Scott Smith, Buccaneers.com, published 13 October 2003

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defense was looking for redemption. The Buccaneers’ offense was simply looking for a live body to catch the ball. Both found what they were looking for Sunday afternoon at FedEx Field and the visiting Buccaneers came away with a 35-13 victory over the Washington Redskins that was close until a dominant fourth quarter. Speaking of road dominance, the Buccaneers have now won five consecutive away games, a franchise record dating back to last December.

But back to the team’s missions in Washington. The proud Buccaneer defense, which had slipped out of the league’s top spot after Monday’s shootout with the Colts, wanted to prove that its prime-time meltdown was a fluke. The Bucs’ offense, growing in confidence each week but badly beaten up at the skill positions, had to prove they could continue their hot streak with a lot of new faces in key roles. So, enter heroes new and old.

On defense, Pro Bowlers Simeon Rice and Warren Sapp led a six-sack charge, Rice picking up four of them to set a personal high and tie the club’s single-game record. Sapp got the other two sacks, his first two of the season and an emphatic answer for a midweek challenge from Washington LB LaVar Arrington. On offense, the Bucs’ four-touchdown afternoon (a fifth score came courtesy of yet another Derrick Brooks interception return) was led by the heretofore little-known tight end pair of Todd Yoder and Will Heller.

Yoder, who had all of eight receptions in his four-year career entering Sunday’s game, none for touchdowns, caught four passes for 28 yards and two scores. In addition to his scoring receptions of one and 11 yards, Yoder also set up the Bucs’ third touchdown with a tackle-breaking run on a third-and-eight catch that earned a first down at the Redskin six. Two plays later, TE Will Heller, a rookie free agent who played zero offensive snaps in Monday’s five-quarter affair, turned his first NFL catch into a four-yard touchdown that gave Tampa Bay a 21-13 lead with nine minutes to go. The outstanding contributions from Yoder and Heller were necessary after starting TE Ken Dilger was lost to a foot sprain in the first quarter.

Coming in, the Bucs were hobbled on offense, with FB Mike Alstott and TE Rickey Dudley out for the season, WR Joe Jurevicius sidelined for six weeks or so and WR Karl Williams, WR Keyshawn Johnson and RB Aaron Stecker all nursing injuries. The result was a wide variety of formations and personnel groupings that relied more heavily on not just Yoder and Heller but also FB Jameel Cook (three catches for 29 yards) and RB Thomas Jones (44 combined rushing and receiving yards). Of course, the offense also had an old standby in red-hot quarterback Brad Johnson. Though the Bucs started slowly, with just 84 yards of offense at the half, they came on strong in the second half and, befitting of the league’s third-ranked attack, finished with 379 total yards, including 268 through the air. For the fourth time in five games, Johnson was not sacked.

That gave the Pro Bowler time to complete 22 of 30 passes for 268 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Since the beginning of the 2002 season, Johnson has tossed 34 touchdowns against just nine interceptions. Johnson’s fourth scoring pass of the afternoon was a 39-yard bomb to Keyshawn Johnson on which he looked right, then left before finally lobbing a deep pass over the middle to the streaking receiver. Johnson finished with 80 yards on four receptions, playing through a deep thigh bruise that had him on the injury report all week. WR Keenan McCardell made several dazzling, over-the-shoulder catches during the Bucs’ second and third touchdown drives of the day and finished with a team-high five receptions for 77 yards.

Tampa Bay’s defense also started slowly, allowing Washington to control the clock for over 13 minutes in the first quarter. The Bucs appeared to still be suffering from a Monday night hangover, as they were out-gained 111 yards to five. Tampa Bay had the ball just once in the period, a three-and-out sandwiched around two sustained Washington drives. As in the fatal overtime period against Indianapolis, the Bucs couldn’t get off the field on third down, allowing five straight third-down conversions in the quarter. However, Rice ended the first drive with a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery and Brooks forced Washington into a field goal on the second drive with a successful third-down blitz.

Rice was just getting started. He sacked Ramsey twice more and former Buc Rob Johnson once, and also got pressure on Ramsey as he threw a deep pass that was intercepted by Dwight Smith near the end of the third quarter. Smith, starting at right cornerback instead of free safety with Brian Kelly out, finished with seven tackles, an interception and two passes defensed. The two defensive stops in the first quarter allowed the Bucs to overcome their statistical disadvantage and take a lead on the scoreboard with an 85-yard, nine-minute march in the second quarter. That drive was extended by a roughing-the-passer call on former Buccaneer Regan Upshaw, allowing QB Brad Johnson to hit Yoder with a one-yard scoring pass on a perfectly-executed second-down rollout.

It looked as if the Bucs might take that 7-3 lead into halftime until a season-long problem reared its head again. The oft-penalized Bucs drew just three flags in the first half, but one of them was very poorly timed. With the second-quarter clock past the two-minute warning, Sapp sacked QB Patrick Ramsey from behind on third-and-14, apparently ending Washington’s drive on the far side of midfield. However, DE Greg Spires hit Ramsey with his helmet as the quarterback landed and the yellow hankies shot out instantly. The personal foul on Spires gave Washington a first down at the Bucs’ 39, and the Redskins needed seven plays from there to get it in the end zone. Ramsey gave Washington the 10-7 lead with a one-yard toss to Darnerian McCants, but the big play was a 22-yard catch-and-run by Rod Gardner after S John Lynch tried unsuccessfully for the interception.

The Redskins also scored first in the second half, again thanks to a Buccaneer penalty. This time, Rice’s third sack of the game had helped force a punt from Tampa Bay’s 38, but Smith lined up offside and, with five less yards to the goal posts, Washington elected to go for three. It proved to be a good decision when John Hall, the New York Jet import with the big leg, easily nailed a 51-yarder, giving Washington a 13-7 lead. Washington would not score again. After the Yoder, Heller and Johnson scores, the Brooks provided the knockout blow with his 44-yard return of a shoestring interception in the fourth quarter. DT Anthony McFarland had forced Ramsey’s off-target throw by grabbing him from behind with one arm and yanking just as the quarterback released.