The Redskins had an outstanding chance to put away the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back on Nov. 13 at Raymond James Stadium. Leading 35-28, Washington faced a third-and-2 at its own 20-yard line, but couldn't convert. That failure haunts the Redskins nearly two months later.
The Redskins sent Clinton Portis up the middle but Portis, who had 23 carries, 144 yards and one TD on the day, was stuffed at the line of scrimmage by outside linebacker Derrick Brooks and strong safety Kalvin Pearson.
When it mattered most on Week 10, the Redskins' running game came up six feet short.
As we now know, third-year QB Chris Simms rallied the Bucs to their 36-35 win. He hit Joey Galloway for 13 yards, Edell Shepherd for 11 yards and then Sheperd again for the 30-yard TD that gave Tampa Bay life. Mike Alstott's disputed two-point conversion run lifted the Bucs to the win in the battle of 5-3 NFC teams.
The Redskins head back to Tampa Bay Saturday afternoon for their first playoff appearance since 1999. They've been talking all week about that missed opportunity back on Nov. 13, the one in which they couldn't convert on third down with the game in the balance.
On the afternoon, they were solid on third-down conversions at 47 percent (7-for-15). The one the Redskins wish they could have back involved Portis just before the two-minute warning.
The way the Redskins look at it, the game never should have come down to Alstott's two-point surge and contentions that his elbow hit the turf before the ball crossed the goal line.
"It was, obviously, a frustrating game for us," said right tackle Jon Jansen. "I don't necessarily look at the two-point conversion; I look at the opportunity we gave them to have the two-point conversion.
"If we picked up a couple of first downs when we had the ball, we would have been able to take a knee and end it on our terms. As the offensive line, we didn't provide that opportunity. As an offense, we didn't provide that opportunity. That's what sticks in me."
Of course, it's not as if the Redskins were facing a second-class defense that day. In fact, Tampa Bay finished No. 1 in the NFL under defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin this year. Players such as Brooks, defensive end Simeon Rice and cornerback Ronde Barber are among the league's elite at their respective positions.
Yet from the Redskins' point of view, no NFL defense should be able to stop their smash-mouth style of ball when it's in full swing.
For his part, Portis says the Week 10 game is in the past and that he is not going to dwell on the team's failed third-down conversion.
"It's not a missed opportunity because we're back there again," Portis said. "There's no need to panic. We're back again. It didn't cost us anything. Everyone is 0-0. It's a new season. If we win this time, then who cares about the first game?"
Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell says that, in facing the Bucs' top-ranked defense, the offense will face a tough task on first and second downs, too.
"Two very good defenses are going at it again," Brunell said. "In a playoff atmosphere, the home team certainly has an advantage. The fans are going to be going crazy. They're a better football team than the last time we played them, so I expect to see their best.
"They finished as the best defense in the NFL, so once again we've got a big challenge ahead of us. But having been able to score those points last time perhaps gives us some confidence going into their place."