- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2008

The gap between the Redskins and Giants right now is wider than Brandon Jacobs. In their 23-7 victory Sunday at soggy FedEx Field, the defending champs reminded us why they’re the defending champs, and the Redskins reminded us why they’re a fringe playoff team still scrambling to get to the proverbial Next Level.

If you were looking for progress from Jim Zorn’s club in this rematch, something to indicate the Redskins are further along in Week 13 than they were in the dreadful season opener at New York, you were surely disappointed. The Giants seized control at the outset, just as they did back in September, and never let the Snydermen get much traction. It was your basic NFC East butt-whipping, the kind the New Yorkers have handed the Redskins often in recent years - though usually in their own stadium rather than here.

The reason the Giants are a conference-leading 11-1 - and the Redskins (7-5) aren’t - is that they’ve gotten to the point where they can beat you any way they need to. They can outscore you, outdefend you, outpass you, outrush you … whatever it takes.

In the opener, for instance, they fed the Redskins a steady diet of the Runaway Cement Mixer, Jacobs, and Plaxico Burress. Sunday, though, Jacobs was held to 71 yards, and Burress (hamstring/self-inflicted gunshot wound) was nowhere to be found. No matter. Eli Manning compensated by dissecting the Washington secondary for 305 yards, spreading the ball among wideouts Amani Toomer and Domenik Hixon, tight end Kevin Boss and running back Derrick Ward. Thus did the visitors maintain possession for 35 minutes, 44 seconds - though it seemed like the entire afternoon.

The one thing that stuck out in this game was the Giants’ fearlessness - and the Redskins’ relative timidity. With the rain drizzling down and Burress incapacitated, you would have expected it to be a day when Tom Coughlin’s team played it conservative and tried to slug its way to a low-scoring win. The Redskins certainly appeared to be anticipating such a strategy.

But Manning went deep on the very first play - though the pass fell incomplete - and kept right on throwing … 13 yards to Hixon, 15 yards to Hixon, 40 yards to Toomer for a 7-0 lead. The Redskins had no answer for it.

“I thought that [long pass on the Giants’ first snap] was just to get us to back off so they could complete some curls,” Fred Smoot said. “But as much as we pressed them, they challenged us. They challenged us as much as anybody has challenged us.”

The Giants, it’s clear, have developed that championship arrogance that makes them oblivious to the weather, the opponent, personnel losses or anything else that stands in their path. This is a team, let’s not forget, that traded Jeremy Shockey, its talented and temperamental Pro Bowl tight end, during the offseason and has had to replace two outstanding defensive ends because of retirement (Michael Strahan) and injury (Osi Umenyiora). And yet it’s playing as well now as it did at the end of last season.

A big part of the reason, of course, is Manning, whose mastery of the offense allows Coughlin to say, even on a damp day, “Go ahead and throw it, kid.” And Eli will stride to the line, survey the defense and, as Andre Carter put it, “check from a run to a pass and a pass to a run. He’s definitely a smarter quarterback than when he started out. You can tell he’s studied the game a lot more.”

The Redskins don’t have quite the same luxury with Jason Campbell - at least, not yet. You don’t see nearly as much gesticulating as he calls the signals, and unlike Manning, his inexperience can still be exploited by a savvy defense. The Steelers certainly took advantage of it, as did the Cowboys the second time around and now the Giants.

Let’s face it, Manning, at this point, has had everything thrown at him - every blitz, every coverage, every brainstorm ever cooked up by a defensive coordinator. For Campbell, on the other hand, every game is an education.

“Don’t forget,” Carter said, “Eli’s been with the same coach the whole time. Jason’s had to learn three different offensive schemes. So it’s difficult to compare them.”

At any rate, the Redskins played it very safe in the first few series Sunday - too safe. Against an opponent like the Giants, a little more daring is required. If you’re not willing to risk anything, there isn’t going to be much reward. By the time Zorn opened it up a bit, the Giants were ahead 10-0 and on their way.

For the Redskins, it was an oddly unenergetic performance, especially considering the pregame ceremony for their late teammate, Sean Taylor, who was inducted to the Ring of Fame. Zorn was particularly perturbed by the Giants’ ability to drop an extra point snap, pick up the ball and still boot it through. Where, he rightly wondered, was the rush?

But that wasn’t what cost the Redskins the game. What cost them the game was that the Giants are Way Up Here, the best team in the league at the moment, and the Redskins have gradually descended since their 6-2 start to Somewhere Around the Middle. Their offense has scored more than 20 points only once in the last eight games - against the winless Lions - and Ray Lewis and Co. are next on the schedule.

“We’re still 7-5,” Zorn said, trying to put the best face on it. “We have to be tough as nails in these next four games.”

That’s what the Giants are - every week. And until the Redskins can match that, they’ll be nothing more than scoreboard watchers and first-round playoff fodder.

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