By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) – Back-to-back defeats may have spoiled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ plans for a worst-to-first finish. For the Washington Redskins, a two-game losing streak is just one of a wave of problems they’re dealing with at the moment.
Amidst another wave of controversy, the embattled Redskins return to FedEx Field this Sunday to take on a Tampa Bay team that enters this Week 14 matchup hoping to make one last push at an unexpected playoff spot.
Mike Shanahan’s debut season as Washington’s head coach has produced more than its share of tumultuous moments, a good portion of which have been provided by troublesome defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth. The long-running feud between those two principal figures appears to have reached the boiling point over the past week, resulting in the Redskins taking a drastic step towards severing their toxic two-year relationship with the well-paid two-time All- Pro.
Haynesworth was a healthy scratch for last Sunday’s 31-7 setback to the New York Giants, with reports surfacing afterward that the disruptive defender skipped a team meeting on Friday and was in no shape to effectively participate in that afternoon’s practice. One day after the lopsided loss, the Redskins announced they were suspending Haynesworth without pay for the remaining four games for what the organization termed “conduct detrimental to the team.”
Through his agent, Haynesworth, who’s been at odds with Shanahan on issues ranging from training regimens and his revised role in a revamped defensive scheme ever since the offseason, has applied the penalty, though it’s clear he won’t be suiting up for the team on Sunday.
The Redskins have also been in tatters on the field as of late, with last week’s subpar showing leaving the Burgundy and Gold with losses in four of its last five contests.
Tampa Bay has been a contrastingly positive story over the course of this 2010 campaign, with the young and emerging Bucs bouncing back nicely from a three- win total in head coach Raheem Morris’ first season at the helm to vault themselves into the playoff mix by prevailing in seven of their first 10 games. The club has cooled off recently, however, having been dealt close losses to a pair of heavyweights in Baltimore and Atlanta during the past two weeks.
The Buccaneers did hold their own for the majority of this weekend’s showdown with the NFC-leading Falcons, taking a 10-point advantage into the fourth quarter before surrendering a pair of touchdowns — including one on a momentum-shifting kick return — to wind up on the short end of a 28-24 decision.
Judging by previous results, Tampa Bay seems to stand a good chance of rebounding against the Redskins. All five of the Bucs’ 2010 losses have come against teams with winning records, while they’re a perfect 7-0 in games in which the opposition is at the .500 mark or below. Morris’ charges are also 4-2 on the road so far this year.
Washington, on the other hand, will be vying to stop a string of three straight home losses and has dropped four of its six outings at FedEx Field this season.
Critics have labeled the Buccaneers’ solid overall record as primarily the product of being able to handle lower-grade competition, but the Redskins may qualify as such at this point. The Haynesworth saga may very well have created an unneeded distraction to a team that’s been a train wreck over the past month, and with the playoffs now an extreme longshot, it’s reasonable to question as to whether Washington will play with any sense of purpose or inspiration.
Tampa Bay shouldn’t have that problem, as the goal of a winning season is still well within reach and the Bucs have responded to Morris’ energy and enthusiasm all throughout the year. Tampa Bay has so far met every challenge from opponents that are at or near its level, and there’s little evidence to suggest that won’t change this week.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Buccaneers 20, Redskins 13