- The Washington Times - Monday, September 14, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. | Jim Zorn’s favorite part of being the Washington Redskins’ coach comes 16 times a year when he gets to call the offensive plays. He loves engaging in a match of wits with the opponent’s defensive coordinator and trying to put his personnel in the right place at the right time to produce touchdowns.

Imagine what the first 27 minutes of Sunday’s season opener against the New York Giants was like for Zorn.

Plays run by the Redskins: 15.

The production: Two punts and two turnovers.

A lack of opportunities produced a slow start offensively and, combined with a disappointing defensive effort, created a 17-point hole the Redskins were unable to climb out of in a 23-17 loss at Giants Stadium.

“We were in the game the whole way, but it was frustrating, especially early in the first half,” Zorn said. “I was beside myself not being able to move the ball.”

Zorn wasn’t the only one.

Although it was just one game, frustration reigned for what the Redskins - despite the statistical disparity - viewed as a squandered chance: a deficit of only seven points entering the fourth quarter of a division road game.

“We had our chances to win the football game,” tight end Chris Cooley said. “The Giants are outstanding, but no one in this locker room feels we should have lost this game.”

Said Zorn: “The win, for us, was left on that field.”

The offense was ticked about not capitalizing on Clinton Portis’ 34-yard run to start the game, being unable to turn DeAngelo Hall’s third-quarter interception into a touchdown, giving up a score to Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora and showing no signs of an improved comfort level with the system.

“We have to make more plays,” said quarterback Jason Campbell, who was 19-for-26 for 211 yards. “We didn’t have any plays down the field.”

The defense was steamed about letting the Giants run 22 of the game’s first 26 offensive plays, giving up seven gains of at least 20 yards, missing too many tackles and allowing New York to go 6-for-13 on third down.

“We didn’t do a lot of things well based on what we were hoping to get done,” defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

The Redskins’ lone bright spot was their first touchdown - an 8-yard touchdown run by Hunter Smith on a fake field goal.

Their last chance to get in the game came when Hall intercepted a pass broken up by LaRon Landry and returned it 18 yards to the New York 11-yard line late in the third quarter.

Down 10 points, the Redskins needed a touchdown. What they got was a train wreck - Portis lost 6 yards on first down, and two plays later Campbell was sacked on third-and-6 when Justin Tuck whipped around right tackle Stephon Heyer. Shaun Suisham kicked a 27-yard field goal.

“Settling for a field goal is not good; this offense is not designed to settle for field goals,” Zorn said.

Said Portis: “We left a lot of points on the field, and when we get in the red zone, we’ve got to finish. It’s got to be seven points.”

Last year, the Redskins couldn’t get takeaways. On Sunday, they got Hall’s interception and Andre Carter’s forced fumble on a sack only to have the Giants’ defense strike.

The Giants’ two difference-making plays produced 14 points.

Up 3-0, the Giants faced third-and-7 from the Washington 30. In probably his most aggressive call of the game, Blache ordered a “cover zero” blitz - eight players rushing and three players in man coverage, hoping Eli Manning would have to throw quickly.

Manning threw down the line of scrimmage to Mario Manningham.

Fred Smoot missed a leg tackle at the 31. Carter bounced off Manningham’s midsection at the 25. And when Manningham hit the brakes at the 19, Hall whiffed and the Giants led 10-0.

“If [Smoot] makes the tackle, it’s fourth down and they kick a field goal,” Blache said. “I could have helped him by giving him a free safety, but at the time, I wanted to make them kick a long field goal and not get closer for a gimme field goal.”

Late in the second quarter, Campbell looked downfield, but before he could throw, Umenyiora had muscled past left tackle Chris Samuels. He stripped Campbell, scooped up the fumble and rumbled 37 yards for a touchdown.

“After the ball was not thrown [deep], Jason was doing the right thing, looking for the check-down, and he either got screened or couldn’t see it,” Zorn said. “He has to get rid of the ball. The protection on that particular play was outstanding.”

Samuels, though, took blame for the touchdown.

“If our coach asks me to hang in there for my quarterback a little bit longer, I have to step up and rise to the occasion,” he said.

On the ensuing drive, the Redskins’ offense finally sprang to life. Campbell completed consecutive passes of 11 (Cooley), 23 (Ladell Betts) and 35 (Antwaan Randle El) yards. The drive stalled three plays later, but instead of a 26-yard field goal, Zorn approved Danny Smith’s fake field goal call.

It was the first fake field goal called by the Redskins since Smith became special teams coach in 2004, and Hunter Smith’s second career touchdown.

“We had to have a spark, and it was certainly the right time,” Zorn said. “It was executed perfectly.”

And while it was about the only play that worked perfectly for the Redskins, Zorn saw things to build on.

“The positive part is that we played hard the whole game. We just didn’t have the poise in situations that we needed to do,” Zorn said. “I can tell you we have a very good football team. I’m very impressed with some of the things that happened on the field.”

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