When Josh McCown dropped a 36-yard pass into the arms of Mike Evans during the third quarter Sunday, the Buccaneers didn't just score a touchdown — they delivered a knockout punch.
The Buccaneers, who had relinquished fourth quarter leads in each of their past three games, were not going to let their opponent hang around this time. And just in case there was any doubt, McCown threw another touchdown pass, a 56-yarder, to Evans to seal the 27-7 win over Washington.
The margin of victory looks impressive — it's the Buccaneers' largest on the road since a Nov. 2010 21-0 win against the San Francisco 49ers — but until Evans' first touchdown, Washington was dangerously close to taking control of the game.
And while the Buccaneers' performance was certainly improved over past weeks, it was far from dominant. For two and a half quarters, you saw exactly what you'd expect to see from two last-place teams: sloppy football full of blown coverages, turnovers, punts and penalties.
McCown and Evans deserve credit for helping the team overcome that early sluggishness, but the Buccaneers should consider borrowing an idea from Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon and write thank you notes to Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, who left several plays on the field because he was either hesitant or inaccurate.
Thank you notes might not be customary among football teams, but every gift deserves a formal expression of gratitude, and RGIII, who threw two interceptions, was definitely in the giving spirit.
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Thank you, Robert Griffin, for making it look as though we actually have a pass rush. Signed, Bucs defensive line.
The box score shows the Buccaneers sacked Griffin six times (they had 14 before Sunday, 27th in the NFL), but at least three of those sacks were the direct result of his reluctance to throw. Griffin had receivers open, and in a few cases, he started his throwing motion before deciding to hold on to the ball.
One of the sacks killed a third quarter drive and definitively changed the complexion the game. After a Gerald McCoy neutral zone infraction and a William Gholston face mask penalty, Washington was in Tampa Bay territory and seemed to be on the verge of its first lead of the game. But on a 3rd-and-2, Griffin held the ball for more than 3.4 seconds, and defensive end Michael Johnson brought him down for a loss of 6 yards.
It's a play Washington would like to have back, as receiver DeSean Jackson was wide open.
The sack pushed Washington back to the Tampa Bay 32-yard line, and kicker Kai Forbath's 50-yard field goal try missed wide right. After the miss, Washington's win probability fell to 22 percent, according to advancedfootballanalytics.com. It had been as high as 38 percent earlier in the drive. On the Bucs' next possession, Evans scored the first of his two touchdowns to take the Buccaneers' win probability above 90 percent.
On average, Griffin took about 3 seconds to throw Sunday. By comparison, McCown took 2.77 seconds and Peyton Manning took 2.13 seconds, according to Pro Football Focus.
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McCoy told the Washington Post after the game that he and his teammates along the defensive line were well aware of Griffin's slow release.
"We knew we had to stay alive in our rush because (Griffin) does hold the ball a little bit," McCoy said. "But really, it is just mentality."
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Thank you, Robert Griffin, for overthrowing DeSean Jackson so that we didn't have to actually stop him ourselves. Signed, Bucs defensive backs
Jackson doesn't block or run routes well, but what he can do is run straight and make defensive backs look as though they're chasing him with pianos strapped on their backs. Three plays before the Johnson sack, he did exactly that, and somehow Griffin sailed the ball over the head of one of the NFL's fastest receivers.
On the 3rd-and-5, the Buccaneers dialed up a rare blitz (they blitzed Griffin only four times, according to ESPN Stats and Information), giving Washington its pick of one-on-one matchups, including Jackson on Leonard Johnson. Jackson burned Johnson almost immediately after the snap, and Major Wright, the lone safety deep, was in no position to help. It very easily could have been a touchdown and a 14-13 Washington lead, but the Gholston facemask penalty temporarily kept the drive alive anyway.
Griffin also overthrew Jackson on a 2nd-and-2 on Washington's first possession of the game. Just as in the play above, Jackson's job was to run straight and be fast. Even though cornerback Crezdon Butler gave him a 10-yard cushion, he still ended up trailing him.
• • •
Thank you, Kai Forbath, for missing two field goals so that fans would stop talking about that miserable season the Bucs punter is having. Signed, Michael Koenan
Buccaneers punter Michael Koenan came into Sunday's game with lowest punting average in the NFL (39.7 yards) and his job on the line. On the other sideline, Forbath came into Sunday's game having connected on 15 of his 16 field goal attempts, including 6 out of 6 from 40-49 yards away.
Koenan had a quiet afternoon, averaging 41.3 yards on his four punts. So for at least one week fans can go back to struggling to remember the name of their team's punter. Forbath, however, missed on both of his field goal attempts, one from 47 yards away and the other from 50 yards.
On the drive in which he missed the 47-yarder, Washington had reached the Tampa Bay 10-yard line but fell all the back to the 29 after the Buccaneers sacked Griffin on two consecutive plays. On the second sack, defensive end Jacquies Smith shoved aside right tackle Tom Compton, but on the first, Griffin held the ball for too long despite tight end Niles Paul (84) being open over the middle.
Instead of getting on the scoreboard at that point in the second quarter, Washington remained down 10-0 and fell back further when a 51-yard pass to Evans on the Buccaneers' very next possession put them in position for a field goal try of their own.
We won't have to wait long to see whether the Buccaneers pass rush has truly turned a corner. Next week's opponent — the Chicago Bears' Jay Cutler — possesses one of the quickest releases in the NFL. Check back Thursday morning for a scouting report.
Contact Thomas Bassinger at email@example.com. Follow @tbassfootball.