- The Washington Times - Monday, September 10, 2007

Joe Gibbs admittedly was an emotional wreck, desperately wanting to start the new season with a victory and remembering what happened two years ago when he twiddled his thumbs in a similar situation.

In overtime of their 16-13 victory against the Miami Dolphins yesterday, the Washington Redskins had a first down at the 22-yard line, well within kicker Shaun Suisham’s range. And this time Gibbs didn’t fool around.

Even though it was first down, he summoned Suisham, whose third field goal of the game — a 39-yarder 5:36 into overtime — gave the Redskins a victory highlighted by the return of Clinton Portis and Chris Samuels and lowlighted by a probable season-ending injury to right tackle Jon Jansen.

The Redskins got the ball first in overtime and didn’t give it up, moving 58 yards in nine plays to set up Suisham’s winner. The Redskins won their opener for the third time in four years and the eighth time in Gibbs’ 16 years as coach.

“I’m sure I was called a few names, but I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to pass up a shot to win the game,” he said.

Against San Diego in 2005, the Redskins were at the 25 in a tie game. Gibbs opted to run a play — a 10-yard penalty was called, a long field goal was missed and the Chargers won in overtime.

Yesterday’s victory came at a steep price. Just when the Redskins’ offensive line was returning to full health, Jansen sustained a fractured and dislocated right ankle early in the second quarter while in pass protection.

Rookie Stephon Heyer, who dressed ahead of Todd Wade in case left tackle Samuels needed a break in his first game action, moved to right tackle, a position at which he has seldom practiced. The other option is Wade, who started in December when Jansen had a calf injury.

“That’s tough,” right guard Randy Thomas said. “It was our first game, and that’s my guy.”

Although Jansen exited, Portis’ return was a rousing success. Getting more carries than expected (17), Portis gained 98 yards, and the Redskins rushed 41 times for 191 yards.

Portis is out to prove his injury-depleted 2006 was a fluke. The same goes for a defense that finished 31st in yards and 27th in points allowed. Led by new middle linebacker London Fletcher’s 12 tackles, the Redskins had one takeaway, two sacks and held Miami to 4-for-13 efficiency on third down and only 66 yards rushing.

“We played pretty decent, not as well as we would like,” Fletcher said. “There were some situations when we gave up some things that we should have taken away.”

The Redskins could afford to nitpick — it’s always easier to do after a win. Among the points they will bring up between now and next Monday night’s game in Philadelphia: Chris Cooley making only one catch, Santana Moss dropping two passes, two penalties by the secondary and a potential game-winning interception that was mishandled by Fred Smoot late in regulation.

The Redskins led 3-0, 10-7 and 13-10 only to see Miami answer each score.

“There were times we were put in a hole offensively and defensively, but everybody kept fighting,” Gibbs said. “It wasn’t smooth at times, and we obviously missed some things.”

Campbell’s two interceptions didn’t cost the Redskins. In his first opening day start, he was 12-for-21 for 222 yards. He had five completions of longer than 16 yards, including a 35-yard pass to Antwaan Randle El to set up Suisham’s first field goal and a 49-yard strike to Randle El to set up Portis’ 19-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter. Randle El finished with a career-high 162 yards receiving.

“You make a lot of mistakes and you make a lot of plays in your first game, and the coaches told me that before we even started,” said Campbell, now 3-5 as the Redskins’ starter. “I’ll move on and learn from it because this is just the beginning.”

Campbell’s mistakes will be glossed over if the running game is as effective as it was against a Miami defense that ranked eighth in the NFL last year. The Redskins averaged a whopping 4.7 yards.

Portis and the Redskins proved — at least for a week — that their cautious plan to ease his right knee tendinitis was the correct strategy. And having Ladell Betts around doesn’t hurt. Portis’ final carry of regulation came with 6:28 remaining, leaving him fresh for overtime.

Starting at their own 20, Portis gained 6 and 14 yards. Three plays later, the Redskins faced a third-and-7 from the 43. Campbell called a timeout, but the play call remained the same — Cooley would set a pick to free up Moss on the right side.

But Miami blitzed, and Cooley immediately turned his head. Campbell made the hot read and threw to the tight end, who gained 10 yards to keep the drive alive. Two runs apiece by Betts and Portis set up Suisham’s field goal.

In the second half, the Redskins ran 26 times and passed 13.

“I’ve never known an offensive lineman in my 27 years in professional football that didn’t want to run the ball on every down,” associate head coach-offense Al Saunders said.

Although Jansen will be tough to replace, the Redskins only can hope their desired quick start will carry over to Philadelphia thanks to Portis’ presence and an improved defense.

“What I’m hoping for now is with this one under our belt and now we can get better and start making some of the plays that we missed today,” Gibbs said.

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