TAMPA — It looked like old times at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
The Tampa Bay defense flew to the football and created turnovers — six in all — in a 19-13 win over Washington. And when it mattered most, familiar names made the crucial plays.
Derrick Brooks. Ronde Barber. Brian Kelly.
The closers, from way back.
“Ronde mentioned something coming off the field, ‘It’s just like old times,’” Kelly said. “We have young guys playing lights out, but we have some good leadership and we’re still here playing.”
Barber and Kelly each had interceptions in the final three minutes to stop the Redskins from completing what would have been a miraculous comeback. Brooks made perhaps the biggest stop of the game on 4th-and-1 from the Bucs 4, stopping Redskins running back Clinton Portis for no gain in the third quarter.
“We look forward to being in that opportunity to shut the door,” Brooks said.
The plays by these three over-30 defenders came after the team’s younger players — including Greg White, Jermaine Phillips and Phillip Buchanon — forced four fumbles that helped Tampa Bay build a 19-3 halftime lead.
“We didn’t look at it as more pressure,” Bucs safety Tanard Jackson, who had two first-half fumble recoveries, said. “We looked at it as we had to step up and make plays.”
Kelly made the last big one with 17 seconds remaining, jumping in front of Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell’s corner route to Santana Moss for his 21st career interception, and his first since 2005.
The Bucs knew Campbell — who was 30 of 49 for 301 yards passing — might try and force a pass with the seconds ticking down. Campbell had driven the Redskins from their 7-yard line into position to win the game.
“He did capitalize on some (passes) he forced in, so he felt comfortable with it,” Kelly said. “But that time he didn’t get it.”
The Redskins offense rallied from their 16-point deficit behind Campbell, who fueled the Redskins’ 25 minutes of possession in the second half, making for a weary Bucs defense by the end of the contest. Campbell had one final shot to win the game, down 19-13, because the Bucs offense was unable to maintain possession after Barber seemed to end the game with his 32nd career interception with 3:40 left.
Barber, working out of the slot corner position, fought through a pick by the slot receiver to jump Campbell’s short pass to Moss in the flat on 2nd-and-5 from the Bucs 32. Barber said he had tried to jump the route a couple of times early in the game. But his 32-year old legs couldn’t quite get him there.
That time they did and Barber broke his tie with Donnie Abraham to assume the team’s career interceptions record.
The Bucs have now forced 10 turnovers in their past two games.
“We feel like we’re getting hot on defense,” Barber said. “If we continue to create turnovers, maybe throw a score or two in there and who knows how far we can go.”
Brooks had, perhaps, the biggest play of the game, though. Down 19-10 in the third quarter, the Redskins drove to Tampa Bay’s 4-yard line and faced 4th-and-1. Head coach Joe Gibbs chose to go for it, thinking the Redskins had a shot at a touchdown.
Brooks had other ideas. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin put the Bucs in a scheme that allowed them to fill every gap defensively. Campbell said after the game the Redskins were set for a quarterback sneak, but the defensive looked forced him into a handoff to Portis.
The Redskins picked Brooks up at first, but the veteran making his 200th career start fought through it, filled the gap and stopped Portis for no gain, forcing a change of possession.
“The turnovers and the fourth and one — that was a big stop,” Kiffin said.
Campbell walked away feeling as if the Redskins has blown an opportunity.
“If we get that first down, the game shakes up differently,” Campbell said
The Buccaneers needed the big defensive plays because the offense — which played without quarterback Jeff Garcia for most of the game — sputtered all afternoon.
The Bucs gained just 192 total yards, partly because the Redskins’ four first-half turnovers came inside their own territory. But even in the short field, the Bucs were only able to score one touchdown, Earnest Graham’s 1-yard plunge, to open the scoring. The other three turnovers produced three Matt Bryant field goals, and he tacked on a fourth as time expired in the second quarter.
With backup Bruce Gradkowski at the controls, the offense sputtered. The run game failed to produce as it did in the first quarter because the Redskins loaded up to stop Graham. Gradkowski went 9-fo-19 passing for 106 yards, but failed to convert key third downs. Garcia — who suffered a deep bruise to his back — returned in the fourth quarter but didn’t fare any better.
The Bucs held the ball for 13 plays in the second half and gained only 15 yards.
That put the onus on Tampa Bay’s defense to withstand nearly 25 minutes of the Redskins on offense and win the game.
“The defense played great,” Bucs guard Davin Joseph said. “To be hung out to dry like that and play like that? Sheesh, that’s crazy.”
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Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.