By David Elfin, The Sports Xchange
LANDOVER, Md. – Preseason NFL games have never exactly been prime entertainment, but when all the starters spend the night on the sidelines in baseball caps, the paying customers are treated to a slew of backups, many of whom will soon be former NFL players.
That was the case again Wednesday night at FedEx Field as the Washington Redskins completed a 3-1 preseason by thumping fellow 2011 cellar-dweller, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 30-3 before a crowd of 56,555.
With Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III watching, fellow rookie quarterback Kirk Cousins likely got his last chance to play this year and didn’t disappoint. The former Michigan State star didn’t have the rousing three-touchdown performance that he delivered 11 days earlier at Chicago, but he still completed 15 of 25 passes for 222 yards before departing midway through the third quarter with a 23-3 lead.
“Kirk did a good job,” said Redskins coach Mike Shanahan. “He handled himself quite well.”
The newest Redskin, kicker Billy Cundiff, made a positive first impression as Washington jumped to a 16-0 halftime lead. Cundiff, waived Monday by Baltimore before being signed Tuesday to replace Redskins incumbent Graham Gano, booted field goals of 39 and 27 yards and sent three kickoffs through the end zone before the opening quarter was history.
After veteran defensive end Kedric Golston ended the Bucs’ next series with a sack of Brett Ratliff, Brandon Banks – battling to keep his job as Washington’s return man because of his struggles at receiver – brought back a punt 18 yards to his 41.
On second and 11, Redskins receiver Anthony Armstrong, a 2010 starter who has slipped into near-irrelevancy, got a step on Bucs cornerback Myron Lewis and hauled in Cousins’ pretty pass for a 46-yard gain.
Evan Royster then ran right for 13 to the 1 before scoring on the next play to make it 13-0 with 10:10 left in the first half. He left the game with what Shanahan termed “a little sprained neck.”
However, Cundiff also showed why the Ravens waived him as his subsequent 46-yard try was wide right, drawing boos from the crowd. But his 22-yarder at the gun raised the margin to 16-0.
“All the kicks, whether I made ‘em or not, I’m not quite as comfortable as I could be because I just don’t have a lot of reps with these guys,” Cundiff said. “The timing is so important.”
Both of Washington’s seventh-round selections, safety Jordan Bernstine and cornerback Richard Crawford, picked off Ratliff. Crawford’s gorgeous interception of a deep pass came the play after Bucs safety Sam Baker had picked off Cousins.
The rookie free agent added a second interception and recovered a fumble in what Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano termed “a productive night,” but still seems destined for the practice squad when rosters are cut from 75 to 53 on Friday.
That won’t be the case for Washington’s Roy Helu, who’s competing with fellow 2011 rookie Royster, 2012 rookie Alfred Morris and veteran Tim Hightower to start at running back. After Crawford’s pick, Helu carried twice for 18 yards.
Banks beat double coverage for a diving 47-yard grab before Helu, who had missed the past two games with tender Achilles’ tendons, scooted right and leaped at the pylon to make it 23-0.
“I got an opportunity and I made the best of it,” said the 5-foot-7, 155-pound Banks, who floundered in his previous extended look at receiver in the preseason opener at Buffalo. “It felt good to finally catch a ball, show ‘em that I can. I think I put enough on film to still have a job somewhere, if not here.”
Shanahan declined to praise Banks when asked about his chances, as was also the case regarding Armstrong.
Helu scored again with 3:43 left in the third quarter – after Banks’ 43-yard run – en route to finishing with 90 yards on 15 carries and 34 yards on two catches.
“Roy played extremely well,” Shanahan said.
Added Helu, "It felt good to get out there … especially after that first play (a 14-yard loss on a fumble). We have to see what they want … for (the Sept. 9 opener at) New Orleans. I felt a lot of rust. Not being able to run for 2-1/2 weeks, I felt slow."
Tampa Bay’s hapless backups certainly looked slow. The Bucs’ only score came on Kai Forbath’s 43-yard field goal with 6:49 left in the third quarter. They allowed five sacks, all in the first half. The only time they reached the red zone, Redskins linebacker Bryan Kehl picked off Ratliff’s pass at the Washington 6 and returned it 43 yards.
"Bryan helped himself, that’s for sure,” said Shanahan, whose last five to seven cuts, particularly at linebacker and receiver, will be difficult.
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