a threat on offense. Washington had won just 5 games all season and they had been destroyed by the Giants the Week before, when they couldn't get anything going on defense or offense. This looked like an easy matchup for the Bucs, Washington being a team they should've been able to beat fairly comfortably. Donovan McNabb didn't look like the McNabb we had seen in Philadelphia, the defense was a sieve and injuries had depleted the team. It was time for the Bucs to go to work.
And, as usual, the Bucs failed to actually show up. That first half constituted the single worst half of run-defense I've ever had the privilege of seeing. It was horrible. Let me rephrase that: it was so bad I wanted to gouge out my eyes, roast them on a spit and then feed them to my cat. First Redskins offensive play from scrimmage: False Start. Second play: Ryan Torain runs 54 yards to the Bucs' 35-yard line. And that was just the beginning. Torain rushed for the mind-boggling total of 158 yards on just 18 carries in the first half alone. McNabb added 110 yards passing on 14 attempts to that total. And to make matters worse, Gerald McCoy injured his biceps early in the game and would be out for the season.
And yet, somehow, the Bucs were down just 3-10 at the end of the first half. I still have no clue how that happened. It seemed that somehow, every time the Redskins got close to the redzone they'd suddenly just kind of...stop. The one time the Redskins did get close to the goalline, it took them 4 plays to punch it in. They had to go for it on fourth down to get a touchdown. Of course, Graham Gano helped a little by missing two field goals too. The Bucs managed to put up just one field goal offensively, despite a 64-yard pass to Arrelious Benn.
The Bucs would have to make some major changes to win in the Second Half, as the Redskins had basically destroyed them in every way in the first half. Every way except on the scoreboard, that is. And Raheem Morris certainly heard that. He knew they had to stop the run. So hey, he just started run-blitzing. Every single down. And like magic, the Redskins couldn't run anymore. Where Torain had rushed for 8.8 yards per rush in the first half, he didn't get past 2.3 yards per carry in the second. The Bucs held him to just 14 yards rushing on 6 carries.
So that was job one done: the run was stopped. Now the Bucs had to stop the pass, and score some points themselves to boot. The Skins had neatly contained Legarrette Blount, who couldn't get much going, so it mostly fell to Josh Freeman to get the Bucs down the field. Or that's what you'd think, but it was Connor Barth who was responsible for the first points of the half: the Redskins failed to catch his squib kickoff, and Adam Hayward managed to recover it deep in Redskins' territory. The Bucs didn't really move the ball from there, but Barth did manage to add 3 points.
One 3-and-out later, the Bucs were moving down the field again, but were quickly stopped inside the red zone, forcing the Bucs to kick another field goal. It was now 9-10, and the Redskins hadn't done anything offensively in the half. One more 3-and-out for the Skins, and the Bucs were back on track with a beautiful, 9-play, 79 yard drive from the Bucs 20-yard line. A quick bit of math will show you that's not a touchdown. Which is absolutely correct, as Freeman fumbled the ball at the 1-yard line after being hit by pulling guard Derek Hardman. Another big Arrelious Benn catch for naught.
Not that that did the Skins any good. It didn't take long for the Bucs to get the ball back and go on another big drive from their own 20-yard line. This time they made sure that drive would last 80 yards, though, and not 79 yards. The big play came from Kellen Winslow this time. The Bucs managed to isolate him against linebacker Rocky McIntosh, and a perfect Josh Freeman throw allowed Winslow to run away from the Redskin, and juke another before walking into the endzone. A quick two-point conversion with Josh Freeman bulling his way into the endzone gave the Bucs a 17-10 lead.
But then, the Redskins had 3:47 to score a touchdown. The Bucs were facing Donovan McNabb in a time-pressured situation at the end of the game. Donovan McNabb, who had been pretty bad for the Redskins that year and had a history of poor clock management. Surely this would end well? Oh, but he was facing a Bucs defense that did their best not to stop him too much, and referees that seemed to be on his hand as well. McNabb managed to calmly direct the offense downfield. He got to the Bucs' 11-yard line, then completed a pass to the 2-yard line, leaving a 1-yard deficit. He then failed to advance the ball three times in a row, turning the ball over on downs.
But wait! The Redskins get on the field for another play? What now? The referees had given the Redskins a first down on that 9-yard gain earlier in the drive, making it fourth down instead of third down. Confusion abounded for viewers at home, although the players on the field apparently knew what was going on. And of course, on this fourth down the Bucs lose Santana Moss in coverage, and he scores a touchdown. That begs the question: how do you lose the Redskins' biggest passing threat on the most important down of the entire game. It also begs the question of what the hell just happened? Were the Bucs about to get clowned by the Redskins after all?
And then, Graham Gano took the field. Gano had missed two field goals, so this extra point was no sure thing. And indeed it wasn't, through no fault of his. The holder failed to get the ball down, and all Gano could do was pick up the ball and then get destroyed by E.J. Biggers. The extra point was no good, the Redskins didn't recover their onside kick and the Bucs win. But this sure wasn't a win to be proud of.