By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 14, 2010; 12:45 AM
It was only the first preseason game, and Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan and quarterback Donovan McNabb envision their high-profile partnership producing bigger moments than what occurred Friday night at FedEx Field.
The team's long-suffering fans, however, are eager for anything positive after last season's stunning debacle, and Shanahan and McNabb helped the new regime get off to a good start in a 42-17 rout of the Buffalo Bills. The Redskins eclipsed the previous record of 41 points in a preseason opener, and McNabb got them started.
"There's a lot of things you can take out of preseason," said McNabb, who played two series and threw a short touchdown pass late in the first quarter. "Obviously, we know wins and losses don't mean anything. But as far as confidence is concerned, in our case, obviously, with a new coach, new quarterback, new schemes, it plays a major part.
"Not to be overconfident. Obviously, we didn't look at the scoreboard and get too excited. That's not the type of team that we have. We know we made some mistakes and [there are] things we need to correct. But, obviously, winning the game and being able to score some points is big for us."
In front of an announced crowd of 69,578, the Redskins dominated the Bills in Washington's return to its home field for the first time since a major offseason makeover in Ashburn. Owner Daniel Snyder hired Shanahan and gave him control of the football operation, and also brought in General Manager Bruce Allen to work with Shanahan. But it was the arrival of the Pro Bowl quarterback, acquired in a surprising Easter trade with the NFC East rival Philadelphia Eagles, that most energized the fan base.
"It's a first step," Shanahan said. "We've got a long ways to go, but you always want to find a way to win the football game and I was happy we did that. I thought we did some good things during the game. There's some pluses and obviously some minuses and we'll grow from there."
Coming off a 4-12 season, the Redskins have turned to Shanahan and McNabb to help restore the once-successful organization to prominence. Their initial steps Friday against the Bills, who went 6-10 in the 2009 season, would seem to have stirred optimism.
Although not particularly sharp early in training camp, McNabb has improved recently while working with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and becoming more comfortable in the West Coast scheme. Scheduled to participate in a maximum of 18 plays, McNabb was in for 17.
McNabb, beginning his 12th season, helped the first-team offense take a 7-3 lead with 1 minute 40 seconds left in the first quarter when he teamed with wide receiver Anthony Armstrong on a four-yard touchdown pass. Television replays appeared to show that the ball did not reach the goal line, but the Bills did not challenge the call and the Redskins had their first touchdown.
"From the moment we got Donovan, I think everybody realized what he would bring to our team," said wideout Devin Thomas, who rebounded from a shaky start on special teams in a strong performance that included a 44-yard touchdown reception from backup quarterback Rex Grossman.
"Donovan is a great player and he's also a great leader. It doesn't matter if it's a preseason game, you know he's going to go out there and do the things we need him to do."
McNabb seems to be developing a good rapport with tight end Chris Cooley, who sat out the remainder of the 2009 season after fracturing his ankle in Week 7. With Cooley fully recovered, the Shanahans have big plans for the Pro Bowler and emerging third-year tight end Fred Davis, who caught a nine-yard touchdown pass from Grossman.
Cooley, as he has done throughout his impressive career with Washington, worked the middle of the field and caught three passes from McNabb for 33 yards, including a long gain of 19 yards. The play put the Redskins on the Bills 10-yard line. Three plays later, McNabb and Armstrong connected for the score. Overall, McNabb completed five of eight passes for 58 yards with the touchdown. He had a quarterback rating of 124.0.
Rookie left tackle Trent Williams impressed as well in his debut. Williams, the fourth overall pick in the draft, displayed excellent strength, footwork and technique.
"It felt good," Williams said. "I had to settle myself down. I was so nervous. I was gassed after three plays."
Grossman continued to solidify his already strong standing on the roster, completing 61 percent of his passes for a game-high 140 yards and two touchdowns. He had a 122.5 passer rating.
In third quarter, Grossman's second touchdown came on a deep pass down the middle to Thomas that covered 44 yards. A starter last season, Thomas is trying to make a long climb up the depth chart.
Thomas muffed the game's opening kickoff but the Redskins recovered the ball. Rookie wideout/return specialist Brandon Banks had a 77-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third as the Redskins broke open the game.
"I can't say it surprised me at all, just the way he's played - not necessarily as a returner, but watching him at wide receiver," Shanahan said of Banks. "He consistently makes plays. He's got great speed, which was evident today. He has cutting ability. He's got excellent hands. It's nice to see him go out there and make a play."
Young running backs Ryan Torain (17 rushes, 62 yards) and Keiland Williams (11 carries, 51 yards and two touchdowns) fared well after following top back Clinton Portis (six carries, 22 yards). Veterans Larry Johnson and Willie Parker sat out by design, Shanahan said, and will have larger roles in the next preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Under the direction of defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, the new 3-4 defense showed promise. In the first, top cornerback DeAngelo Hall made a nifty play, intercepting a pass and returning the ball 33 yards down the left sideline to the Bills 1-yard line, which set up the Redskins' second touchdown.
Defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth entered the game with 8 minutes 10 seconds remaining in the second quarter. For most of his appearance, Haynesworth played nose tackle.
"We're just getting started but we did some good things out there as a defense," outside linebacker Andre Carter said. "Now, we have to look at it on film and just keep building and getting better."