LANDOVER, Md. — Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman paced the sideline trying to pump up his teammates and preparing for overtime.
Instead, it was just over.
Because Redskins holder Hunter Smith let a high snap from center Nick Sundberg slip through his hands in a steady rain, the Bucs held on for a 17-16 win and improved their playoff hopes.
"It was almost weird," Bucs running back Cadillac Williams said. "We were sitting on the sideline, and something just didn't feel right.
"He's about to miss it, or we're about to block it. When I saw the snap go over the placekicker's head, I was like, 'Wow! Game over!' "
"What happened was my fault," Smith said. "I have to catch the ball and put it down. I dropped this one, and we lost the game."
The botched extra point came after a fourth-down, 6-yard touchdown catch by Santana Moss pulled the Redskins to within one point with nine seconds to play.
But if ever the FedEx Field crowd was going to sing Fail to the Redskins, this was it. Graham Gano had been booed for already missing field goals of 34 (off the left upright) and 24 yards (wide left) and barely squeezing in an extra point and a field goal of 25 yards.
After the game, Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris was asked repeatedly, in essence, if the Bucs won because of luck or pluck? The Redskins outplayed Tampa Bay, especially in the first half, when Ryan Torain rushed for 158 of his 172 yards.
"I'm not going to be apologetic for any form of wins," Morris said. "No, I don't feel lucky."
The victory improved the Bucs to 8-5 and coupled with Green Bay's loss at Detroit improved their chances for the final NFC wild card spot. But Morris could use a new rabbit's foot.
For the third straight game, the Bucs lost two starters for the remainder of the season. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, their first-round draft choice in April, tore his left biceps on the third play of the game. Linebacker Quincy Black broke his arm during the second half.
Two weeks ago, the Bucs lost starting guard Davin Joseph (broken foot) and safety Cody Grimm (broken leg). Last week, center Jeff Faine (torn triceps) and cornerback Aqib Talib (torn tendon near his hip) saw their seasons end.
"Don't let them do the 18-game season this year," cornerback Ronde Barber said of the owners' recent proposal, "because we won't make it."
Technically, it was Freeman's seventh fourth-quarter comeback. The second-year quarterback connected with tight end Kellen Winslow on a 41-yard touchdown with 3:47 remaining in the game for the Bucs' only touchdown and a 15-10 lead.
Replays indicated left tackle Donald Penn got away with a hold on linebacker Brian Orakpo on the play.
"He wasn't held," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. "He was mugged."
The Bucs lined up for a two-point conversion, and Freeman bulled across the goal line on a quarterback draw.
"That's a play with a couple of different options on it," Freeman said. "Cadillac … started pushing me and kept fighting."
Freeman finished 15-of-25 for 266 yards and a touchdown (109.8 passer rating). He went 11-of-16 for 174 yards after halftime. With the Redskins double-teaming Mike Williams, his favorite target was fellow rookie Arrelious Benn, a Washington native who enjoyed his homecoming by catching four passes for 122 yards.
"They were just daring us to throw the ball," tight end John Gilmore said. "(Freeman) said on the sideline, 'They must not know about my big hands.' When you see your second-year quarterback with that type of composure, it only filters down to the rest of us."
Down 10-9, Benn's 43-yard catch early in the fourth quarter gave the Bucs first and goal at the 1. But one play later, Freeman lost the snap when he was bumped by pulling guard Derek Hardman, and the fumble was recovered in the end zone for a touchback by linebacker London Fletcher.
"That was all me," Freeman said. "We've got a guard pulling in a real tight area. I've got to see it, get around and get the ball to the running back so he can score a touchdown rather than fumbling to them and giving them a chance to beat us."
After the Bucs took a 17-10 lead, quarterback Donovan McNabb drove the Redskins 75 yards in 13 plays, capped by his fourth-down touchdown to Moss.
Before the score, there was some confusion among the Fox broadcasting crew of Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa, who believed the Redskins scored on fifth down.
The problem centered around a down-and-distance marker showing second and 1 after a 10-yard pass from McNabb to Anthony Armstrong to the 2½-yard line (though it appeared Armstrong gained only 9 yards). Morris said nobody on the field was confused.
After Moss' touchdown, it looked like a blown fourth-quarter lead by the Bucs for the second straight week. Then the ball slithered through Smith's hands, and cornerback E.J. Biggers jumped on Gano as the ball squirted to safety Corey Lynch.
"I think the facts are the facts. They outplayed us, but we got the win," Bucs linebacker Barrett Ruud said. "Style points are out the window right now. It's not the BCS. You've got to get to a playoff game."
Rick Stroud can be reached at [email protected]
Bad, good, bad
The performance of the Bucs defense in the first half, first four series of the second half and last series of the second half:
No good by the 'Noles
Among the three kickers who have missed the most field goals this season, two went to Florida State and one missed two against the Bucs: