- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2008

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Jim Zorn Era began with a debut dud.

Displaying a disconcerting offensive anemia given the background of its first-year coach, Washington spotted the New York Giants 16 early points and never recovered en route to opening the NFL season and the Zorn tenure with a 16-7 loss to the defending Super Bowl champions.

The first Washington offensive play of the Zorn Era was a sack of quarterback Jason Campbell by New York defensive end Justin Tuck. The last play of the night yielded a holding call on Washington offensive tackle Chris Samuels with no time remaining, ending the Redskins’ final futile offensive thrust.

In the interim, neither team looked sharp. But the Redskins were clearly the lesser polished of two very imperfect products. The Washington offense didn’t earn its initial first down (one was handed to the team on a first quarter roughing penalty) until 1:10 remained in the first half. Amazingly, Campbell’s first completion came on the same play.

“We sputtered from the first play,” said Zorn, whose Redskins began the final drive of the first half trailing 16-0 while the Giants owned a 241-6 edge in total yardage and a 14-0 edge in first downs. “After we got going in the second half, I felt like we could move the ball. The thing that hurt us was 3rd down.”

While the Redskins totally stifled the Giants in the second half, holding Eli Manning to a forgettable Super Bowl MVP encore (19 of 35 passing for 216 yards), the Washington offense kept coming up just short on third-down plays. Five times in the half, the Redskins had promising drives stopped a yard short on third-down runs or completions.

“It was a tough way to start on both sides of the ball,” said linebacker London Fletcher, clearly Washington’s brightest spot after recording 17 tackles. “We couldn’t get them off the field in the first half, so it’s as much on us as the offense.

Coach Zorn is a great guy to play for. He’s fair, and he’s honest. I just wish we could have gotten him off to a better start with a win.”

Many insiders around the league wonder whether Zorn is prepared to deal with all the complexities involved in directing an NFL team. After all, the 55-year-old Zorn had never been an offensive coordinator in the NFL, much less a head coach, when Redskins’ owner Dan Snyder make him the franchise’s 27th head man on Feb. 10.

Zorn’s credentials as a quarterback coach, however, are not in dispute. After a 12-year stint as Seattle’s starting quarterback (1976-87), Zorn returned to the Seahawks in 2001 to coach quarterbacks, tutoring perennial pro-bowler Matt Hasselbeck in that capacity until he accepted the reins of the Redskins from beloved, two-term coach Joe Gibbs.

The Redskins obviously hope that Zorn can work his mentoring magic with the young but gifted Campbell, who began just his second season as a starter Thursday night.

Neither Zorn nor his primary pupil can be adequately judged by the season opener. Counting Gibbs, all four of Washington’s new coaches this century (Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Gibbs and Zorn) have lost their road openers. And none of the others faced a foe as daunting as the defending Super Bowl champion.

Zorn wasn’t alone in his debut disappointment. Newly acquired defensive end Jason Taylor celebrated his first official appearance with the burgundy and gold by losing contain on a naked bootleg by New York quarterback Eli Manning on the first touchdown of the NFL season.

The NFL’s 2006 defensive MVP and the league’s active leader in career sacks (117), the 34-year-old Taylor came to Washington after posting six pro-bowl seasons with the Dolphins. Despite tweaking his knee in Washington’s penultimate preseason game at Carolina, the 6-foot-6, 245-pound Taylor started last night’s game opposite fellow sack specialist Andre Carter.

After the Giants marched unimpeded down the field with the opening kickoff, Manning took a snap from the Redskins’ 1-yard line, faked a dive to bruising tailback Taylor Jacobs, darted past a crashing Taylor on the right end and dove inside a weak attempt at a tackle by linebacker Rocky McIntosh to give the Giants a 7-0 lead and establish a sour tone for Zorn and his charges.

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