TAMPA, Fla. -- The Washington Redskins' season is turning rapidly into a highlight film of frustrating Fantastic Finishes.
Beaten on the final play by John Elway in Denver last Sunday, the Redskins yesterday ran five plays in the last 31 seconds in a last-gasp attempt to overcome an eight-point deficit in the stifling heat at Tampa Stadium.
This time, fullback Cedric Smith dropped a pass in the end zone with nine seconds left. Then former Redskin Martin Mayhew intercepted a pass in the end zone with two seconds left to preserve the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 14-6 victory before 49,234 fans.
The Redskins were mentally and physically drained. Several players were forced to the sidelines with exhaustion and needed to take fluids to survive the heat that was above 110 degrees on the floor of Tampa Stadium.
Defensive lineman Sterling Palmer said, "The heat was a factor. It seems like every time I made a hit, I saw flashes of light. Fatigue is a bad man."
"We had guys in and out all day," coach Norv Turner said.
Defensive coordinator Ron Lynn said, "We're hurting right now. Hurting emotionally and that kind of thing. We'll bounce back. It's a long season."
The most distraught player was Smith, who broke open in the end zone on first-and-goal from the Tampa 1. One play earlier, Tampa's Tony Stargell had been called for pass interference on Michael Westbrook on fourth-and-goal from the 2.
Had Smith caught Gus Frerotte's pass, the Redskins would have gone for a two-point conversion in an attempt to force overtime. Instead, he dropped it.
Turner consoled Smith at his locker after the game, but Smith took the blame himself.
When a Redskin official wanted to know if Smith was willing to talk to reporters, he volunteered to discuss the play. "I'm not going to blow up," he told the official.
A blocking back for Emmitt Smith at Florida, Smith said, "I misjudged the ball and I didn't catch it. That's about all I can say. When you get an opportunity like that, you've got to make the play. Obviously, I didn't. That's basically it."
On Turner's stopping at his locker to console him, Smith said, "I appreciate that, but there's nobody harder on me than I am."
Smith said the Redskins hoped to catch the Bucs looking for the run from the 1, even though they had no timeouts left. The play worked perfectly -- except that Smith didn't catch the ball.
"It just tipped off his fingertips," Turner said. "I don't know if he was trying to too hard or what."
The Redskins came right back with the same play. This time Frerotte threw to Coleman Bell in the back of the end zone, but Mayhew stepped in front of him and picked it off.
"I thought I threw it high enough that Coleman's going to get it or it's going to be out of bounds," Frerotte said. "I guess the DB [Mayhew] made a good play."
It didn't help that, for the second straight week, the Redskins were on the short end of a controversial call in the end zone.
Last week against Denver, the Redskins thought Westbrook was pushed out of the end zone while making a catch and should have been awarded a touchdown. This time, the officials ruled Tampa's Alvin Harper was pushed out of bounds and gave him a touchdown even though his momentum
appeared to carry him out.
Both times, officials changed the call after a conference. Harper was ejected for pushing an official when he thought he wasn't going to get the touchdown that put Tampa Bay ahead 14-6 early in the final period.
Darrell Green, who covered Harper, said, "That was horrendous, the play itself and the rules, whatever the rules are. It has to be addressed, somehow, some way."
However, Green, wouldn't blame the loss on that call. "I don't think a play or a player can win a game," he said.
The Redskins could have had more than a 6-0 lead after a first
half in which they had a 169-52 edge in total yardage. They then gave up two second-half touchdown drives and fizzled on a drive when Frerotte fumbled a snap from center Trevor Matich, who was filling in when the heat forced Vernice Smith out.
The Redskins are 1-3 for the third straight year (8-28 since Joe Gibbs departed) and have suffered three of their last six losses to Tampa Bay by a total of 16 points. Still, Turner maintains the team is better than last year.
"I just think we're better in a lot of areas. We have go get over the hump. We've got to find a way to win a football game," Turner said.