Undisciplined free agent receivers are tormenting the Washington Redskins.
Kicker Billy Cundiff's 42-yard field goal saved the Redskins, who rallied for a 24-22 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. But it shouldn't have been close.
Washington receiver Pierre Garcon's cheap-shot penalty fueled a furious late Tampa Bay rally. Just two games earlier, fellow free agent receiver Joshua Morgan's unsportsmanlike penalty ended the Redskins' chances in a loss at St. Louis.
Garcon and Morgan were the Redskins' top free agent moves after NFL salary cap sanctions prevented them from addressing other needs. They are proving more costly than their paychecks, though.
Washington was dominating Tampa Bay until Garcon's gaffe, leading 21-6 in the third quarter. The Bucs were showing nothing offensively. But five plays after Garcon was penalized for pass interference, he was flagged again for a hit after the whistle and away from the ball. There's no defending that move; Garcon was clearly paying back Tampa Bay's secondary, which held him to one catch.
Until then, the Bucs looked like Redskins teams of years past with scattershot incompletions, ill-timed penalties and a costly turnover. However, that penalty energized Tampa Bay and deflated Washington, which suddenly started making its own errors.
Tampa Bay soon hit a 66-yard pass that set up its first touchdown, which cut the lead to 21-13. The next possession saw 54- and 22-yard completions as the Bucs closed within 21-19. Washington stopped the two-point conversion to prevent a tie, but its offense was going nowhere. The Bucs finally took a 22-21 lead on a 47-yard field goal with 1:47 remaining.
After allowing 101 points in the 1-2 start, the defense played its best game even though safety Brandon Meriweather again didn't play. Meriweather, who was supposed to make his first appearance this season, and receiver Aldrick Robinson were injured in a freak collision during warmups. Only this injury-plagued team could lose two players before the first snap.
The defense didn't need Meriweather early. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall's interception set up a touchdown. Washington's pressure, led by linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, made Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman dance, and his accuracy worsened by the step.
That is until the Bucs' late revival. Freeman suddenly couldn't miss and finished 24-for-39 for 299 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Meanwhile, Washington rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III continued his remarkable start. After his fumble on the Tampa Bay 1-yard line during a keeper up the middle was recovered for a touchdown by Garcon, Griffin made it into the end zone on the same call later for a 14-3 lead.
Griffin took several hard hits but nothing like the previous week's loss to Cincinnati, when the Bengals reached him an estimated 29 times. The Redskins didn't need the option against the Bucs, though Griffin still tied the team record for quarterbacks with his fourth rushing touchdown in just the first month.
Griffin was sharp on the final drive to set up Cundiff, but the team leader now needs to convince his receivers to stop being the problem.