- The Washington Times - Monday, September 15, 2008

29 left Sunday, which gave the home team a 29-24 win over the Saints, will rouse them from their lethargy and get them playing again like they did last December.

It can certainly happen like that. Heck, it happened like that three years ago, when the Redskins were down 13-0 to the Cowboys late in their second game, looking anything like a playoff team, and then two lightning-bolt Mark Brunell-to-Moss bombs stole a victory that ultimately won the division title for Washington.

An NFC East championship is probably beyond the Redskins’ reach this season, as muscular as the Giants, Cowboys and Eagles are, but there’s no reason they can’t at least be competitive against those clubs, which they really weren’t in the opener at the Meadowlands. Sunday was the first step in that direction. Besides being the first win of the post-Joe Gibbs Era, it was a win that suggested that, yes, Jason Campbell can run the West Coast offense, and yes, Jim Zorn can put together a victorious game plan - for a day, anyway.

But let’s get back to The Play. For a while, it looked like The Play that might resonate most in the Redskins’ season was Reggie Bush’s punt-return touchdown at the end of the third quarter that gave New Orleans 24-15 lead. The Snydermen were in a very bad place at that point. As Clinton Portis put it, “You don’t want to be down two games [that is, 0-2] in this division.”

A TD drive that measured 82 yards - 94 if your starting point is the second-and-22 play from the Washington 6 - pulled the Redskins within two. Then the defense got the ball back, and the offense went to work from its 33 with 3:38 to go.

Surely, Moss figured as he ducked his head into the huddle, the first play would be a run. There was, after all, plenty of time remaining. But Zorn had been saving something - a deep route against one-on-one coverage. He was just waiting for the right time to call it.

This was that time. Not long before, the depleted Saints secondary had lost veteran cornerback Aaron Glenn to an injury, and little-used second-year-man Usama Young came in to replace him. Moss vs. Young - Zorn loved thatmatchup. But at the snap, he noticed the Saints had flip-flopped their corners. It was Tracy Porter, their rookie second-round pick, not special-teamer Young, who was lining up on Moss’ side.

“I was really frustrated when I saw that,” Zorn said. “Porter has great speed. It was just fortunate the play was successful.”

With no free safety to worry about - the Saints, too, were expecting a run and moved Kevin Kaesviharn up near the line - it came down to a footrace between receiver and defender. Moss usually wins those (when he’s healthy), and he won this one as well. Just as he did at Texas Stadium in 2005.

And let’s not forget, Zorn pointed out, “that play was at the end of the game” - on a sticky, 90-degree day, no less - “and he was flying. He’s in great shape.”

He’s also one of the few guys on the Washington roster who can deliver plays like that. If the Redskins are to make anything of this season, Moss has to play at or near his 1,483-yard, Pro Bowl-level of ‘05. Antwaan Randle El is a decent second option, but he’s not going to catch 1,483 yards’ worth of passes. Rookies Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas, meanwhile, are still memorizing the playbook, trying to put one cleat in front of the other. No, Santana is the one who’s going to have to be Campbell’s co-pilot in the passing game.

So there was all sorts of symbolism in this one play, this 67-yard heave that saved the day. Among other things, it was Moss’ second-biggest game, yardage-wise (164, to be exact), as a Redskin and his longest reception since 2006. After two seasons of battling various ailments, he might be ready to be a week-in, week-out force again.

Still, you found yourself wondering why oh why it had to come to this, why the Redskins, who thoroughly outplayed New Orleans for most of the afternoon, had to dig a nine-point hole for themselves before they pulled it together. They outgained the Saints nearly 2-1 and outrushed them nearly 3-1, but they flirted with disaster because of three special teams mistakes - a fumbled punt and botched 30-yard field goal try and Bush’s 55-yard runback.

Another question that floated through your mind as the Redskins settled for a succession of three-pointers and almost fell to 0-2: Why hasn’t there been more of a carryover effect from last season? After rallying to win their last four games and forcing their way into the playoffs, shouldn’t the Redskins have begun the year more surefootedly, new coach or not? Shouldn’t they have known, without anybody having to remind them, how hard you have to play - and how well - to be a contender in the NFL?

As the fourth quarter began, though, the gains of the Second Gibbs Era - the two playoff berths, the renewed respect from the rest of the league, etc. - seemed to be gone. But then Santana Moss burned a rookie cornerback, and the crisis was temporarily averted. All it took was one play.

We’ll see where it goes from here.

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