Connor Barth appeared destined to be the hero Sunday. He had made three field goals, including a career-long 57-yarder as well as a go-ahead 47-yarder with 1:42 left.
But in the end, Barth admitted he was happy for the Redskins' Billy Cundiff — poised to be the goat after missing three early field goals — for delivering the winning kick, a 41-yarder with three seconds to go that hooked but sneaked just inside the left upright.
"I didn't choke," Cundiff said. "It may not be pretty; wasn't the best ball I ever hit. But it went through the uprights, and we were able to win the game."
Said Redskins QB Robert Griffin III: "He redeemed himself. He came up big when it mattered."
Cundiff, who missed a 32-yard tying field goal with 11 seconds left in regulation of last season's AFC title game for the Ravens, admitted he might have been looking for work again if he didn't make his final try Sunday. He earlier missed from 57, 41 and 31 yards.
"It's really tough for a kicker to maintain the job when you miss four kicks in a game," he said. "That's pretty much a given."
Cundiff said he remained confident, wanting another chance. Coach Mike Shanahan said he told Cundiff it would come down to a field goal and added that for him to come through "says a lot about him."
Barth, meanwhile, appreciated the confidence his coaches had in him to try a 57-yard field goal during the second quarter. "It was a windy day. That's awesome," he said. And the Bucs couldn't say enough about Barth's consistency, his team-record 25 consecutive made field goals dating to last season is the NFL's current longest active streak.
It was the second time Barth made at least two field goals of 50 or more yards in a game and only the sixth time in team history. His 57-yarder was the second longest ever for the Bucs, behind Matt Bryant's 62-yarder against Philadelphia in 2006.
"Pro Bowl — easily," Bucs WR Mike Williams said. "If he doesn't make the Pro Bowl, they must have the judges from the (Manny) Pacquiao fight. He's a great kicker. He always gives us a chance."
Rookie QB as good as advertised
A week after coaches and players took heat for their conservative offensive approach, the Bucs took a markedly different posture against the Redskins.
Four of their first seven plays from scrimmage were passes, including two on first down. That continued throughout the game. (They ran the ball 18 times and passed it 39.) And they made good on their promise to take shots down the field.
Big shots, in fact.
In the third quarter, on first and 10 from their 15, the Bucs aired it out, QB Josh Freeman rifling a shot to Mike Williams for a 65-yard gain to set up the team's first touchdown.
"Any time you get a big play — it doesn't matter who it is — the whole team gets excited," Williams said. "I'm glad we had the big play to get our offense going, but I would have rather gotten the win."
WR Vincent Jackson later joined in, catching a 54-yard pass over his shoulder and a 22-yarder early in the fourth quarter to set up the Bucs' second touchdown.
Williams finished with four catches for 115 yards, Jackson six for 100. It marked the first game in which a pair of Bucs had at least 100 receiving yards since Mark Carrier and Lawrence Dawsey on Sept. 13, 1992, against the Packers.
"Me and Vincent got a lot of one-on-one matchups. And if teams continue to let us make plays like that, that's what we're going to have to do," Williams said. "We have to beat it. If they play us with two high (safeties), then we're going to have to run the ball. We have the backs to do that, too."
Bucs find the long ball
Last week, Bucs DE Michael Bennett predicted Redskins rookie QB Robert Griffin III would be one of the great players in the NFL because he has, "everything you want in a quarterback: speed, poise, confidence." • Griffin added a skill Sunday: play-calling.
With Griffin's helmet transmitter not working, he said he called about half the plays during the winning 56-yard drive, which was capped by Billy Cundiff's 41-yard field goal with three seconds left.
Griffin doesn't normally call the plays — offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan does — but he has worked on improvisation (no headset) during practice.
"In a movie called The Replacements, they say, 'Great players want the ball in their hands when it's crunch time,' " Griffin said. "It's funny that I just quoted that movie, but it's also funny that's how it really is. And it's true."
Griffin, the No. 2 overall pick and Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor, racked up 323 passing yards Sunday and ran for 43 (including a 5-yard touchdown and 15 on a scramble during the final drive). He also was accurate, completing 74 percent of his passes (26-of-35) with no interceptions and a 102.4 rating.
"He stayed comfortable and had great composure at the end and didn't get flustered," Bucs DT Gerald McCoy said. "He's going to be good for a long time."
Said Bucs CB Aqib Talib: "He's great." • Redskins coach Mike Shanahan praised Griffin's poise, saying he played well throughout and noted he has put the team in position to win late in consecutive weeks: "Not too many rookies can do that."
Both teams pull out the tricks
The Redskins pulled out all the stops, including a play involving two laterals and a throw down the field that left the Bucs confused.
Facing third and 9 on the final play of the third quarter, QB Robert Griffin III took the snap and lateraled to WR Brandon Banks, who lateraled back to Griffin. But there's more. Griffin lined up, set his feet and fired down the field to TE Niles Paul for a 30-yard gain. All the while, Bucs defenders were trying to figure out what was what.
"I saw (Banks) running, and then he stopped," DE Michael Bennett said. "All I could do was throw my hands up to try and stop the ball. When he threw it back, I was like, 'Oh, shoot!' All I could do was watch after that while the ball was in the air."
Down the field, S Ahmad Black tried to make sense of it all.
"(Griffin) kept coming toward the sideline, and that was a big alert," he said. "Then they had a receiver running down the field and the tight end coming across. We saw that something was happening."
The Redskins didn't score on the drive, Billy Cundiff missing a 31-yard field goal. But they kept the ball for more than three additional minutes, milking precious time the Bucs could have used for their comeback.
The play was challenged by Bucs coach Greg Schiano, who contended Banks also threw a forward pass. But after a review, the call stood.
The Bucs had a trick play of their own late in the first half when, facing third and 4 at their 41, the ball was snapped directly to RB D.J. Ware while QB Josh Freeman jumped, pretending the ball had gone over his head.
The confusion worked as Ware ran around left end for a 17-yard gain to the Redskins 42. That helped set up Connor Barth's 57-yard field goal.
Wright leaves, Biggers arrives
CB Eric Wright left the game in the third quarter with what the Bucs described as a head injury after taking a knee to the back of his head. He left the locker room without addressing reporters. The Bucs were fortunate his loss came on the day CB E.J. Biggers made his 2012 debut. After breaking his left foot on the first day of training camp, Biggers played for the first time, recording one tackle and a pass deflection. "I've been waiting, and I've been wanting to be out there with the boys," Biggers said. "I've been there every day, working every day. I'm just happy to be back out there." Biggers immediately took on the nickel back role, making him the first cornerback off the bench. That role had been occupied in previous weeks by veteran journeyman CB Brandon McDonald. CB Myron Lewis was inactive.
Flags fly freely
The Bucs had 10 penalties for a season-high 107 yards. But more important, they had impeccable timing.
"There are certain penalties I can live with," coach Greg Schiano said. "There are others that are inexcusable. We had a few of those."
There was no more glaring example of what Schiano bemoaned than RG Ted Larsen's false start on a two-point conversion during the fourth quarter. With the Bucs looking to tie the score after LeGarrette Blount's 2-yard touchdown run, the crowd rejoicing and momentum building, it was undone by Larsen's mistake.
The penalty moved the Bucs from the 2 to the 7, from where QB Josh Freeman threw incomplete to WR Mike Williams.
Another example: CB Leonard Johnson committed an illegal block on a punt return during the third quarter, forcing a drive that would have started at the Bucs 29 back to the 15.
Want more? In the second quarter, with the Redskins facing third and 1 from the Bucs 10, DT Gary Gibson was called for encroachment, giving them a first down. They scored a touchdown on QB Robert Griffin III's 5-yard run on the next play.
Expect a big portion of the upcoming bye week to be dedicated to correcting those kinds of mistakes.
"We have to do a better job coaching," Schiano said. "It hasn't gotten through.
"The offside when it's … third and 1, that's me. I have to get them to understand the situation. It hasn't gotten through. It will. We're good enough. We've got good enough players, good enough coaches. The head coach has got to get them to understand it."
It wasn't the kind of triumphant return he would have preferred, but RB LeGarrette Blount did factor more prominently, as coach Greg Schiano promised. After being basically an afterthought for the past two games, Blount rushed six times but, notably, was given the ball in a goal-line situation. He bulled his way into the end zone for a 2-yard score in the fourth quarter to cut the Bucs' deficit to 21-19. "They gave me a chance to play," Blount said. "That's all I wanted was the opportunity. To score a touchdown and get in on the goal line was just the icing on the cake. I was glad to get the touchdown. It felt good to get in the end zone, but it always feels good just to play." Blount didn't otherwise catch fire, totaling 17 yards (2.8 yards per carry). In fact, the Bucs had only modest success running the ball, totaling 80 yards on 18 carries. And then, of course, there was the result of the game. "Whether I play a lot, play a little or don't play," Blount said, "the loss still feels the same."
• Connor Barth gets plenty of accolades for his field goal accuracy. But don't overlook Michael Koenen, who had touchbacks on four of his six kickoffs and averaged 46.2 yards on six punts, including a booming 64-yarder in the first half that tied for the fifth longest in team history.
• Washington CB DeAngelo Hall's interception in the second quarter was QB Josh Freeman's fourth of the season. Freeman also has four touchdown passes.
• DE Michael Bennett recorded his team-leading fourth sack in the fourth quarter.
• WR Tiquan Underwood had only one reception coming into Sunday but had three for 39 yards against Washington, all in the fourth quarter.
• Roscoe Parrish, signed last week, returned four punts for 36 yards, but more important, didn't fumble.