- The Washington Times - Monday, September 14, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. | New York’s bookends overshadowed Big Al’s debut.

In an NFC East showdown featuring three of the game’s marquee defensive linemen, New York sack specialists Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck trumped Washington defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth in the impact department.

Haynesworth, whom the Redskins lured from Tennessee with the most lucrative contract for a defensive lineman in history ($41 million guaranteed), was on the field for roughly two-thirds of New York’s offensive snaps. The 6-foot-6, 350-pound behemoth - who had been plagued by back trouble in the offseason - recorded four tackles, including a rather modest one tackle for loss, in his Washington debut.

Umenyiora and Tuck, meanwhile, defined New York’s 23-17 victory over the Redskins by making a handful of massive plays.

After missing the entire 2008 season with a knee injury, Umenyiora made an electric return to the game with the clock winding down on the first half and the Giants leading 10-0.

Angling around offensive tackle Chris Samuels at the back of the pocket, the 6-3, 261-pound speed rusher reached out his right arm and proceeded to post a rare defensive grand slam.

In seemingly one deft motion, Umenyiora swatted the ball away from Washington quarterback Jason Campbell and scooped up the fumble before streaking 37 yards to the end zone to stake the Giants to a 17-0 lead with 2:11 remaining in the half. On the play, Umenyiora was credited with a sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery and touchdown.

“It’s a cycle. It’s a hat trick. Whatever you want to call it. For real, that is the holy grail for a defensive end in a game,” New York backup defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said of Umenyiora’s play. “That’s close to as good as it gets.”

It was the third touchdown of Umenyiora’s seven-year career and dispelled any lingering doubts that the two-time All-Pro would regain the quickness off the edge that enabled him to record 41.5 sacks in his first 72 games.

“I’ve played a little running back in my dreams,” said Umenyiora, who pulled away from Stephon Heyer to reach the end zone. “It felt good, especially after what happened last year with football being taken away from me.”

Tuck then took over after intermission, stepping up to snuff out Washington’s most important possession of the second half single-handedly.

With the Giants leading 17-7 and 3:05 remaining in the third quarter, DeAngelo Hall intercepted Eli Manning’s pass across the middle and returned the ball to the New York 11-yard line.

On first down, Tuck burst through the right side of the Washington line and dropped Clinton Portis for a 6-yard loss. Two plays later, Tuck looped around Heyer and sacked Campbell to force the Redskins into a momentum-stifling field goal.

“I know when me and Osi are together, they like to slide the line to us a lot, and that’s going to open up a ton of opportunities for our defensive interior,” Tuck said. “I’m pleased with it for the first game. After the run by [Clinton] Portis on the first play, we shut down their run game. And against the pass, we got three sacks, two turnovers and constant pressure on Campbell.”

The Redskins rushed for only 51 yards on 20 attempts after Portis opened with a 34-yard burst. And Umenyiora and Tuck combined to record nine tackles, 2.5 sacks and three hurries, reminding everyone in the league of the identity of the division’s best defensive line.

“We’re not there by far,” a surly Haynesworth said. “We still haven’t quite jelled as a defense. Until we get things straightened out, this stuff probably will continue.”

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