Sunk
It looks as though the Bucs probably will miss the playoffs. Just don't think for a second the playoffs will miss them. No reason for the NFL to subject its fans to this kind of football in the post-season. Viewers won't have to suffer through any more fumbles, interceptions and watching an offense that would drop ratings like it drops footballs.

To Tampa Bay fans, it sounds like a broken record. It might result in a losing record. The Bucs committed three turnovers in the final 5 minutes, 49 seconds and blew a 13-point lead in the second half to lose 20-16 Saturday to the Redskins at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium. "It's especially bitter any time you lose the lead in the fourth quarter," Bucs coach Tony Dungy said. "It meant a lot to us, but Washington played like it meant a lot to them. We didn't drive the nail in them."

The Bucs (7-8) will be put out of their misery and officially eliminated from the playoffs today if Arizona beatsNew Orleans and the Giants lose or tie Kansas City. "I'm going into next week's game telling my mom I'll be home three days after Christmas," Bucs guard Frank Middleton said.

Thirteen of the Redskins' points were scored in the fourth quarter, 10 from Bucs turnovers. Trent Dilfer was intercepted twice. But the guy who swung the hammer to nail the Bucs was rookie Jacquez Green. Still clinging to a 16-13 lead with 5:56 left in the game, Green fumbled a kickoff after being hit by the Chris Thomas and it was recovered by Washington's Mike Sellers at the Tampa Bay 15-yard line. On the first play, Redskins quarterback Trent Green hit tight end Stephen Alexander in the end zone to give the Redskins their first lead of the game.

Dilfer saved his worst for last, going 14-for-34 passing for 100 yards and two INTs. He missed on his first eight attempts of the second half, failing to connect until the Bucs' final drive when he completed a 5-yard pass to Warrick Dunn with 3:05 left. What's remarkable is that the Bucs lost a game to a Redskins' team, which frankly, didn't play very well. Washington did everything to give away the game in the first half, but the Bucs couldn't capitalize, and Washington won its fourth straight game. The Redskins had 92 yards in penalties, they turned the ball over twice in their territory and their quarterback was sacked five times.

But the Bucs let them hang around, settling for two Michael Husted field goals before he missed a 36-yarder to end the first half. "We go out, we're getting the ball on turnovers and putting points on the board," Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "We leave a couple points out there. Then all of a sudden, we gift wrap it. Turn it over right to them. They make a touchdown, and now we're clawing, trying to get back in it."

The Bucs drove the ball to the Redskins 43 and had two timeouts and 1:25 left to pull out the win before the wheels fell off. Tackle Jason Odom had a false start. Dilfer was sacked by defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson. On third down Pro Bowl cornerback Darrell Green intercepted Dilfer's pass intended for Bert Emanuel to end the game. The Bucs muddled through the first half and took a 13-7 lead to the locker room. But they left a lot of points off the scoreboard.

Washington had nine penalties for 67 yards, committed two turnovers and had the ball less than 10 minutes. Quarterback Trent Green only completed 5 of 14 passes. And the Redskins needed only a touchdown for the lead. On the opening drive the Redskins committed three critical penalties, including pass interference on Green, to gift wrap the Bucs' first touchdown - an 8-yard pass from Dilfer to tight end Dave Moore.

The Bucs defense had a chance to shut out the Redskins in the first half. But safety Charles Mincy cut in front of defensive back Donnie Abraham and dropped an interception near Tampa Bay's goal line. A 25-yard punt return by Green gave the Bucs great field position at the Washington 39 to start the second half. Mike Alstott began with a 14-yard run and then pounded the ball four more times to the 'Skins 6. But on third down, Dilfer missed Emanuel in the back of the end zone and Husted booted his third field goal - a 24-yarder to extend the lead to 16-7.

After that, the Bucs sat on their wobbly lead. But the Redskins were just one play from getting back in the game. They got it when Green hooked up with receiver Albert Connell on a 61-yard slant pass. Cornerback Ronde Barber made a touchdown-saving tackle at the Bucs 6. Defensive end Regan Upshaw was offsides, for the second time, to move the ball to the 3. But Green's first down pass to Leslie Shepherd was nearly intercepted by Barber. John Lynch dropped running back Skip Hicks for a 1-yard loss and Upshaw atoned by sacking Green on third down. The 'Skins were forced to settle for Cary Blanchard's 26-yard field goal to make a game of it trailing 16-10 with 13:30 left.

Green sat solemnly at his locker. He was returning kickoffs because Reidel Anthony was inactive with a shoulder strain and Karl Williams was playing with sore ribs. "Jacquez can be dangerous. He's made some big plays. But his ball security is going to have to get better."

Green, who was fortunate to not lose an earlier fumbled punt and bobbled two kicks last week, did not offer any excuses. "Hit me right on the ball and by the time I saw the ball, they had it," Green said. "We really don't have much to say. Everyone knew what was at stake here. We just couldn't get it done."

Not against the Redskins. Not in '98.

Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times 1998