Posted: Sunday January 16, 2000 12:07 PM
TAMPA, Florida (Ticker) -- The defensive-oriented team with the rookie quarterback is headed to the NFC championship game for the first time in 20 years with the help of a bad snap.
Shaun King averted what appeared to be a sure sack and tossed a one-yard touchdown to tight end John Davis to lift the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a come-from-behind 14-13 victory over the Washington Redskins in the divisional playoffs.
The Redskins, shut down for most of the second half by the NFC's stingiest defense, had a chance to win the game but a poor snap by Dan Turk scuttled Brett Conway's 51-yard field goal attempt with 1:08 left.
Holder Brad Johnson blocked the low snap as the ball rolled toward him. He immediately jumped to his feet and attempted to complete a pass, but many of his startled teammates stood still. As he was about to be tackled by Floyd Young, Johnson threw a pass to Mike Sellers that was knocked away by Derrick Brooks.
"The ball looked like it rolled," said Redskins coach Norv Turner. "Brad never had a chance, the timing was gone. And Brad did the right thing. One guy didn't get the job done, not the whole special teams unit."
The Buccaneers (12-5) will meet the winner of Sunday's game between the Minnesota Vikings and St. Louis Rams in the conference title game.
"We like to play close games because we feel like it's close going into the fourth quarter, we've got a chance to win," said Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy. "I said early in the year that we were going to have a few ugly wins and the way it looks now, we're one ugly win away from the Super Bowl."
Forced to play conservatively with King at quarterback, Tampa Bay does not possess the quick-strike offense of playoff teams such as Washington (11-7), St. Louis or Minnesota. But playing old-style football with a defense forcing two key turnovers in the second half, the Buccaneers were able to rally from a 13-0 deficit.
"We never panicked," said Tampa Bay's Warren Sapp, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. "Any given play could turn the game around for you. We just played disciplined football."
After completing just 4-of-14 passes for 45 yards in the first half, King was 11-of-18 for 112 yards and a touchdown in the second half and became the first rookie quarterback to win a playoff game since Pat Haden in 1976 for the Los Angeles Rams against Dallas.
"I felt comfortable out there at the outset of the game, but I was just a little off on my passes," King said. "I felt like Washington did a really good job of giving me different looks. I never saw the same look twice early in the game and it took me a while to make that adjustment."
Johnson was 20-of-32 for 149 yards but threw for just 39 yards in the second half.
Both teams could not establish a running game. Washington's Stephen Davis, who was listed as questionable with ankle and knee injuries, was held to 37 yards on 17 carries. The NFC's leading rusher was unable to find any holes in a defense anchored by Pro Bowlers Sapp, Brooks, Hardy Nickerson and safety John Lynch.
"We never got our running game established," Johnson said. "We played good enough to win, but we didn't have enough big plays. We needed one play to make a difference in the game."
Tampa Bay's Mike Alstott was held to 24 yards on 15 carries but scored on a highlight-film two-yard run in which he broke three tackles and changed direction. Teammate Warrick Dunn had just 18 yards on 11 carries, although he caught four passes for 32 yards, drew a key interference call and turned a fumble by King into a 13-yard gain on the winning TD drive.
A game matching the NFC club which yielded the fewest points and the NFL's second-highest scoring team turned into the defensive struggle Tampa Bay was hoping for.
Conway kicked a 28-yard field goal with 5:37 left in the second quarter for the only scoring of the half.
Washington's maligned defense, which ranked ahead of only expansion Cleveland, held Tampa Bay to three first downs and 69 total yards in the first half.
After backing up Tampa Bay at its own 8, the Redskins took over at the Buccaneers 43 following a 35-yard punt by Mark Royals. A 19-yard pass from Johnson to Albert Connell and a 12-yard run by Davis set up Conway's kick.
Special teams produced the game's first touchdown when Brian Mitchell returned the opening kickoff of the second half 100 yards for a score to set a playoff record. He fielded the kick at the goal line, raced from the middle of the field to his right as he eluded a tackle by Alshermond Singleton and stiff-armed kicker Martin Gramatica away at the Tampa Bay 45. Don Davis attempted to catch Mitchell from behind, but fell short on a diving attempt at the Tampa Bay 20.
An interception by veteran cornerback Darrell Green, the Redskins' all-time leader in games played and a member of two Super Bowl winning teams, set up Conway's second field goal. He made a leaping catch of a pass by King near the left sideline and returned it 12 yards to the Tampa Bay 36.
Four plays later, Conway kicked a 48-yard field goal with 8:10 left in the third quarter to increase Washington's lead to 13-0.
"We just let it slip away," Green said. "You never sit back and say 'It's 13-0, we've got this one.'" The momentum turned in Tampa Bay's favor when Lynch intercepted a long pass by Johnson at the Buccaneers 27-yard line with 5:06 remaining in the third quarter.
The Bucs drove 73 yards in six plays, with King completing passes of 16 yards to Dunn and 17 yards to tight end Dave Moore.
A 31-yard interference penalty on safety Leomont Evans on a pass intended for Dunn put Tampa Bay at the 11. Two plays later, Alstott broke three tackles, bounced to his left and scored on a two-yard run with 2:03 left in the third quarter.
"That's my style of running," Alstott said. "Never give up, and keep my legs moving."
"It looked as if the Redskins thought they had him tackled, but Mike has an uncanny ability to break away from people and make things happen," Dungy said.
The defense also set up the go-ahead touchdown when defensive end Steve White sacked Johnson and forced a fumble, which Sapp recovered at the Washington 32 with 13:21 remaining in the fourth quarter.
It appeared Washington's defense made a big play of its own when King fumbled after being sacked by linebacker Shawn Barber for a five-yard loss, but Dunn recovered and turned the play into a 13-yard gain to the 17.
Facing 4th-and-1 at the 8, Dungy went for the first down. Alstott made the move pay off with a five-yard run behind left guard Jorge Diaz.
Three plays later on 3rd-and-goal from the 2, King moved to his right on a play-action fake and was hit by defensive end Ndukwe Kalu as he tossed the winning TD pass to John Davis.
"I just caught the TD, but the credit goes to the other guys who put me in that situation," Davis said. "I knew I had to get out real quick. I got my head around and Shaun got me the ball."
Johnson completed three passes for 22 yards and Larry Centers rushed for seven yards as the Redskins drove from their 38 to the Tampa Bay 33 in the final minutes. But after Skip Hicks rushing for no gain on a 3rd-and-3 play at the 33, the Redskins opted to attempt a field goal.
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