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Opening Loss to Giants Has Fans of Burgundy and Gold Seeing Red

By George Solomon
Sunday, September 7, 2008

For me, Washington's summer of good cheer, low humidity, politics and an inviting new baseball park came to a resounding end Thursday at 10 p.m.

That's when the Redskins walked off the field in the Meadowlands soundly beaten, 16-7, by the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants in an opening game that wasn't nearly as close as the score suggests.

So put down the patio awning, cover the grill and stash the lawn chairs. As former Redskins special teams star turned shoot-from-the-hip commentator Brian Mitchell said on Comcast SportsNet, "I'm steamed."

Steamed at:

· The Redskins being outgained in the first half, 241-51, and for the game, 354-209.

· The Redskins converting on just 3 of 13 third downs, mostly because quarterback Jason Campbell's receivers ran routes that usually were two yards short of first downs -- with Campbell performing like a rookie uncomfortable with Coach Jim Zorn's West Coast offense. (Question: What's so great about the West Coast offense?)

· The Redskins, down nine in the fourth quarter, displayed no urgency and produced zero points, with NBC commentator John Madden observing in the final minutes, "They're taking way too much time."

· The Redskins' defense dropping interceptions, missing tackles and blowing coverages. "We had nothing in the first half," said defensive coordinator Greg Blache, whose guys at least shut out the Giants in the second half.

· And, finally, that crisp short-pass, quick-strike offense the front office promised with the hiring of Zorn was nonexistent, leaving the 55-year-old rookie head coach after the game to explain his "frustration" and "disappointment" with the offense.

You can write, say and think "one game does not make a season," but Washington still woke up Friday in a sour mood. Even at Redskins owner Daniel Snyder's ESPN 980 radio station, where the guys doing the "Monday Morning Quarterback Show" were loaded for bear.

"This is a playoff team?" asked John Riggins of his cranky cohorts Andy Pollin and Kevin Sheehan. "I see a mushroom cloud of goo."

Pollin added: "They got nothing from their draft picks."

Of Zorn's debut, Riggins said: "Jim Zorn has underestimated what it takes to be a head coach."

"Jim Zorn is in over his head," Mitchell said after the game. "His team was not prepared."

All this after one game against a championship team? We have a mushroom cloud of goo hanging over the city? The coach in over his head? The quarterback at risk?

Welcome to the NFL -- which, according to old coaches, stands for "Not For Long." But not for long has to be longer than one game, or one season, without the fans or front office hitting the panic button and googling Bill Cowher's name.

Remember Joe Gibbs's rookie season, 1981, when the Redskins lost their first five games? They finished 8-8 as a prelude to the team's first Super Bowl championship the following year. Gibbs had a Hall of Fame coaching career that included 2 tours here, 4 Super Bowl appearances, 3 NFL titles, 10 playoff appearances in 16 years and a speaking gig Thursday night at the 2008 Republican National Convention. (Fashion note to Joe: That was some suit you wore Thursday; Wilbon is proud of you).

Remembering Upshaw

The memorial service at the Kennedy Center on Tuesday for Gene Upshaw, who died Aug. 20 of pancreatic cancer at 63, was an emotional tribute to the longtime executive director of the NFL Players Association. The audience of about 1,400 composed a virtual "who's who" of pro football, including some veterans who believed correctly that Upshaw did not do enough to increase benefits for retired players.

"He led a life of uncommon achievement," former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said of Upshaw. "I never had a better rival, or friend."

Madden, who coached the well-protected Upshaw with the Raiders, cracked, "He never met a pad he didn't have."

And former Raiders teammate Art Shell said: "He was the best football player I ever played with; he met the challenge on and off the field."

Upshaw will be missed.

Tickets, Wins and Free Agents

The Nationals were smart to hold the line on most season ticket prices for 2009 while lowering some others. The "Presidents Seats" behind home plate will remain $300 each, which might be a mistake considering too many of those seats were unused, giving TV viewers a false impression that the game was sparsely attended.

As significant as the ticket news was, the Nationals' 8-1 record on their recent home stand was their best of the season, with Ryan Zimmerman getting hot, Cristian Guzmán rediscovering his groove, Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes, and some decent starting pitching.

While Washington's minor leaguers continue to develop, ownership needs to become more aggressive and smarter in the free agent market than it has been the past two years.

Finally

· Pleased for D.C. United winning the U.S. Open Cup by beating the Charleston Battery on Wednesday night at RFK Stadium. But like many sports fans, I have a tough time keeping track of all those tournaments United participates in while in the midst of its MLS schedule. I know, it's soccer and the more competition the better, but . . .

· Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen's defense of quarterback Jordan Steffy, who was booed by some fans last Saturday, was expected. Steffy, a senior, will miss at least three weeks because of a fractured thumb on his throwing hand. "You want to boo me, boo me. Don't boo the kid," Friedgen told reporters this week.

My take: More fans were directing their boos at Friedgen than Steffy; that's what happens when you have had losing seasons three of the past four years.

· Capitals owner Ted Leonsis's latest film, "Kicking It," about the 2006 Homeless World Cup, airs on ESPN2 Tuesday night at 9. Leonsis's hockey team, which he says can compete for the Stanley Cup this season, opens practice, Sept. 14, for rookies. Vets arrive at the team's Arlington base Sept. 20.

· The Wizards, meantime, open training camp Sept. 27, with all eyes on Gilbert Arenas, who will try to regain his all-star form after struggling to overcome knee surgeries the past two seasons. Team president Ernie Grunfeld says the highlights of the team's preseason are October games against New Orleans in Berlin and Barcelona.

· Political Sports Tidbit: Barack Obama's recent performance in a one-on-one matchup against ESPN's Stuart Scott gives him a big edge over John McCain. But tell me Sarah "The Barracuda" Palin, an aggressive point guard for Wasilla High, wouldn't devour Joe Biden?

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