Jabar Gaffney had seen this Rex Grossman before. The two of them were on top of the college football world at the University of Florida back in 2001. Grossman-to-Gaffney was one of the nastiest quarterback-receiver combinations in the country.
“That’s exactly what it looks like,” Gaffney said. “Just like we were in college — nothing but confidence in his eyes.”
Grossman showed some of the form that made him the 2001 Heisman Trophy runner-up. He overcame a rocky start and, for at least one week, validated coach Mike Shanahan’s decision to start him at quarterback over John Beck.
He finished 21-of-34 passing with 305 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. His 110.5 passer rating was the fourth-best of his 42 NFL games.
“I thought Rex played an excellent game [against] a lot of pressure up front, very talented football team; they play extremely hard,” Shanahan said. “It’s really hard to get big plays in the passing game against a defensive front that puts a lot of pressure on the quarterback.”
It was high praise from a coach who is normally subdued, who has to watch the film before saying anything about anything. But this was the Grossman who Shanahan believes is capable of engineering a playoff push.
The afternoon was even more emotionally charged than usual. A FedEx Field crowd of 80,121 observed the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in a pregame ceremony and other times throughout the afternoon. Gen. Colin L. Powell, the former secretary of state, addressed the Redskins in the locker room before the game.
The Redskins received contributions from all over the roster, as true contenders do. The defense held the Giants scoreless in the second half, and rookie linebacker Ryan Kerrigan scored the decisive touchdown in the third quarter on a 9-yard interception return.
Rookie Chris Neild, the penultimate player taken in April’s draft, had two sacks. Veteran tight end Fred Davis had a career-high 105 receiving yards on five catches. Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Orakpo blocked a field goal.
This was Grossman’s day, though.
The game began like a repeat of Washington’s recent defeats to the Giants. New York won nine of the previous 10 meetings by controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. New York surprised the Redskins on Sunday by blitzing and playing more man-to-man coverage than they expected.
“You always have confidence that eventually we’ll get into a rhythm,” Grossman said.