Joe Gibbs retired after another playoff year, but Washington’s veteran players rallied around their new coach, a longtime NFL assistant and former player getting his first crack at a top job. Then with the opener against the defending Super Bowl champions - an NFC East rival - less than a month away, the Redskins lost their top lineman to a season-ending knee injury.
Eerie how history can repeat. That was 1993, not 2008. The first-time coach was Richie Petitbon, not Jim Zorn. The injured player was Pro Bowl offensive tackle Jim Lachey, not Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Taylor. The New York Giants, not the Dallas Cowboys, are the kings of the NFL.
The good news for the Redskins is that - unlike Lachey - Taylor’s sprained right knee will sideline him for only 10 to 14 days.
But that still leaves serious concerns for Zorn and Co. with the opener at the Meadowlands just 10 days away. Derrick Frost might have remembered how to boom a punt, but his teammates seemingly forgot other football fundamentals in Saturday night’s 47-3 shellacking by the Carolina Panthers.
Start with blocking. The Redskins’ veteran offensive linemen, with 39 seasons of starting experience between them, were pushed around like a quintet of Pillsbury doughboys by the aggressive Panthers pass rush.
Right tackle Jon Jansen, who would later exit with a sprained right foot that will sideline him approximately as long as Taylor, was whipped by a nobody named Charles Johnson for a sack that the Redskins were lucky wasn’t called a safety. Left tackle Chris Samuels, the line’s other bedrock and a five-time Pro Bowl selection, was virtually hurled into quarterback Jason Campbell by Carolina star defensive end Julius Peppers for another sack.
All told, the Redskins allowed five sacks in 42 dropbacks. As Zorn said, opponents have to be salivating after watching the Panthers overrun the Redskins. The Giants have lost Michael Strahan to retirement and Osi Umenyiora to a knee injury, but they still will come after Campbell until the Redskins show they can protect him.
The harassed Campbell, who was brilliant in the first two preseason games, was mediocre again against the Panthers, completing just six of 10 passes for 39 yards. Tight end Chris Cooley and receivers Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El were all nonfactors.
The running game wasn’t any better as Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts combined for just 49 yards on 15 carries with Betts losing a fumble for good measure. Playing Portis in preseason hasn’t exactly paid off; the No. 1 back has just 50 yards on 15 carries.
After scoring 14 points on its four drives this summer, the offense only has managed a field goal on its last nine possessions. But at least the offense is adjusting to a new passing scheme. The change in first names from previous boss Gregg Williams to successor Greg Blache is about as much as the defense has changed its system.
But after holding Carolina to six points on its first four possessions, Washington’s defense turned into a bumbling bunch after Taylor was hurt. It was as if the Redskins decided they couldn’t go on without him.
Here’s the amazing sequence of plays for Carolina after Taylor was helped to the bench: 20 (the last 8 on a fumble recovery for a touchdown), 16, 50 (touchdown), 1, 18, 60 (touchdown), 11, 0, 15, 24 (touchdown). That’s 215 yards and four touchdowns in 10 plays, a staggering 21.5-yard average. That’s like a one-sided high school contest, not a matchup of two NFL teams with playoff aspirations. But then Anthony Montgomery, Reed Doughty, Kareem Moore et al tackled like high schoolers.
“This was going to be a very good test for us because they were going to play their starting group and we were going to play our starting group,” Zorn said. “This was no joke. They need to look at this, and then they need to kind of dig down within themselves and see it. I’m very aware of what the situation is. Our players are going to be very aware of what they have to do to improve. There’s no magic dust to spray on people.”
In other words, these are the 2008 Redskins for better or worse. And with a daunting first month that includes all three division rivals on the road, the Redskins had better play a lot better than they did in Charlotte or matters could get a lot worse in a hurry.