- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 10, 2004

CANTON, Ohio — The feel-good story that was Joe Gibbs’ return to the NFL quickly soured last night when the Hall of Fame coach’s first game back on the sideline in 11 years produced a lackluster performance from his starters and a devastating injury to one of his team leaders.

Though the Washington Redskins pulled out a last-minute, 20-17 exhibition victory over the Denver Broncos in the Hall of Fame Game, Gibbs’ mood was tempered by news that right tackle Jon Jansen was lost for the season with a ruptured Achilles’ tendon.

Jansen’s injury was the low point in a game that featured few highlights from Washington’s perspective. Quarterbacks Mark Brunell and Patrick Ramsey both had ineffective nights, and running back Clinton Portis was practically an afterthought among the crowd of 22,177 at Fawcett Stadium.

“We got a big downer there with Jon,” Gibbs said. “It took a lot out of us for a while.”

Two of the lone bright spots came from two of the Redskins’ biggest offseason acquisitions on defense, cornerback Shawn Springs and rookie safety Sean Taylor. Springs intercepted a Jake Plummer pass in the first quarter, then was one-upped when Taylor picked off two Matt Mauck throws, returning the second 3 yards for a touchdown.

And no one was appreciated more than Redskins journeyman backup kicker Ola Kimrin, who drilled a 39-yard field goal as time expired to win the game and save everyone from a meaningless overtime.

“It was a little different being back out there in the heat of battle,” Gibbs said. “It was a hard first half, and it was my fault. But it was good being back out.”

Taylor and Kimrin’s performances notwithstanding, Washington did little to make Gibbs’ ballyhooed return to the NFL a memorable occasion. In fact, the only image most are likely to remember from this game is that of Jansen sitting in pain on the bench, head in his hands as trainers worked on his injured ankle.

Jansen, selected before the game to represent the Redskins’ offense as captain, went down late in the first quarter and immediately motioned for assistance from the training staff. A hush came over Washington’s sideline as teammates took turns comforting the sixth-year veteran, who has never missed a game in his professional career.

That streak is now certain to end, and it’s going to be some time before Jansen is physically able to return to the field. He’s likely headed for the injured reserve list, which would end his season before it ever began.

“We’re going to try to make the best decision we can for Jon,” Gibbs said. “He’s going to play here forever. I told him let’s get this fixed. Now we’re going to have to have someone step up.”

Jansen was expected to be a particularly key figure this year as the blind-side protector for Mark Brunell, though the left-handed quarterback didn’t do much last night to ensure victory over Patrick Ramsey in the duo’s preseason competition.

Making his first game appearance in a Redskins uniform, Brunell never found a rhythm during his three possessions under center. The 33-year-old veteran wound up completing four of eight passes for 18 yards while leading the first-team offense to one first down.

Ramsey didn’t fare any better in more extensive action. Coming off the bench to play most of the second and third quarters, the 25-year-old finished 3-for-8 for 12 yards — hardly making his case to win the starting job from Brunell.

“We just couldn’t get stuff going,” Gibbs said. “There’s going to be a lot to look at on the films.”

If Gibbs was to pick his No.1 quarterback based solely on last night’s game, third-stringer Tim Hasselbeck would be the victor. Playing against the Broncos’ third- and fourth-string defenses, Hasselbeck engineered a couple of nice drives, connecting with receiver Gari Scott on a 33-yard touchdown pass and setting up Kimrin’s game-winner. The journeyman signal-caller has no chance of supplanting Brunell and Ramsey on the depth chart, but he did go a long way toward ensuring his place on the 53-man roster.

Though their reserve units looked good, the Redskins’ starting offense and defense struggled. The first-string offense, led by Brunell, totaled 29 yards in three possessions. Portis, making his Washington debut against the team that traded him away for cornerback Champ Bailey and a second-round draft pick, ran four times for 11 yards.

Neither team managed to find the end zone in a ragged first half, with Denver’s Jason Elam hitting three field goals to John Hall’s one.

The Redskins clamped down on defense in the second half, thanks in large part to Taylor. The fifth pick overall in April’s draft, whose pro career to this point has been marked by agent firings and league fines, finally made some news on the field.

Playing free safety on the second-string defense, Taylor did a nice job defending Mauck’s deep pass to Darius Watts, stepping in front of the receiver to pick off the ball in the end zone and prevent a second-quarter touchdown.

Shortly thereafter, Taylor burst in front of tight end Jeb Putzier to intercept another Mauck pass and easily waltzed 3 yards into the end zone to score Washington’s first touchdown.

“Sean had a real good week in practice, too,” Gibbs said. “I’d say he was pretty impressive.”

The Redskins’ defense finally broke down in the waning moments of the fourth quarter, when quarterback Mike Quinn hit Putzier for a 2-yard touchdown, followed by a game-tying 2-point conversion pass to Charlie Adams.

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