Redskins Open the Season, and the Questions Persist, After Loss to New York Giants

Quarterback Jason Campbell completes 19 of 26 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown in the season opener, but the questions about his play continue after the Redskins openly pursued other quarterbacks during the offseason.
Quarterback Jason Campbell completes 19 of 26 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown in the season opener, but the questions about his play continue after the Redskins openly pursued other quarterbacks during the offseason. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
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By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 14, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Sept. 13 -- The temptation can be to draw hard-and-fast conclusions about how a season will turn out based on one Sunday afternoon in September, because the idle speculation from an entire offseason is finally placed to the side, and the work is unveiled. The chatter that engulfed the Washington Redskins over the past nine months centered around their coach and their quarterback, their newly acquired $100 million defensive lineman, and the ability for them all to build a season that would return the Redskins to the playoffs.

The conclusions, in one three-hour window: The Redskins are not as good as the New York Giants, who thoroughly beat Washington, 23-17, at Giants Stadium. Quarterback Jason Campbell will hear, as he has come to expect, from Redskins fans who annually wonder about his worthiness for the position. And Coach Jim Zorn will have a difficult job ahead, because his team was at times undisciplined, his offense was sporadic and star defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth spent as much time on the sideline catching his breath as he did on the field altering the Giants' offense.

"It's so hard," tight end Chris Cooley said, "because you spend all this time in training camp, you spend all the time in the offseason working, and we talk about the Giants so much that it makes it brutal to get out of here without a win."

Beating the Giants, who won the Super Bowl two seasons ago and are considered on the short list of favorites this year, is never easy for the Redskins. Washington has lost seven of its last eight meetings with New York, including a frustrating opener here last year.

But opening day, by now, serves not only as a barometer of where the Redskins stand after such a long, active offseason, but as a reminder of how long ago the franchise's glory days lie. The Redskins have won three Super Bowl titles, the last following the 1991 season. Since then, they have had seven coaches. And those seven coaches have combined to win three playoff games in 18 years.

Sunday marked the beginning of the second season for Zorn, who succeeded Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs in 2008. When Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder made the move, Zorn had never been a head coach at any level, had never been the regular play-caller for a National Football League offense, and was widely regarded as a surprising -- if not downright shocking -- choice to take over.

Now, after overseeing an 8-8 campaign as a rookie, Zorn finds himself as one of the central characters of this Redskins season. He walked into the visiting locker room after Sunday's loss wearing an almost perplexed look, ready to address a team he felt could have beaten the Giants if not for a slew of errors.

"I think our challenge was to become more disciplined on the field," Zorn said. "That's going to be our challenge from week one to week two, and then it'll be that way the whole time."

The other lead character for this season is Campbell, the fifth-year quarterback with the easy demeanor, strong arm, undistinguished résumé and contract that expires at the end of the year. The Redskins tried, unsuccessfully, to trade for other quarterbacks in the offseason, and the debate about Campbell's abilities will certainly linger into next week, and possibly for the rest of the season. His raw numbers -- he completed 19 of 26 passes for 211 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception -- were hardly terrible. But he was involved in the play that defined the difference, for one Sunday, between the Giants and the Redskins.

Late in the second quarter, with the Redskins trailing 10-0, Campbell dropped back to pass and was harassed by Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora. Umenyiora swatted the ball from Campbell's hands, then scooped it up and rumbled for a 37-yard touchdown that put the Redskins in a 17-0 hole.

The play was exactly the kind of game-changer the Redskins were supposed to get from their own stud defender, the newly acquired Haynesworth. The defensive tackle, signed for $100 million as a free agent -- a record for a defensive player -- instead spent much of the first half shuttling in and out of the lineup, looking at times like a destructive force, at others as if he needed to catch his wind.

"It doesn't matter how I played," Haynesworth said. "We lost."

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