For the majority of Sunday afternoon's game, the Redskins and Buccaneers traded field position and missed opportunities. Over three quarters, the difference came from each team's kickers – Dustin Hopkins made two field goals and Chandler Catanzaro missed two.
That all changed in the fourth quarter, when the Redskins found the end zone on offense and then capitalized with three defensive turnovers. It led to a 16-3 victory at Raymond James Stadium, improving the team's record to 6-3 and showing how dangerous this opportunistic defense could be.
The Redskins opened up a slim lead starting with the first play, a frozen rope from quarterback Alex Smith on third down that found the hands of wide receiver Josh Doctson in the back of the end zone. That provided a 13-3 cushion, and then the defense took over.
On the next Buccaneers drive, cornerback Greg Stroman cut in front of a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass on first down and intercepted his pass intended for O.J. Howard, returning it 23 yards. It was the first interception of his career and the rookie, who didn't start in place of an injured Quinton Dunbar, made his presence felt.
"I just read the receiver, seen him out stepping out ready to break in and I just drove one," Stroman said. "I play corner, it's tough. It's the NFL and I play corner so you gotta keep bouncing back. You can't let a play hold you down."
Washington took advantage with a field goal, extended the lead and then made another big play. This one came in their own territory. A short pass over the middle to running back Jacquizz Rodgers looked dangerous as he began sprinting toward the 20-yard line, but linebacker Ryan Anderson pursued behind him and punched the ball out with a vicious uppercut.
"Yeah I tried to time it up perfectly," Anderson said. "Thank god I was able to get it out and make a play for this team."
That sent the ball flying towards the goal line was recovered in the end zone by safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, putting the Redskins offense back in business.
"It meant a lot, it meant a lot," defensive lineman Jonathan Allen said. "He's been busting his butt and you're finally starting to see some of that come into fruition for him, but we're never satisfied at all."
"This game is an energy game," Anderson said. "That team had a lot of energy, the momentum is going to change. So, we just had keep trying to shift it back. As a defense, that's how we want to play, it's going to be on us and we want it on us. So, these are the kind of game we got to play. We got to fix some stuff but this was a step in the right direction."
The defense wasn't done. Failing to score on the next drive, the Redskins allowed the Buccaneers a small window opportunity. Tampa Bay marched deep into Redskins territory, and on the edge of the goal line, linebacker Preston Smith achieved his first sack of the season, stripping Fitzpatrick of the football as Ryan Kerrigan fell on top of it.
That all but secured a strange victory for the Redskins, which allowed 501 total net yards but surrendered just three points in the process, thanks in large part to four total turnovers and making plays when they mattered most.
"We preach that, that's what we want," safety D.J. Swearinger Sr. said of the turnovers. "The coaches are saying let's go get a three-and-out. I'm like, 'Nah, bump a three-and-out, we want the ball.' Angry defense wants the ball, every time, anytime you step on the field you gotta be hungry for the ball."
Still, the Redskins know they have much to improve. They know that not every game will afford them those opportunities. They can take pride in a winning the turnover battle, but remain aware they have corrections to make.
"Seems like every game, we get in this situation, the team always moves the ball to the red zone," Swearinger said. "We gotta find a way to get them out of that. Whether we gotta just stick with what we're doing the whole game and not switch up the calls at the end of the game, we got to do that. Cause like I said, moving forward we're not going to be able to stop teams, keep teams out of the end zone if we keep letting them drive down the field. So, we gotta improve."
At least this week, they can do so with a victory in their pocket.