EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.
Second quarter, 10:59 left. It was at that point Thursday night, sad to say, that the words "first pick in the draft" first popped into my head. Let's face it, folks, it's never a good sign when you start thinking about the 2009 draft less than 20 minutes into the 2008 season opener.
But things, alas, were going that badly for the Redskins. The Giants had just kicked another field goal to stretch their lead to 13-0, and the Redskins were looking like anything but a professional football team. Their only first down had been a gift, the result of a kneecapping-the-punter penalty. The defending Super Bowl champions, meanwhile, had scored on all three possessions - and would soon make it 4-for-4 (and 16-0).
It was such a horrific start, your thoughts turned - there was no resisting it - from Eli Manning and Plaxico Burress to Tim Tebow and James Laurinatis. Maybe it was just a defense mechanism, a way to take your mind off what you were seeing on the field: That is, the Redskins stinking it up in Jim Zorn's first game as a head coach.
Losing your opener to a team brandishing the Lombardi Trophy is one thing. Anybody can do that, especially on the road. But losing it the way the Redskins lost it, by exhibiting little energy in the early going (read: getting beaten off the ball) is something else entirely. I mean, if you can't get up for a game like this, there's something the matter with you.
But then, we've been wondering that about the Redskins ever since Carolina embarrassed them 47-3 in the next-to-last exhibition game. A similarly blah 24-3 loss to Jacksonville followed, and now we have more reason for concern: New York 16, Washington 7.
What's it going to take for them to snap out of this funk - if indeed it is a funk and not Who They Are?
"You'd like to make some first downs at the start of the game - have some early success, get a feel for things, get your bearings," guard Pete Kendall said. "That typically bodes well, even if you don't score right away. On a night like this, you might try to take the crowd out of it early. It was kind of a special night for their fans [with the Super Bowl victory being celebrated in a pregame ceremony]. They were a big factor."
Granted, Zorn is new at this; some on-the-job training may well be required. But that still doesn't excuse the Redskins coming out "soft," as the coach would say, for the third straight week. It took a 50-yard kickoff return late in the first half by Rock Cartwright, who got way too much practice running back kicks, to restore a pulse to the Washington offense. Rock's play set up a 12-yard TD flip from Jason Campbell to Santana Moss and gave the unit something positive, at least, to take into the locker room.
But the Giants were never seriously threatened in this game. They took the opening kickoff, went in for a score and kept imposing their will on the visitors until the only issue was: How big will the final point spread be?
You didn't figure the Redskins would beat the champs (though they did exactly that last December, in the very same stadium); you also didn't figure Zorn's just-installed offense would be the smoothest-running operation at the outset. Still, you expected more than this. You expected more than 7 offensive yards in the first quarter. You expected the O-line to slow up, if only a few miles per hour, the Giants' fierce rush. You expected the defense, which admittedly played well in the red zone, to force a punt or two in the first half.
That was the disappointment, that the Redskins did just about everything they didn't want to do. And then when they found themselves - despite their struggles - at the New York 37, second-and-7, with less than three minutes to go, they did something else they didn't want to do. They drew a holding penalty - Chris Samuels' tackling of onrushing end Mathias Kiwanuka - that ended any hope of making the Giants squirm in the final seconds.
"When we scored at the end of the half, we didn't think we were in too bad shape," said Clinton Portis, whose 84 yards rushing were the offensive bright spot. "But we had a lot of penalties that hurt us."
Heck, said Zorn, every time Campbell tried to get the ball to Chris Cooley, who was held to one catch for 7 yards, "we jumped offside. ... It was very frustrating. But if there's a plus side, I think we learned what we need to improve tonight. We saw where we're at offensively."
OK, so maybe the Redskins won't have the first pick of the draft. But they'll easily be in the top 10 if they keep playing like this. As it turned out, having an extra preseason game was no benefit at all to them. They were the ones who looked ragged in the opener, not the Giants.
Perhaps what Zorn should tell his players today, while they're attending to their wounds, is, "Next time out, guys, let's not even worry about winning the game. Let's just try to win the first quarter." You've gotta start somewhere.
Dan Daly has been writing about sports for the Washington Times since 1982. He has won numerous national and local awards, appears regularly in NFL Films’ historical features and is the co-author of “The Pro Football Chronicle,” a decade-by-decade history of the game. Follow Dan on Twitter at @dandalyonsports –- or e-mail him at email@example.com.
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