- The Washington Times - Monday, September 10, 2007

After three years of Gibbsmania, the preseason expectations in Redskinsland have finally been dialed down a bit. You could sense it in the somewhat muted decibel levels yesterday at FedEx Field, the show-us-what-you’ve-got attitude of the crowd. This is what happens when you have a 5-11 season after some fans had been pricing out Super Bowl travel packages.

And that’s a good thing. Enough of the Dan Snyder Triple-X Hype Machine. For once, let’s just take a season as it comes.

In the opener against the Dolphins, the season almost went before it came. Jason Campbell threw an interception on his first pass, Jon Jansen was carted off with what might be a year-ending injury in the second quarter and Miami was 8 yards from the winning touchdown with 3:15 left. Fortunately for the Redskins, they forced the Dolphins to settle for a field goal, won the coin toss in overtime and walked away with a 16-13 win — which, as they say, sure beats losing.

Joe Gibbs was buoyed/relieved by his team’s victory over what he described as “a very good football team.” Let’s stop it right there, Joe. In this hype-free season, the Dolphins shall not be called as “a very good football team.” They are what they are, a club that went 6-10 a year ago, changed coaches and quarterbacks and isn’t considered even close to playoff caliber in the stacked AFC.

Here’s what Miami is: thoroughly ordinary. And here’s what the Redskins are at the moment: also thoroughly ordinary. In Week 1, they just happened to be three points less ordinary than the Dolphins. Thanks, in part, to the flip of a coin.

Obviously, Jansen’s fractured dislocation of his ankle has to concern the Redskins the most. He’s one of the team elders, a leader in every sense of the word, and one of the anchors of a fine offensive line. In 2004, Gibbs’ comeback season, he tore an Achilles in the first exhibition game, and the offense never got any traction all year (for many more reasons, admittedly, than just the Jansen Void).

But yesterday, in a pinch, Stephon Heyer, the undrafted rookie from Maryland, stepped in at right tackle — a position he had never played in a game — and managed quite well. The Redskins wound up outrushing the Dolphins 191-66 and usually gave young Campbell ample time to find a receiver. Can Heyer continue to play at that level for 15 more games? It’s probably a moot point. This week veteran Todd Wade likely will be activated to fill Jansen’s cleats, as he did in the upset over New Orleans last December.

Still, you have to be impressed with poise of Heyer, Campbell and the offense in general, their ability to endure such a shock to the system — a catastrophic injury to a key player — and emerge with a “W.” And make no mistake, the reason the Redskins were able to take the ball right down the field against the Dolphins in OT, mostly on the ground, was because, as Casey Rabach put it, “we just wore them down” in the first 60 minutes by pounding Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts at them.

Miami may not be playoff material, but it does have formidable defenders. Rushing for nearly 200 yards against Jason Taylor, Joey Porter and Co. is nothing to sniff at. It’s also far and away the best thing to come out of this game from a Washington point of view. The Redskins need to be able to run it — against anybody and everybody — so Campbell won’t have to carry too much of the load too soon. He needs time to fully settle in as the starter. Remember, he has still played only eight NFL games (exactly half a season).

The Dolphins made it difficult for him by taking away his security blanket, Chris Cooley. “They played a guy under him and a guy on top of him most of the day,” said Campbell, who threw his first INT by trying to force the ball to his tight end. Cooley didn’t catch his first pass — a 10-yarder on a quick look-in over the middle — until overtime, but it was one of the biggest plays of the game. It converted a third-and-7 and moved the Redskins into Miami territory. A short time later, Shaun Suisham sent the fans happily home by drilling one from 39 yards.

So the offensive line survived without Jon Jansen, Jason Campbell survived without Chris Cooley and the Redskins ultimately survived the Dolphins. They will face much, much better teams than this one, though, as the season goes on, beginning next Monday night in Philadelphia.

Did you notice the whupping the Patriots (scheduled for Oct. 28) laid on the Jets yesterday — on the road? No joke: After their Week 7 date with the Cardinals, the Snydermen may not be favored in a game for the rest of the year.

None of which seems to bother Portis. “We need the negativity,” he said. “We don’t need anybody to jump on our bandwagon, telling us we’re a great team.”

Scant chance of that in This Space. The Redskins are 1-0 — and that’s as far as I’ll go right now.

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