By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 10, 2008
The Washington Redskins went back to FedEx Field yesterday, which marked another first-time experience for Jim Zorn. He is growing accustomed to taking new steps in his rookie season as a head coach, and Zorn's on-the-job training continued in Washington's preseason home opener against the Buffalo Bills.
Zorn remained undefeated as the Redskins jumped to an 11-point lead and held on for a 17-14 victory in front of 69,532. Running back Clinton Portis, defensive end Jason Taylor and running back Ladell Betts were among the key veterans who made their preseason debuts as the Redskins improved to 2-0.
"Very impressed with the starting unit," Zorn said of the offense. "I thought Jason Campbell was poised. Very impressed with our run game. I was really excited that Clinton Portis came in. You watch as you see the suddenness of his moves, and his ability to move and then re-accelerate, you can see what kind of a special back he really is."
Navigating the preseason with as few injuries as possible is the top priority on every team's to-do list at this time of the year, and Washington received a scare when wide receivers Antwaan Randle El and Anthony Mix went into the locker room for X-rays. The receiving corps is thin because rookies Devin Thomas (hamstring) and Malcolm Kelly (arthroscopic knee surgery) have missed considerable time in training camp. Fortunately for the Redskins, Randle El (right forearm injury) and Mix (bruised ribs) did not break bones, the team announced.
Campbell again was sharp while leading the first-team offense, and the Redskins appeared to continue making progress in Zorn's version of the West Coast offense. After going 5 of 5 for 61 yards and a touchdown in the preseason opener against Indianapolis, Campbell completed 7 of 10 passes for 71 yards last night.
He spread the ball around on the two series in which the offensive starters played, finding Santana Moss, Randle El and James Thrash -- currently the top three wide receivers on the depth chart -- for double-digit gains. On the starters' second possession, which ended with the game's first touchdown,, Portis had a nifty 11-yard run through the middle of the defense. Washington scored on a one-yard run by Portis after overcoming a holding penalty on right tackle Jon Jansen and offensive pass interference on Thrash.
"It felt great for us as a team to move the ball that way," Campbell said. "We continued to keep fighting, and we persevered through all those penalties, and I think it shows the character and the focus of this team.
"The guys never lost their focus. They continued to keep pressing, and we were able to continue to drive the ball."
Said Portis: "It felt good. We sustained two good drives as an offense."
The mood on the sideline and in the stands at FedEx yesterday was much lighter than when the Redskins last played host to the Bills on Dec. 2. In Washington's first game after the death of Pro Bowl safety Sean Taylor in November, the team had an emotional pregame tribute to the slain star. And the tribute continued during the game as the Redskins played with only 10 players on defense on the Bills' first play from scrimmage.
Rian Lindell kicked three fourth-quarter field goals -- including a 36-yarder with only four seconds remaining -- as Buffalo rallied for a 17-16 victory. Former coach Joe Gibbs, who after the game acknowledged he was unsure about the rules regarding the use of timeouts in an attempt to "freeze" a place kicker, called consecutive timeouts that resulted in a 15-yard penalty.
Lindell, who sent the ball through the uprights from 51 yards after Gibbs called a second timeout, then made the shorter kick. The loss was Washington's fourth in a row, but the team won its final four games to clinch a playoff berth.
Against the Bills last night, the Redskins welcomed back many players who sat out the preseason opener -- a 30-16 victory over the Colts on Aug. 3 in the Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio.
Portis was among the high-profile Redskins to get some work in. His touchdown on fourth down capped a 12-play, 53-yard drive and gave the Redskins a 7-3 lead.
Portis, whom Redskins officials have praised for his commitment to the offseason workout program, received a $9.3 million signing bonus in March and was guaranteed at least $15.7 million through 2010 as part of his restructured contract that helped the Redskins get under the NFL salary cap.
With three preseason games remaining, Portis's main goal was to get out of the game quickly and in sound physical condition, he said. Portis carried seven times for 18 yards (a 2.6-yard average) and the touchdown.
"It was good to be out there," he said. "I just wanted to go out there and perform well mentally. I just wanted to make sure that I got the right reads, picked up my assignments, ran the right routes, had the right depth and just got a feel for the game."
Betts was productive rushing and receiving. Slowed because of a thigh injury in training camp, Betts had 41 yards on five carries (8.2-yard average). In the second quarter, Betts had a touchdown reception after catching a short pass from quarterback Todd Collins near the right sideline and outracing defenders to the end zone. Washington took a 14-3 lead.
Collins was working behind a makeshift second-unit offensive line because tackles Todd Wade and Stephon Heyer are out with injuries. Collins, who did not play after halftime, went 8 for 11 with one touchdown and one interception. Rookie quarterback Colt Brennan put up impressive statistics against Indianapolis (9 of 10, 123 yards, two touchdowns), but he had modest numbers yesterday: 4 of 8 for 37 yards.
On defense, Jason Taylor played for the first time as a Redskin. Taylor jogged onto to the field to take his spot at left end after Marcus Mason fumbled the opening kickoff and Lindell recovered the ball at Washington's 30-yard line.
With Taylor -- the NFL's 2006 defensive player of the year -- and Andre Carter, the Redskins could have one of the league's most productive pass-rushing tandems. Early in the game, the Bills' first-team offensive line appeared to be concerned about the speed the Redskins now have at both defensive end spots. Buffalo twice was called for false starts as tackles hurried to position themselves to pass block with Carter and Taylor in the game.
"It's good. It's great to be in FedEx Field," Taylor said. "It was loud, and there was a lot of excitement. I can't wait for the season to begin."
Interestingly, Taylor, whom the Redskins said would play left end because Carter is at right end, played on the right side on the Bills' second possession while Carter was on the left. Defensive coordinator Greg Blache often is guarded about his plans, but it would not be surprising if Carter and Taylor moved around at times during the season.
"I think we did all right," Taylor said. "We held them to a field goal during that first drive, which is all you can ask. During the second drive, we got them off the field. We're going to get it done."
Starting free safety LaRon Landry (hamstring) still was sidelined, and safety Vernon Fox was not with the team because of personal reasons, so Blache shook up the defensive lineup. Cornerback Shawn Springs moved to free safety, Leigh Torrence played for Springs opposite cornerback Fred Smoot, and rookie Justin Tryon took Torrence's place as a nickel cornerback.
After Collins's interception just before halftime, Buffalo wide receiver James Hardy beat Torrence for a 16-yard touchdown down the right sideline on a pass from quarterback J.P. Losman. Losman then teamed with Justin Jenkins on a two-point conversion pass that tied the score at 14.