January 7, 2012

2006: Defense Carries Punchless Redskins to Win Over Bucs

Since appearing in the playoffs following the 1999 season, the Washington Redskins had gone through five years of mediocrity. In 2005 they started off at 5-6 but then won five straight to close out the regular season at 10-6 and secure a wild card spot. In the second year of his second stint with the team, Hall of Fame Head Coach Joe Gibbs had made the most of a veteran quarterback operating a run-oriented offense and an aggressive defense. 35-year-old QB Mark Brunell passed for 3050 yards and a career-high 23 touchdowns. RB Clinton Portis rushed for 1516 yards and 11 TDs and backup RB Ladell Betts was a useful fill-in. WR Santana Moss (84 catches, 1483 yards) had a Pro Bowl year and H-back/TE Chris Cooley (71 receptions, 774 yards) was a valuable possession receiver.

Their opponents in the NFC Wild Card playoff on January 7, 2006 were the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who had topped the NFC South at 11-5. A team better known for its defense, under Head Coach Jon Gruden the Bucs had prospered in ’05 with a ball-control offense. RB Carnell “Cadillac” Williams was the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year as he gained 1178 yards on the ground. Second-year QB Chris Simms, son of former Giants QB Phil Simms, took over when veteran Brian Griese went down with an injury and performed ably. The defense was aging but still had solid players in DE Simeon Rice, LB Derrick Brooks, and CB Ronde Barber.

There were 65,514 fans at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium as the teams traded punts to start the game. On their second possession, Simms went to the air on the first play and the pass was tipped by DT Joe Salave’a and intercepted by LB LaVar Arrington, who returned it 21 yards to give the Redskins the ball at the Tampa Bay six yard line. Portis (pictured at right) immediately ran off tackle for a touchdown and Washington had the early 7-0 lead.

The Bucs drove into Redskins territory, but Williams fumbled and safety Sean Taylor recovered at his own 49 and ran 51 yards for a TD. Instead of potentially narrowing or tying the score, Tampa Bay was behind by 14-0 which just over four minutes to play in the opening period – and Washington’s offense had barely been a factor.

The teams traded punts, but the Buccaneers then put together a 38-yard drive in 11 plays that stretched into the second quarter and culminated in a 43-yard field goal by Matt Bryant. Simms completed five passes along the way, but after penetrating to the Washington 17 he was sacked for a 13-yard loss by DE Phillip Daniels setting up the situation in which the Bucs had to settle for three points.

The Redskins responded with a 10-play, 40-yard drive that ended in a John Hall field goal from 47 yards that made it a 17-3 score, and that is how it remained at the conclusion of the first half.

Washington went three-and-out to begin the third quarter and Tampa Bay responded with a scoring drive. Helped by a 24-yard punt return by WR Mark Jones that gave them good starting field position at their 49, the Buccaneers got back-to-back pass completions by Simms to RB Michael Pittman for 22 yards and TE Anthony Becht for 14 to the Washington 10. FB Mike Alstott powered eight yards and two plays later Simms ran around end on a two-yard bootleg to make it a seven-point game.

The Redskins had to punt and Tampa Bay did likewise on a series in which Taylor was ejected for spitting in Pittman’s face. In the fourth quarter, following another Washington punt, the Bucs drove to the Redskins’ 19 yard line as Simms connected on five passes including one of 19 yards to WR Ike Hilliard and another to WR Joey Galloway that covered 24 yards to the 28 yard line. However, on a fourth-and-one play, Simms threw incomplete and the home team came up empty.

Punts followed short possessions by each club, but then Brunell was intercepted by CB Brian Kelly to once more give Tampa Bay possession in Washington territory at the 35. On a third-and-ten play, Simms fired a pass into the end zone that WR Edell Shepherd at first appeared to have caught for a potentially game-tying touchdown. Simms began celebrating and the grounds crew set off fireworks, but it was premature as Shepherd had failed to maintain control as he went down. Coach Gruden challenged the ruling, but the replay upheld the incomplete pass and, after another incompletion, Tampa Bay again had to turn the ball over on downs – and with no time outs remaining.

The Redskins punted and the Buccaneers had one more opportunity with 1:05 left on the clock, but a Simms pass intended for Galloway was intercepted by LB Marcus Washington (pictured at top, and who had earlier forced the fumble by Cadillac Williams that led directly to a TD) to nail down the 17-10 win for the Redskins.

In a game dominated by defense, Tampa Bay outgained the Redskins (243 yards to 120) and had more first downs (17 to 9). The 120 total yards were the fewest in NFL history for the winning team in a postseason game. The Buccaneers also turned the ball over three times, to once by the Redskins. The performance by Washington’s defense was especially impressive considering that there was attrition in the backfield during the course of the contest with CB Shawn Springs being sidelined with a groin injury and Sean Taylor’s ejection.

Mark Brunell completed just 7 of 15 passes for 41 yards and was intercepted once. Santana Moss and Chris Cooley each caught two passes, with Moss leading the club in receiving yards with a mere 18 (Cooley had 12). Clinton Portis ran for 53 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries and Ladell Betts added 25 yards on 10 attempts.

For the Buccaneers, Chris Simms (pictured at left) went to the air 38 times and completed 25 for 198 yards, but with no TDs and two intercepted. Joey Galloway caught 7 passes for 69 yards. Cadillac Williams was held to 49 rushing yards on 18 carries.

“This is great,” said Brunell. “We've played our best football in December, and to get a playoff win on the road, as you know, is very difficult to do. Our defense was incredible. You can't say enough about them. They won the game for us.”

“Our guys on offense were giving it everything we had,” added Coach Gibbs. “We tried a little bit of everything, and we couldn't get anything to work.”

Washington’s run ended the following week with a Divisional round loss at Seattle. The Redskins dropped to 5-11 in 2006. Tampa Bay fell even lower, to 4-12, although both teams returned to the postseason in ’07. However, the win over the Bucs remained the only one in the playoffs during the second, four-year stint of Joe Gibbs as head coach in Washington.