By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 14, 2009
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Sept. 13 -- Surveying the field as the offensive line protected him well, Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell was eager to make a big play late in the first half Sunday afternoon against the New York Giants.
Washington struggled early in a Week 1 matchup of NFC East rivals, and Campbell thought he needed only another few seconds to provide a spark, which he did. Unfortunately for the Redskins, Campbell's decision to wait in the pocket proved costly as defensive end Osi Umenyiora forced a fumble, recovered the ball and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown that helped the Giants in their 23-17 victory at Giants Stadium.
Umenyiora's timely play was among many the Giants made in defeating the Redskins for the seventh time in their last eight meetings, this time in front of 78,206. New York set the tone in dominating time of possession in the first quarter -- 12 minutes 11 seconds to only 2:49 for Washington -- and never seemed to lose control.
"They just did whatever they wanted to do. Offense, defense, whatever," cornerback Carlos Rogers said. "I don't know why it is, but they just made the plays. I wouldn't say they're a better team, but they play better against us."
The major improvement on offense the Redskins expected from last season did not immediately occur against the Giants and their formidable defensive line, and Washington also was searching for answers at the outset on defense.
That combination led to a shaky start for Coach Jim Zorn and Campbell, who might not move forward with the franchise if the Redskins fail to accomplish big things this season. Zorn and Campbell had high expectations for the opener, and what occurred was not what either envisioned.
"We had four plays in the first quarter," Zorn said. "I know that the time of possession must have been lopsided until we started moving the ball in the second half. Four plays and the quarter was over. That hurt us a little bit."
Campbell's first-half fumble provided the biggest blow.
With New York leading 10-0 in the second quarter, Washington took over at its 37-yard line. After completing a nine-yard pass to Antwaan Randle El for a first down at Washington's 48, Campbell dropped back to pass again.
Umenyiora beat left tackle Chris Samuels around the edge, slapped the ball from Campbell's hand and then continued to show he has fully recovered from the knee injury that sidelined him the entire 2008 season. Umenyiora, who is listed at 6 feet 3, 261 pounds, scooped up the ball and raced 37 yards for a touchdown that helped give the Giants a 17-point cushion. On the play, Umenyiora was credited with a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery.
"The route was covered down field. The coverage took the deeper part of the route" away, Zorn said. "Jason was doing the right thing, looking for the underneath, the check-down, and either it got screened or he couldn't see it. He still hung on to the ball. He's got to get rid of the ball. The protection on that particular play was outstanding."
Apparently, Umenyiora surprised himself.
"To be honest with you, I don't know. I don't know what happened," Umenyiora said. "That's the way most plays are made. You just go out there and sometimes good things happen."
Said Samuels: "I thought I had good position on him, I ran him upfield, but he turned the corner on me and made an awesome play."
Campbell experienced fumbling problems in his first full season as a starter in 2007, "but that's something I didn't have an issue with last year," he said. "It was play action, and I was trying hit [tight end Chris] Cooley on a deep shot across the field. I tried to step up in the pocket and I never felt the guy on my back. I just have to feel him, step up in the pocket and get rid of the ball."
In the preseason, Campbell's 1-for-7 performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers renewed concerns among some media members and fans about his ability to lead the Redskins. Against the Giants, Campbell completed 19 of 26 passes -- including a 17-yard touchdown pass to Cooley late in the fourth -- for 211 yards with one interception. Washington scored its first touchdown on punter Hunter Smith's eight-yard run on a faked field goal attempt with 33 seconds remaining in the opening half. "We just saw something this week that we could kind of go after," said Smith, who also scored on a fake during the 2003 season with the Indianapolis Colts. "Just for the past week we've been looking at it and practicing it, and it worked just like we practiced it."
For most of the game, the Redskins' defense failed to make big plays. Owner Daniel Snyder spent millions to add tackle Albert Haynesworth and retain cornerback DeAngelo Hall, but the Giants' offense was productive. Quarterback Eli Manning completed 20 of 29 passes for 256 yards. New York rushed for 103 yards but only had a 3.3-yard average. The Redskins held 260-pound back Brandon Jacobs to 46 yards and a 2.9-yard average. Haynesworth was credited with four tackles, including one for a loss.
The Giants took a 10-0 lead in the second on Manning's 30-yard touchdown pass to wideout Mario Manningham -- a play on which the Redskins' defense could only be described as abysmal.
Defensive coordinator Greg Blache called a "cover-zero," an all-out blitz, providing no safety help for the corners. With Fred Smoot in coverage, Manning found Manningham wide open near the first-down marker on the right side, and then Smoot missed the tackle. Manningham raced along the right sideline and eluded defensive end Andre Carter, who landed out of bounds. And finally, cornerback DeAngelo Hall missed a tackle while overrunning the play and Manningham easily reached the end zone.
"They make the plays and we don't. That's been the story of this series for the last seven, eight years," Smoot said. "It was a good read by Eli. We were blitzing everybody and he checked. I just have to make that tackle. There's nothing else to say about it."
Washington failed to score a touchdown late in the third after Hall intercepted a Manning pass (LaRon Landry tipped a ball high intended for wide receiver Steve Smith) and had a nifty 18-yard return to the Giants 11-yard line. Portis ran right for a six-yard loss, Campbell completed a seven-yard pass to Portis, and after a timeout, defensive end Justin Tuck sacked Campbell for a two-yard loss. The Redskins settled for a 27-yard field goal from Shaun Suisham that cut the Giants' lead to 17-10 with 56 seconds to go in the third.
The Redskins had only 272 yards as their running game stalled after Clinton Portis's great start. On Washington's first play from scrimmage, Portis gained 34 yards to the left side. He finished with 62 yards on 16 rushes (a 3.9-yard average).
"It's frustrating because you don't get a rhythm," Portis said. "Our playbook, what we thought we was going to come up here and do and expose, we really didn't. We didn't really get the opportunity. It wasn't that we didn't call the plays, we just wasn't in position to do it. Always knowing what we could have been.
"We left a lot of points on the field. And when we get in the red zone, we got to finish. I think that hampered us last year. Not finishing. Not scoring seven in the red zone. Any time we get in the red zone, we got to get seven points."
Top wideout Santana Moss was limited to only two catches for six yards. Moss exchanged blows with Giants cornerback Corey Webster (he also intercepted a pass Campbell intended for Moss) early in the second and they had to be separated.
"We talked about it," said Moss, who acknowledged he could be fined by the league.
"It's unfortunate for me and for him. It was something that probably should never have happened. It wasn't like we were at each other" the whole game.
Second-year wideout Malcolm Kelly had only one catch for six yards in his debut in the starting lineup. Working in the slot, Randle El stood out -- tying Cooley for the team lead with seven receptions, for a team-high 98 yards.
"We left a lot of plays out there," Campbell said. "We've got to just forget about this, come back and execute better next week."