TAMPA, Fla.-- --So, there's got to be a reason why the Redskins' defense was able to begin a playoff game - the team's first in six years - on the road without one of its cornerbacks, lose a defensive lineman to a broken arm, lose its free safety to a stupid ejection and still end up giddily bouncing with glee on the sidelines as time expired.
"We have a motto: Everybody's a starter," said strong safety Ryan Clark, a member of the defense that yesterday stitched itself together, locked down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and punched its team's ticket to Seattle next week. "So if a guy goes out, the next guy has to step up and play just as well. It happened tonight."
That answer sounded familiar for a couple of reasons. For one, every other key Redskins defensive player in the Raymond James Stadium locker room had already said it. Clark laughed, "That's what it is, man, that's what it is."
For another, that same motto is echoed by another team, just up the road, and served as the title of a certain all-access book now on sale, Next Man Up. The Ravens and Redskins live by those words, but the Redskins are currently living them in the postseason.
Yesterday, they used them as impetus toward the franchise's first playoff win in 13 years, since Joe Gibbs' first stint as coach.
Shawn Springs' sore groin muscle, which kept him out of uniform, gave them no choice. Neither did defensive end Renaldo Wynn's right forearm that was broken late in the first quarter. And Sean Taylor, by thoughtfully hocking a loogie into the face of the Bucs' Michael Pittman late in the third quarter, put the motto to the ultimate test.
To Taylor's credit, he played hero before putting on the goat horns. Back in the first quarter, he scooped up the loose ball wrenched loose from Cadillac Williams by linebacker Marcus Washington, then knocked loose from Washington, and ran 51 yards to give the Redskins a 14-0 lead less than 11 minutes into the game.
That was their second touchdown created by a turnover. The first came five minutes earlier after LaVar Arrington picked off the first pass of Chris Simms' first playoff start, when it was deflected by lineman Joe Salave'a, and raced to the Bucs' 6.
Not long ago, players had to step up for Arrington, a longtime resident of the 'Skins doghouse. Then he became the one who needed to step up. No matter how big, how inconvenient, how inexplicable the hole, someone has always come along to fill it.
That's why they couldn't waste time being angry at Taylor, who did apologize to them, his teammates said. "All the guys have to step up," said defensive end Phillip Daniels. "When you lose guys, it's tough; they all mean a lot to this defense.
"Sean Taylor - that situation, you've got to be smart. We need him right now. We don't need no crazy stuff. That was a chance for us to get off the field, too."
It was, indeed. The Bucs were trailing 17-10 and had been stopped again, on third-and-nine deep in their territory - and then Taylor had his brain lock. Fifteen yards, first down. Yet they forced the Bucs to punt just four plays after that.
The Bucs had the ball four more times, trailing by the same score. The Redskins shut them down each time.
It all made up for a record-setting exercise in futility by the 'Skins offense, which gained the fewest yards ever by a playoff team in a win, breaking the record set by - go ahead, guess - the Ravens in January 2001. Tampa Bay's defense, still populated by starters from its 2003 Super Bowl team, smothered the Redskins. The Redskins' defense smothered better, while making up for much bigger gaps.
Give credit to Gregg Williams, with his precedent-setting contract extension, who did $8 million worth of defensive-coordinating yesterday. He laid down the foundation and fostered the mind-set - then could only watch and hope his players backed those words with action.
"There was no time to be disappointed," he said when asked about dealing with Taylor's sudden absence. "We just put another Redskins defender out there. The next Redskins defender has to step up and play."
OK, we get it already. Why don't you just write a book about it or something?
Read David Steele's blog at baltimoresun.com/steeleblog
Points after -- David Steele
The last three teams that the 6-10 Ravens defeated this season (Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans) fired their coaches. That looks bad. A fourth team, the New York Jets, is now changing coaches, too. That doesn't look much better. A fifth, the Cleveland Browns, ran off its team president in a power struggle. The sixth is the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Bill Cowher and Dan Rooney are probably safe. For now.
No word of rioting, vandalism or mass arrests in Austin after Texas won the national championship. Having gone 35 years without a title, obviously the students and fans are behind the times. C'mon, Maryland basketball fans, help them out a little, send some pointers on burning mattresses and smashing storefronts.
Speaking of civic unrest, the Terps play at No. 1 Duke on Wednesday night. That might have sneaked up on you, but not on the College Park police.
Maybe Jeromy Burnitz didn't like the Baltimore Convention Center, and preferred the facilities for the Pirates' FanFest.