By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 5, 2008
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Sept. 4 -- A giant replica of the Vince Lombardi Trophy, awarded to each season's Super Bowl winner, was placed at the 50-yard line at Giants Stadium on Thursday night, providing a not-so-subtle reminder of what the Giants accomplished in the 2007 season. In a stirring pregame ceremony, the New York Giants celebrated the title they won in an upset of the previously unbeaten New England Patriots -- and then ruined a big night for Washington Redskins Coach Jim Zorn in kicking off the NFL season with a 16-7 victory in front of 79,742.
Zorn's head coaching debut was not what the offensive-minded coach had hoped for, as the Redskins, following a disturbing trend for them late in the preseason, struggled to prolong drives. With Zorn calling plays, Washington was limited to 209 total yards and produced its only points with seconds remaining before halftime on quarterback Jason Campbell's short touchdown pass to top wide receiver Santana Moss.
The Giants raced to a 16-0 first-half lead behind the play of quarterback Eli Manning -- the most valuable player of last season's Super Bowl -- and wide receiver Plaxico Burress -- who caught the go-ahead touchdown pass in the title game -- and then held on as neither team generated much offense in the second half.
With 6 minutes 12 seconds remaining in the game, the Redskins took over from their 10-yard line. They advanced to the Giants 43 in 10 plays before turning over the ball on downs. After the Giants went three and out, the Redskins got the ball back on their 33-yard line with 1:31 left but couldn't reach the end zone.
Campbell completed 15 of 27 passes for 133 yards and one touchdown.
Defensively, the Redskins settled down after experiencing breakdowns in pass coverage early in the game while playing without injured veteran cornerback Shawn Springs. After injuring his right knee in a preseason game Aug. 23, Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Taylor returned to the lineup and started in his 131st consecutive game.
"I am not 100 percent," Taylor said, "but I have played this game for 12 years, and you are never really 100 percent.
"The knee, it is what it is. I got hurt, and I am trying to battle through it and give this team what I can. I am not 100 percent. At some point, maybe I will be this year, but I don't know when."
Second-year tackle Stephon Heyer overcame some shaky moments in the early going after taking over at right tackle for the demoted Jon Jansen. The return of Taylor and encouraging signs from Heyer, however, were not enough to help the Redskins overcome long stretches of poor play in many facets of the game in the first half.
As the Redskins begin a new chapter under Zorn, the Super Bowl title that owner Daniel Snyder so covets, and that Vinny Cerrato, Washington's new executive vice president, hopes to provide, eventually could be delivered. But it appears the Redskins still are a long way from needing a replica of the Super Bowl trophy for a celebration of their own.
Six of the 10 players Cerrato selected in the draft were inactive, and that class struggled during the preseason.
The Giants clearly outplayed the Redskins in taking a 16-7 halftime lead, but were unable to seize opportunities to deliver potential knockout blows in the second quarter. On three occasions after putting together impressive drives, the Giants settled for three field goals from place kicker John Carney.
And Washington entered the break encouraged after enjoying its best moments of the half the last time it had the ball. Campbell teamed with Santana Moss on a 12-yard touchdown with only 13 seconds remaining in the half, providing something to build on after return specialist Rock Cartwright energized his teammates with a 50-yard kickoff return.
To that point, the Giants had an overwhelming edge statistically, especially in time of possession. The Giants had the ball for 20 minutes 35 seconds. The Redskins, after many three and outs, worked on offense for 9:25.
New York amassed 241 yards and 14 first downs before halftime. Washington totaled 51 yards and four first downs. The Giants rushed for 100 yards, 5.3 per carry, compared with only 34 yards for the Redskins.
Without Springs, sidelined because of a bruised calf, the Redskins had no answers for Burress, who had seven catches for 98 yards in the first half. Manning had solid stretches in the half, particularly when he located Burress, but was not consistently sharp.
The Redskins seized an opportunity late in the half after Cartwright's long return put them at the Giants 45-yard line with 1:52 to go. After Portis gained nine yards on first down, Campbell finally had time to look downfield and located Antwaan Randle El for a 13-yard gain -- the Redskins' longest gain of the half. Four plays later, Moss got free on a crossing pattern from left to right and combined with Campbell on a 12-yard touchdown pass. Despite being thoroughly outplayed, the Redskins trailed by only nine points after place kicker Shaun Suisham's successful point-after kick.
Washington's first offensive series was similar to that of many in the team's last two preseason games: unproductive. On the Redskins' opening play, right guard Randy Thomas helped Heyer against Tuck, who beat both lineman and tossed Campbell to the ground for an eight-yard sack. Heyer also had a false start on the drive, and the Redskins continued to sputter from there, gaining no yards on three plays.
The Redskins went three and out on their second possession, but the Giants' Jerome McDougle ran into rookie punter Durant Brooks, giving the Redskins a first down on the 15-yard penalty. Three more plays and four yards later, Washington punted again.
The Redskins' defense offered little resistance on the Giants' opening possession of the season. Manning connected with Burress for 30- and 19-yard gains as cornerback Fred Smoot and free safety LaRon Landry, who sat out the preseason because of a hamstring injury, appeared to have communication problems on the deep balls. New York moved down the field with ease, capping an 11-play, 84-yard drive on Manning's one-yard touchdown run to the right side.
With Taylor in pursuit of Manning, Giants right guard Chris Snee delivered a block to take Taylor out of the play. Manning then made a nifty head-and-shoulders fake to elude linebacker Rocky McIntosh, who overran the play, and dived into the end zone.