Bucs loss to Redskins leaves 'permanent scar'

Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans (13) escapes from Washington Redskins inside linebacker Perry Riley (56) and strong safety Trenton Robinson (34) during the first half. [AP photo]
Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans (13) escapes from Washington Redskins inside linebacker Perry Riley (56) and strong safety Trenton Robinson (34) during the first half. [AP photo]
Published Oct. 26, 2015

LANDOVER, Md. — They blew a 24-point lead, tying the second-biggest collapse in club history, and everywhere you looked in the Bucs locker room, there was pain after their epic fail to the Redskins.

To walk out of FedEx Field with a 31-30 loss Sunday after beleaguered Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins made an easy pass to tight end Jordan Reed for a 6-yard touchdown with 24 seconds left, well, it's the kind of defeat that doesn't just sting. It leaves a mark.

"This is one of those losses you get a permanent scar from," linebacker Lavonte David said.

A few hours earlier, after a defensive touchdown, the Bucs had led the Redskins 24-0 and the home team was being booed out of the nation's capital. Then Tampa Bay folded like origami.

To leave with a loss, the Bucs (2-4) had to:

• watch Cousins filet their defense;

• be flagged 16 times for 142 yards of penalties;

• botch a Washington onside kick that started another Redskins touchdown drive;

• cap a 91-yard drive by not scoring a touchdown on third and goal inside the 1-yard line, then decide to kick a field goal on fourth and 3 and settle for a six-point lead rather than gamble on fourth down

• and allow an 80-yard touchdown drive in the game's last two minutes that was capped by the easiest pitch and catch you can allow in football.

All this despite rookie quarterback Jameis Winston playing nearly flawlessly, completing 21 of 29 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns while not turning the ball over for the second straight game.

Also, the offense rolled up 479 total yards, fifth most in a game in franchise history. Doug Martin rushed for 136 yards, and receiver Mike Evans caught eight passes for 164 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown pass to start the game.

"The offense won the game today," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "They played well enough to win the game. This one is on us (the defense). You see it more on the guys on defense's faces. … The offense gave us 30. We gave up 31."

Only once have the Bucs blown a bigger lead: In 1987, they led the St. Louis Cardinals by 25 points but wound up losing 31-28.

At his postmortem news conference, coach Lovie Smith seemed to struggle to wrap his mind around the calamity.

A few enormous plays stood out.

The Bucs led 24-7 at halftime after one of the most complete performances in Smith's two seasons. Winston threw touchdown strikes to Evans and rookie Donteea Dye. Martin and Charles Sims combined to rush for 108 yards. Defensive end Jacquies Smith sacked Cousins and stripped him of the ball, and rookie defensive end Howard Jones scooped it up and returned the fumble 43 yards for a touchdown.

"We laid an egg in the first quarter," said Redskins coach Jay Gruden, who had called the game critical.

In the third quarter after a Washington touchdown, the Bucs were caught by surprise by an onside kick, recovered by Trenton Robinson. On the ensuing drive, Cousins threw his first touchdown pass to Reed, a former Gator, also on a slant route, to make it 24-21.

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Tampa Bay's offense produced only a pair of field goals in the second half, despite heroics from Winston, Evans and Martin.

Clinging to a field-goal lead and backed up at the Bucs 6, Winston engineered a 91-yard drive. Evans converted a huge third down, and Martin exploded for a 49-yard run. But instead of the Bucs putting the game away with a touchdown, three plays of first and goal starting from the Washington 5 failed.

Martin ran twice to set up third and goal at the 1. Inexplicably, he was taken out of the game, and the Bucs tried to run Sims wide around left end. He was buried for a 2-yard loss to make it fourth and goal from the 3.

"Maybe they thought I was tired," Martin said about being replaced. "I don't know."

Lovie Smith defended the call.

"They're thinking the same way you are, ganging up the inside," he said. "We'd like to have that over again, based on the result."

Smith also said he thought about going for the put-away TD on fourth and goal until the third-down play lost yardage. "It just seemed the way to do it was to go for (a six-) point lead," he said. "Take the field goal option out of it and make them have to go the distance for a touchdown."

But go the distance the Redskins did, when safety Bradley McDougald allowed the touchdown pass to Reed, failing to take away the slant.

"It's probably one of the worst losses I've been a part of," David said.