TAMPA — Robert Griffin III's helmet transmitter went out in the final drive Sunday, a situation the Redskins practice each week where he is forced to call his own plays. So he was prepared to improvise when it happened Sunday against the Buccaneers.
Trailing by a point with 1:42 remaining in the game, Washington's remarkable rookie quarterback calmly drove his team 56 yards to set up Billy Cundiff's 41-yard field goal that went just inside the left upright with three seconds remaining, giving the Redskins a 24-22 win over Tampa Bay.
Afterward, RG3 quoted a football movie called The Replacements.
"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 that's how it really is."
Unfortunately for the Bucs, they keep following the same losing script.
For the third time in as many weeks, Tampa Bay lost a close game against an NFC East team that they could have won.
After hearing boos when it fell behind, Tampa Bay rallied from a 21-3 deficit behind a second-half surge from quarterback Josh Freeman and took the lead on Connor Barth's third field goal — a 47-yarder — to give the Bucs a 22-21 lead with 1:42 to play, electrifying an announced crowd of 58,191 at Raymond James Stadium.
Having already blown a lead against the Giants in the Meadowlands to lose by seven, and another at Dallas last week to fall by six, it looked as if the Bucs might finally break through under first-year coach Greg Schiano.
"The fact of the matter is we've got to finish it," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "It doesn't matter if we lose by 100 or we lose by two. We need to win, and we've got to finish in the end. It's as simple as that."
History will show that the Bucs were 102 seconds from going 2-2 with one of the more thrilling come-from-behind wins in franchise history heading into the bye week.
Instead, Tampa Bay's defense collapsed under pressure and allowed Griffin — the Heisman Trophy winner out of Baylor, second overall pick in the draft and product pitchman — to pad his resume.
The loss dropped the Bucs to 1-3 and into a second-place tie with Carolina in the NFC South, already three games behind first-place Atlanta.
It also provided some redemption for Cundiff — who had missed field goals of 41, 57 and 31 yards — by kicking the winner.
"Because you lose at the end, you fail to finish," Schiano said. "But we really didn't do a bunch of stuff before that that put us in a position. I mean, we didn't play what I envision as Buccaneer football, smart football."
The Bucs, who had 10 penalties for 107 yards, lost because in critical situations they played it safe on offense and perhaps too aggressively on defense.
Quarterback Josh Freeman, who was out of synch in the first half, finished with 299 yards passing with a touchdown and interception.
He had a 65-yard bomb to Mike Williams (four catches for 115 yards) and a 54-yarder to Vincent Jackson (six catches for 100 yards and a touchdown), the longest offensive plays of the year.
But trailing 21-19 and facing third and 9 from the Redskins 33, Freeman hit a short pass to Tiquan Underwood underneath for 5 yards, which seemed more designed to get Barth closer for a field-goal attempt than to get a first down and use up more of the game clock.
"We were going to kick the field goal to go ahead," Schiano said. "That's what we were doing. I don't know if you can interpret it further than that."
Griffin, who passed for 323 yards, demonstrated poise and precision on the final drive. Taking over at the Redskins 20, he completed passes of 15 yards to Santana Moss and 20 yards to Fred Davis, then added a 15-yard scramble to the Bucs 26.
After a spike to stop the clock, a false start and a 7-yard completion, Cundiff hit the winner.
"You run a blitz and it was just wide open," defensive end Michael Bennett said of RG3's run. "I knew myself. I was like, 'I don't know if I should run this play or not, but I did my job.' I knew he was going to get outside. That's what he does. The edge was too short. The whole defensive line slanted."
In the end, Griffin had the starring role, and the Bucs were left with another bad film to critique.
"None of that matters," Schiano said. "It's what it is. What could be, what was, what isn't, really doesn't matter. We need to get better. I need to coach better. It starts with me and it goes down through the organization. We just need to get better.
"You want to win? You're close. Get better. You'll win."
Rick Stroud can be heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620. View his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs.