CANTON, Ohio The Jim Zorn era began with a bang. The first four plays of the Hall of Fame Game went like this - rookie Chris Horton recovered an onside kick, Jason Campbell passed 8 yards to tight end Chris Cooley, third-string running back Rock Cartwright danced for 17 and Campbell found receiver Antwaan Randle El wide open for a 20-yard touchdown.
And just like that the Washington Redskins truly had made the transition from retired coaching legend Joe Gibbs to neophyte leader Zorn, beating the Indianapolis Colts 30-16 at Fawcett Stadium on Sunday night.
“What more could you ask?” said receiver Santana Moss, whose excellent pattern helped spring Randle El. “Yeah, it’s just preseason, but I don’t think we’re going to do anything less than this. All we can do is get better.”
That would be hard for Washington’s quarterbacks, who combined for a 147.2 passer rating in their debut for Zorn, a former Seattle Seahawks passer and quarterbacks coach.
“It was a big win for me,” the 55-year-old Zorn said with a game ball next to him. “What we accomplished was pretty special, being able to remember that for a lot of years.”
The Redskins started this way under their last rookie NFL coach, crushing the San Francisco 49ers 38-7 in the 2002 preseason opener for Steve Spurrier. But Cartwright, one of five players left from that game in Osaka, Japan, said this victory was different.
“We showed everything we had then,” Cartwright said. “Tonight, we ran the same stuff over and over.”
Campbell, who had a 157.1 rating on 5-for-5 passing, even was happy that right tackle Jon Jansen — in his first action since breaking his right leg in the 2007 opener — was beaten for a sack by Colts backup defensive end Raheem Brock during his second series.
“I was glad I got hit,” said Campbell, who missed the final four-plus games of 2007 with a dislocated left kneecap. “Got it out of the way so now I can just play football.”
Zorn said he didn’t think Campbell could have played much better before yielding to backup Todd Collins (5-for-6, 88.9 rating), praising his poise, accuracy, leadership and disciplined reads. However, Washington’s defense, which started just three regulars, didn’t perform nearly as well at first against an Indianapolis offense minus Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison, giving up 6 yards twice and then 10 yards on three straight third-and-5 situations before finally holding the Colts to a field goal.
The Redskins added to their lead when Jamey Richard’s shotgun snap flew into the end zone for a safety. But Colts third-stringer Quinn Gray found receiver Onrea Jones between Justin Tyron and safety Stuart Schweigert for a 30-yard touchdown that made it 10-9 Indianapolis with 5:57 to go in the second quarter. Washington’s Shaun Suisham was wide right on a 39-yard field goal try with 29 seconds remaining in the half before Tryon was beaten for a 47-yard catch by Courtney Roby that set up Adam Vinatieri’s 24-yarder as the half expired.
After the Colts extended their margin to 13-9, rookie third-stringer Colt Brennan continued an excellent night for Redskins quarterbacks with a pretty 34-yard toss to Billy McMullen on his second snap and a 37-yard touchdown to Maurice Mann in the right corner of the end zone to finish off the game-tying drive.
Horton, a safety from UCLA, then recorded the first of his two sacks. Brennan (9-for-10, 123 yards, two touchdowns) ended a 15-play, 88-yard drive with a 5-yard scoring toss to running back Marcus Mason to make it 23-16 Washington with 10:22 left. Rookie free agent corner Matteral Richardson’s 38-yard interception return closed the scoring.
“I was really impressed with Colt,” Zorn said. “He really felt like had a grasp of what we were trying to do offensively. He kind of stepped it up the last three days.”