TAMPA, Fla. -- The Washington Redskins will look better on all the television highlight shows this week than they did on the field yesterday.
They pulled off three eye-popping touchdown plays -- Heath Shuler's passes of 81 and 77 yards and Andre Collins' 92-yard run with an intercepted pass -- that will be remembered as three of their best plays of the season.
But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers dominated virtually every phase of the rest of the game to beat the Redskins, 26-21, before 45,121 fans at Tampa Stadium.
It was a one-sided game cleverly disguised as an exciting one because the three long Redskins scoring plays kept it close.
How dominant were the Bucs?
They had an 83-40 edge in offensive plays, a 28-7 margin in first downs, a 464-268 edge in total yardage, a 213-10 lead in rushing yardage and a 42:14-17:46 margin in time of possession.
The Redskins' 10-yard rushing total was the lowest in franchise history, breaking the record of 14 in 1947 against the Philadelphia Eagles. It's also the fewest rushing yards the Bucs ever have allowed.
Despite all that, the Buccaneers needed nine points in the final quarter -- a 22-yard field goal by Michael Husted with 5:24 left and an 80-yard touchdown drive climaxed by Craig Erickson's quarterback sneak with 32 seconds left -- to pull it out.
Erickson passed for 251 yards, and rookie Errict Rhett controlled the game by running 40 times for 192 yards, the best day ever for a Tampa rookie running back.
The loss to the 4-9 Bucs, a team they beat last year with Rich Gannon at quarterback, left the Redskins 2-11 and means they must win two of their final three games to match last year's victory total. It's also the first time they've lost to Tampa Bay -- a team they play again in two weeks.
Rookie coach Norv Turner, who was brought in to rebuild the team this year, said: "I told our team, 'Five weeks ago, I said we hit bottom.' We didn't. This is as low as you can get. I think it's more of an emotional low than anything else. It hurts."
But Turner tried to be upbeat about the future.
"We did a lot of good things, and we're close," he said. "I know people get tired of hearing that. I get tired of saying it. But that's where we are. You look for the time when you're going to get over the hump and win a game like this."
The only encouraging thing for the Redskins was that Shuler was able to hit the pair of long passes -- 81 yards to Desmond Howard and 77 yards to Olanda Truitt.
He also made the usual rookie mistakes, overthrowing Truitt when he was open for another touchdown in the first half and fumbling when he was sacked in the fourth quarter.
"I'm not sure I'm ready to say he played well, but he did a lot of good things," Turner said of Shuler.
Shuler said: "We want to be on the other end of it someday, and that's what we're fighting to get to."
Tampa Bay coach Sam Wyche, who's fighting for his job in his third season because the team is for sale, kept rookie quarterback Trent Dilfer on the bench and went with Erickson because he needs to get some wins now, not build for the future.
xTC He also took advantage of Shuler's inexperience.
Wyche jammed the line with eight and nine defenders to take away the run. The Redskins failed to get a rushing first down despite facing a defense that, coming in, had yielded more rushing yardage than any other in the league.
Wyche gambled Shuler was too inexperienced to beat the Bucs with his arm, and he was right, although Wyche almost got burned when his safeties blew the coverage on Shuler's two long touchdown passes.
Tampa Bay defensive tackle Brad Culpepper said: "With a rookie quarterback, when you put heat on him, he's going to make mistakes."
Wyche said: "The defense won the game for us. Of course, they gave up those two touchdowns, and they'll be spanked for that on Monday. But they kept giving us the ball back. Winning is the magic elixir. It heals all wounds."
The Redskins have a lot of wounds to heal.
Howard, who caught 16 passes in the first 10 games and has now caught 15 in the past three, said, "We knew we had a chance to win today. . . . It hurts."
Truitt said: "That's been the situation all year. That's why we're 2-11. We can't execute at the proper time."
The Bucs could have taken charge early when a jarring tackle by Curtis Buckley forced a fumble by Brian Mitchell on the opening kickoff at the Washington 25.
Four plays later, on a second-and-goal at the Washington 8, Erickson tried to hit Courtney Hawkins, but Collins stepped in front of him, made the interception and rambled 92 yards to make it 7-0.
The Bucs came back to take a 10-7 lead before Shuler's pass to Howard made it 14-10. The Bucs then went ahead 17-14 before they let Truitt get free with 28 seconds left on the 81-yard pass that gave the Redskins a 21-17 halftime margin.
But the Redskins were shut out in the second half, and the Bucs finally pulled it out.
Cornerback Darrell Green, who sounded devastated last week after the loss to the New York Giants, seemed more philosophical this time.
"You can hit lows, but you will come around. To sum it up, look toward tomorrow. When we lose, we just can't spend a lot of time on that. It's just not healthy."
The Redskins have now lost 30 regular-season games since winning the Super Bowl after the 1991 season, and are 6-23 since Joe Gibbs quit after the 1992 season. For those who remember the Super Bowl, losing doesn't come easily.
Guard Raleigh McKenzie summed up the feeling when he said, "We've got to take the good with the bad. I've been as high as high can go and now this is as low as low can go."