The defense? You mean Redskins fans now have to worry about the defense?
I thought the Washington defense was going to be the second coming of the 1985 Bears. I thought the defense was going to be Ray Lewis Ravens-like, a defense that would strike fear in the hearts of opposing offenses.
After Friday night’s first-half performance against the New England Patriots at FedEx Field, the only hearts with fear were those wearing burgundy and gold jerseys in the stands and watching at home, fearful that their team’s starting offense couldn’t score a touchdown against the Little Sisters of the Poor.
That fear diminished with the Redskins’ opening drive and an excellent performance by beleaguered starting quarterback Jason Campbell. He led a seven-play, 69-yard drive that resulted in the first-team offense finally getting into the end zone. Marcus Mason took it in from the 1-yard line for a touchdown, and the anxiety that had permeated the Redskins fanbase all week had left the building.
Then Tom Brady decided to toy with the defense that was supposed to strike fear in their hearts, as Brady completed 12 of 19 attempts for 150 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.
It got so frustrating that at one point, the Redskins’ bench was called for unsportsmanlike conduct and given a 15-yard penalty. As an official ran by coach Jim Zorn and had a few words, it looked as if steam would’ve been coming out of Zorn’s ears - if he weren’t wearing a headset.
At least Campbell is off the hook for a week. He was the target of Redskins fans’ wrath and frustration with his lackluster performance in limited play in the first two preseason games, completing just one of seven passes. There were questions about his confidence and ability to lead the offense.
On Friday night, Campbell looked confident and decisive. He put the exclamation mark on a solid performance when he ran the ball in from 4 yards out late in the second quarter - on a play set up by a 73-yard completion to Chris Cooley - to cut the Patriots’ lead to 17-14. Most importantly, it gave the first-team offense its second touchdown of the game.
It was as if Campbell hand-delivered - literally, faking out Patriots linebacker Paris Lenon with a pump fake on his way into the end zone - exactly what Zorn had asked for earlier this week.
“I want to see a sustained drive, and I want to see us push it in when we get to the 3-yard line,” Zorn said. “I want to see us not getting down when something bad happens, being able to come back out, concentrate, make the adjustments, stay together, work hard and literally fight and scrap for everything we can.”
Consider that accomplished. By the end of the first half, Campbell had completed 11 of 19 attempts for 190 yards as the Redskins played the Patriots to a 17-17 tie.
“I was very pleased,” Zorn said about Campbell’s performance. “He was very much into the game. He was competing hard and doing the things that you want.”
But the defense?
I think anyone barely mentioned the word “defense” leading up to Friday night’s game. That was the team’s “no-worries” zone.
Where was the pressure on Brady? He sat back and threw at will until Albert Haynesworth got to him late in the first half after an incomplete pass with a hit that hurt Brady’s shoulder. But until then, Brady did what he wanted to do.
There was talk this week from cornerbacks Fred Smoot and Carlos Rogers, who didn’t play Friday because of a calf injury, about the defense’s new identity - “mean,” Smoot called it. Rogers said they wanted opposing teams to leave at the end of a game feeling as if they had just taken a beating.
I doubt the Patriots’ first-team offense felt bruised, battered or beaten Friday. The Patriots’ second-team offense, which opened the second half against the Redskins’ first-team offense, might have had its feelings hurt a little bit.
There won’t be as much panic this week about the defense as there has been about the offense, because the defense, ranked fourth in the NFL last year, at least has a track record of being good, if not yet mean. But even with a solid offensive performance, no one is expecting Campbell and Co. to become an offensive juggernaut. The expectation, rather, is for an effective-enough offense to complement what is now supposed to be a playmaking defense.
That is supposed to be the formula for success this coming season. It was missing a key ingredient, for the most part, Friday night - fear.