Bucs defy odds to beat Redskins
In the visiting locker room, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers merrily celebrated their dramatic 17-16 come-from-behind triumph Sunday against the Washington Redskins that kept their postseason hopes alive and pumped much-needed air into a campaign that was in danger of irreversible deflation following a two-game losing streak.
Never mind that the 8-5 Bucs never led until fewer than four minutes remained on a cold, rainy afternoon at FedEx Field.
In weathering a late touchdown drive by the Redskins that was culminated by a blown extra-point attempt, Tampa Bay happily embraced its good fortune with the knowledge that the next two games — home dates against Detroit and Seattle — are imminently winnable.
Never mind that the Bucs could have, and probably should have, left the building with a gnawing sense that perhaps they weren't as good as they believed themselves to be just three weeks ago.
Games such as these invariably are lost by lesser ensembles, and last season's 3-13 record is a painful testament to that among the Buccaneers faithful.
Yet this time, somehow, the Bucs found a way to win.
"We knew we could have been down a lot more," Tampa Bay running back Carnell Williams said, "but they let us hang around."
So victory finally was delivered in the form of a 41-yard touchdown pass from Josh Freeman to tight end Kellen Winslow with 3:47 remaining, with Freeman plowing his way for the two-point conversion that pushed the Bucs' margin to seven points.
That conversion indeed was pivotal, especially given what happened in the waning seconds.
Which brings us to the home team's locker room.
Gloom. And doom. And disgust. Again.
The Redskins had hoped to at least remain mathematically alive in the postseason chase despite a season that has featured all manner of fractures and flaws.
Instead, first-year coach Mike Shanahan's team — still smarting from the season-long Albert Haynesworth saga that came to an end several days earlier when the disgruntled defensive lineman was suspended for the team's final four games — somehow found a way to go quietly yet painfully into the night after falling to 5-8.
But it wasn't because of quarterback Donovan McNabb, who despite plenty of shaky moments summoned his best play-making for the final drive.
He drove the Redskins 80 yards in just under four minutes and found wide-out Santana Moss in the end zone on fourth down from the 6-yard line.
That's when the special teams imploded for the third time in the game. And that's when some 60,000 fans let out a simultaneous groan.
That’s because Redskins kicker Graham Gano already had missed two field goals in the most inglorious fashion. One of them, in the first quarter, was a 34-yard attempt that bounced off the left upright. The other, in the second quarter, was a mere 24-yard attempt that sailed wide to the left.
After both misses, he jogged off the field to venomous boos.
But this was to be a simple extra-point attempt that would have sent the game into overtime. Only it wasn't that simple.
The snap from Nick Sundberg was slightly high but seemingly within reach when holder Hunter Smith reached for the slippery ball. It squirted right through his hands and that was that.
Afterward, Shanahan looked as though he had been punched in the gut.
"I have been in a few like that (but) it is disappointing, though, when you are part of that and you got an extra point to tie it up and put it into overtime and you can't take advantage of it," he said. " .. It was rough."
Sundberg acknowledged the snap was a bit high but Smith would have none of it.
"I certainly accept the blame and hope that I receive the blame," he said.
Freeman certainly would have been blaming himself had the Bucs wound up losing this one. He threw for 266 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions but also fumbled away possession on a first-and-goal from the 1 early in the fourth quarter, his team trailing 10-9.
He more than made amends. And helped save a season in the process – for the time being, anyway.
"We have to be better at home," Winslow said. "It's a must-win situation these last three games or we're out."
Added linebacker Barrett Ruud, whose team gave up 188 rushing yards, including 172 by Ryan Torain: It's pretty evident they outplayed us but we got the win. I'll take it."
So will Morris.
"These guys found a way to win that game in an ugly fashion," he said, "(but) we're not going to be apologetic for any form of win."