- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2007

Get ready for 16 games of this, folks, games decided by a field goal and games that come down to the last possession and games you replay in your head long into the night. OK, maybe not 16 games, but a bunch of them. The Redskins have already had three in the first three weeks, squeezing out wins over the Dolphins and Eagles and, in yesterday’s matinee, letting one get away against the on-the-brink Giants.

This 24-17 loss will sting a bit more, though, not just because the Snydermen are off until Oct. 7 — and have all that time to think about it — but because it undoes the good work they did last Monday night in Philadelphia. Instead of being 3-0, 2-0 in the division, they’re 2-1 and 1-1, about where you would have expected them to be.

Which isn’t necessarily a catastrophe, just a lost opportunity. There will be other chances down the road. Let’s face it, the coaches knew there would be days like this, days when their offense, steered by young Jason Campbell, would disappear for stretches of time. Yesterday it vanished for almost the entire second half, during which his more experienced rival, Eli Manning, rallied the Giants from a 17-3 deficit.

“Certainly the offense can’t leave the defense out there [for as long as it did],” Joe Gibbs said. “I guess you could say it’s going to be a dogfight every week, and we’ve got to find a way to win these games.”

The Redskins can take some comfort in the fact that Campbell gathered himself in the final series and hit passes of 18 (on third-and-21), 15 (on fourth-and-8) and 20 (on third-and-13) yards, the last for a first down at the New York 1. A less composed QB might have completely unraveled after being shut down for the first 26 minutes of the half — and watching a two-touchdown lead escape.

Unfortunately for the Redskins, the offense couldn’t punch it in from there — the first indication, perhaps, that it’s seriously going to miss right guard Randy Thomas and right tackle Jon Jansen, both out for the season. The last two plays, after all, were runs by Ladell Betts to the left side, the line’s more reliable side, and the Giants stuffed them both. Obviously, Michael Strahan and Co. sized up the situation and had a pretty good idea where the Redskins might go. They might not have been quite so sure had Thomas and Jansen been on the field (instead of fill-ins Jason Fabini and Todd Wade).

The more I see of Campbell, the more he reminds me of Jay Schroeder in the early days — big, strong kid, good mobility but also prone to bouts of wildness and to forcing passes when he shouldn’t. Though he didn’t have any interceptions yesterday, he flirted with disaster on two or three occasions; sooner or later, it’s going to cost him (as it did Schroeder).

The other thing that sticks out about this game is that was the first time Gregg Williams’s defense went up against an offense with more than a couple of weapons to worry about — and it showed. Neither Miami nor Philly has a receiver as dangerous as Plaxico Burress or a tight end as problematical Jeremy Shockey. And in case you didn’t notice, the Other Manning is making definite strides despite a banged up shoulder.

Once the Giants’ offense got rolling in the second half, converting six straight third-and-longs at one point, the Redskins couldn’t do anything to stop it. (The results easily could have been worse, too. In the second quarter, Burress dropped a perfectly thrown deep ball, and in the fourth Shockey dropped another that would have gone for a long gain.)

And, lest we forget, there are even bigger challenges ahead for Gregg’s Guys. Wait until they have to deal with the Patriots’ offense … or the Cowboys’ … or the Packers’ … or the Jets’ … or the Cardinals’, for that matter.

“Nobody said it was going to be easy,” Pete Kendall said. “It’s a grind. It’s a long season.”

Indeed it is. But the Redskins could have made life a lot easier for themselves if they had just finished what they started yesterday. They had the winless Giants down and reaching for the smelling salts — and, to their eternal regret, they let them back up. Now you look at their schedule, and it’s easy to envision them being 5-5 when they leave Dallas on Nov. 18, all because of a not-so-little second half letdown.

So it goes in the NFC, where just about everybody seems to be the same — and where seasons will be decided by games like this. Betts could have been speaking for the entire locker room when he said, “It’s going to be tough for me to go to sleep tonight, thinking about this.”

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