Bucs defense makes adjustments after halftime
The defense of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers knew something had to change in the second half Sunday, especially the numbers on the scoreboard.
With quarterback Robert Griffin III keeping the Bucs off balance with misdirection plays and fellow rookie Alfred Morris shredding the league's top-rated defense for 75 yards in 11 carries, the Redskins held a 21-6 advantage, despite two missed field goals by Billy Cundiff.
"We didn't miss as many tackles in the second half and that was good because our tackling in the first half was terrible,'' said Bucs defensive end Michael Bennett. "It was just awful. Some plays I thought would go for two yards ended up going for 20. We were all to blame, every one of us. Those things shouldn't be happening to us.''
The Bucs made a few adjustments and wrapped up more securely after intermission, forcing Washington to punt on four of its first five possessions of the second half.
As Josh Freeman rallied Tampa Bay in the fourth quarter, capped by Connor Barth's go-ahead field goal with 1:42 remaining, the Bucs defense geared up for one last challenge against the NFL's No. 1 scoring attack. But when crunch time came, it was Griffin who emerged on top, driving the Redskins 56 yards in seven plays before Cundiff provided the game-winning kick for Washington's only points of the second half.
"They made plays and we didn't,'' said Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. "Griffin handled his business and showed great composure at the end. He didn't get flustered. He's going to be good for a long time.''
After the game, the rest of the Bucs took turns saluting Griffin's poise. "You've got to tip your hat to RG III,'' said Bucs middle linebacker Mason Foster. "Still, we can't have the game come down to one or two plays. We have to be a lot better at the start.''
The Redskins used a variety of formations and moved Griffin around to capitalize on his unique mobility. Washington wasn't above trying a little trickery, too. On the last play of the third quarter, Griffin handed off to wide receiver Brandon Banks, who veered left before throwing a lateral pass back to Griffin on the right side. Griffin found tight end Niles Paul for a 30-yard gain on third-and-9 and the call on the field was upheld after the Bucs challenged that the pass to Griffin was also a forward pass.
Morris, a sixth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic, shook off Buc defenders in his wake as he finished with 113 yards in 21 carries against a defense that had been allowing only 2.3 yards per rush.
"In the first half, I thought Alfred played unbelievably,'' said Redskins coach Mike Shanahan. "I thought Tampa Bay's defense stepped it up in the second half. That's a heck of a defensive front seven. They play the run extremely well and for us to have that type of success is a credit to our guys.''
The Redskins used a balanced attack in rolling up 474 yards, but they knew they were challenged by a Buc team that suffered its third consecutive bitter setback – each by seven points or less.
"I think the Bucs have a heck of a ballclub,'' said Washington center Will Montgomery. "That's the toughest defense we've faced all year. With guys like McCoy, Roy Miller and Bennett up front, that team has studs across the board.''
|About the writer|
Ira Kaufman has long been both a great writer for The Tampa Tribune and friend to the Bucs UK and BUCPOWER.COM. He writes on all sports for the paper but during the NFL season offers his stories on not just the Buccaneers, but also the NFL in general.