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Redskins-Bucs: Battle Of Defenses

As the Redskins prepare for Sunday's all-important season opener versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at FedExField, they may be well served to remember last year's game.

On Week 6 a year ago, the Redskins showed up with a 3-2 record and gave the defending Super Bowl champions all they could handle for three quarters. But then the Bucs ran off 21 straight points, exposing Redskins weaknesses in the process.

First, former Redskins quarterback Brad Johnson found backup tight end Will Heller on a 4-yard touchdown strike, then Johnson hit Keyshawn Johnson on a 39-yard touchdown. Derrick Brooks' 44-yard interception return for a score made it a rout at 35-13.

Essentially, that was the beginning of the end for the 2003 Redskins, who would go on to limp to the finish line at 5-11.

Johnson was 22-of-30 for 268 yards and four touchdowns in his return to FedExField. He'll start for the Buccaneers on Sunday, head coach Jon Gruden said.

"He gets the ball out of his hand quick and he knows exactly where he wants to go with the ball," Joe Gibbs said. "He is hard to sack because of that. I think he's a real sharp guy. He came up here last year and did extremely well against us. He's a quality quarterback in this league and he's a Super Bowl quarterback."

Of course, much has changed since last Oct. 12--for both teams. Don't expect a lot of points in this Sunday's opener; it may shape up to be a battle of strong defenses.

We all know that preseason games don't count for much of anything. Still, in going 3-2, the Redskins did pitch a pair of shutouts, winning in Miami 17-0 and at FedExField 27-0 versus Atlanta in the last tune-up. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay, at 3-1 this preseason, continued to display outstanding defense. The unit was ranked No. 1 overall in the NFL in preseason.

Warren Sapp and John Lynch may have departed, but defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin is back, as are such talented
players as defensive end Simeon Rice, linebacker Derrick Brooks and cornerback Ronde Barber.

Rice, entering his ninth NFL season, has been a particular problem for the Redskins over the years, be it as an Arizona Cardinal or as a Buccaneer. The 6-5, 268-pound Rice has 12 career sacks versus the Redskins. For only one other team has Rice been more of a pest; he has 13.5 of his 93 career sacks versus Philadelphia.

The Redskins' defense counters with LaVar Arrington, Fred Smoot and newcomers Shawn Springs, Marcus Washington and Cornelius Griffin. Rookie safety Sean Taylor is also poised to make an impact.

In the days leading up to the Sept. 12 opener, Hurricane Frances created all sorts of devastation for Floridians. It created some adversity for Gruden and his team--heavy rains and strong winds caused the Bucs to cancel activities on Monday of this week.

It was the second time in three years that Gruden had faced serious weather problems near the opener. In 2002, a lightening storm forced the Bucs to take practice in a parking garage in the days leading up to their opener versus New Orleans. They lost that game to the Saints. But they went on to win Super Bowl XXXVII versus the Raiders, Gruden's former team.

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