- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 8, 2011


Season openers are about new beginnings. In the Washington Redskins‘ case, that means — among other things — Rex Grossman starting in Week 1 for the first time since 2007, Barry Cofield swapping New York Giants blue for burgundy and gold and Josh Wilson (DeMatha, University of Maryland) re-establishing his local ties.

But nothing would scream new beginning more than a victory over the Giants, who have had their way with the Redskins for far too long. They’ve won nine of the past 10 meetings between the teams, 15 of 20, and many have been like an episode of “True Blood” — with Washington playing the part of the neck.

You can’t really call it a jinx, though, because there’s been nothing particularly fluky about the Giants‘ success. David Tyree didn’t catch any passes by pinning the ball against the helmet of a Redskins defensive back. Eli Manning didn’t suddenly start playing like his brother Peyton (though the kid has had his moments). The New York defense didn’t go bonkers, like it did last year against the Chicago Bears, and sack the quarterback 10 times in one game.

No, the Giants have beaten the Redskins the old-fashioned way, with better players, better coaching, better general managing and better ownership (including the foresight to, uh, build a practice bubble).

It hasn’t seemed to matter which running back carried the ball for the Giants — Tiki Barber, Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw — the Redskins haven’t been able to stop him. The same goes for receivers. If Plaxico Burress didn’t torment them, Amani Toomer did … or Steve Smith. Lately, Mario Manningham has been making their lives miserable, catching touchdown passes of 30, 25 and 92 yards in the past four games. (Worse, his middle name is Cashmere.)

The New York defense also has given the Redskins fits. Whenever the situation called for it, it seemed, a Giant would shoot through a gap bigger than the one between Michael Strahan’s teeth and cause a fumble or an interception or a big loss. The past few seasons, pass rushers Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora have gone for regular piggyback rides at the expense of Washington quarterbacks. This is why, despite the offensive brainpower of Joe Gibbs, Al Saunders and the firm of Shanahan and Shanahan, the Redskins haven’t scored more than 17 points against the Giants since ‘07.

One year, the Redskins tried to slow the stampede by signing Cornelius Griffin away from their rivals. The Giants simply found themselves another defensive tackle and, not long after, won their third Super Bowl. And now the Redskins have taken the same if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-deplete-‘em approach with Cofield. We’ll have to see, though, if he can be as effective without Pro Bowlers Tuck and Umenyiora busting kneecaps on either side of him.

There’s optimism hereabouts about Sunday’s clash because the Redskins have clearly improved since last year, while the Giants defense currently resembles a hospital ward. Cornerback Terrell Thomas and middle linebacker Jonathan Goff are lost for the season, and Umenyiora is rehabbing and won’t play in the opener. And those are just the starters. Also, Tuck has been complaining of a neck injury and is by no means guaranteed to suit up.

There might not be a more wounded team in the NFL right now. The Giants, according to the latest Vegas odds, are 2-to-1 to run out of athletic tape by Week 5. On the other hand, they are the Giants. A year ago, they swept the Redskins at the end of the season despite an injury-ravaged receiver corps and dicey offensive line. What’s to prevent them from jury-rigging yet another win over their favorite patsy? Besides, if London Fletcher and Co. can’t stop the bulldozing Jacobs — and they’ve had occasional trouble in this area — the length of the Giants‘ casualty list might be moot.

So there’s opportunity for the Redskins, but there’s plenty of peril, too. Trying to change the course of a franchise — and a rivalry — can be like trying to turn around an oil tanker in shallow waters. But if Mike Shanahan is looking to make a statement, looking to announce to the world, “These aren’t the same old Redskins,” Sunday would be a good time for it.

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