By Sally Jenkins
Saturday, August 28, 2010; 12:48 AM
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There was a team somewhere in all of that writhing on the field at New Meadowlands Stadium, but what sort was hard to tell. The Washington Redskins flip-flopped around, one minute looking like they had some potential, and the next provoking an "uh-oh." By the end of that interminable, esoteric exercise called a preseason victory over the New York Jets, there was still an awful lot we didn't know about the Redskins, and that's not reassuring.
We know that backup quarterback Rex Grossman can make the downfield throw - but we also know he can make a lame-brain play, fumbling the snap in his own end zone, leading to a safety, as he did late in the first half against the Jets. Which in turn makes it hard to know if the Redskins will be okay if Donovan McNabb doesn't stay healthy.
We finally know that veteran wide receiver Joey Galloway can get a little separation and catch the ball - he caught three of six passes directed at him - but we still don't know a thing about Malcolm Kelly, who didn't even make the trip to New York, or Devin Thomas, who played only on special teams. We know that the Redskins can beat the Jets in preseason, 16-11, but we don't know how much it should mean, given the uneven performances by both teams.
Presumably the minutia of the film breakdowns will be useful to Coach Mike Shanahan and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, but to the less practiced eye, the Redskins continue to look like a fairly formless outfit, still waiting for some key contributors to declare themselves.
Nor did the Jets help define matters by playing so sloppily, with four turnovers at home in New Meadowlands Stadium - which, by the way, was hardly an illuminating environment either. It was a great gray expanse of seats, indiscriminate in shape and architecture, with steel plates on the exterior that made it seem like the 55,508 spectators were sitting inside a jet engine, or some massive industrial appliance.
They were rewarded for their faithful attendance with stultifying action - just four field goals and a safety through three quarters, which ended with the Redskins leading, 9-5.
Traditionally, the third game of preseason should be more defining, especially roster-wise, but there was a strange vagueness to this one. The Redskins have now met two of the most substantial teams in the AFC, and split results: they were "run over" by the Baltimore Ravens, 23-3, only to rebound against the Jets, who fancied themselves Super Bowl material after reaching last season's conference championship. A win over such a team should have been gratifying for the Redskins - but there was the uneasy sense that it was a little deceiving.
"It's always good to win, so I feel like we did good on that aspect," Santana Moss said. "We did some good things and we probably have a lot of stuff we have to improve on, but that is why we play preseason, so that we can see these things and go and try to tune them up before Week One comes."
Why was the Redskins' performance so oddly unconvincing? Because the questions that remained unanswered were so essential. For instance, if anyone other than Clinton Portis can become a backfield threat, we still don't know it. Willie Parker, in what was supposed to be his designated opportunity, gained 16 yards on eight carries with the starting unit in the first half. Larry Johnson finally showed some flash in garbage time in the second half, finishing with 42 yards on nine carries and scoring their only touchdown on a 15-yard reception.
It only looked like the Redskins went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the AFC. The statistics said otherwise. In the opening quarter the Jets rushed for 77 yards to just seven for the Redskins. By halftime, they had out-rushed the Redskins, 125 yards to just 22. "I think you guys saw it yourself," said the Jets' LaDainian Tomlinson, who had 86 of those yards on just 11 carries. "The holes that we had to run through today were tremendous."
Still, the good news was that the Redskins' first team led the Jets on the scoreboard through much of the first half, despite the fact that their most important starters of all, McNabb and Portis, were on the bench with their ankles wrapped. Grossman's fumble was his only major error, and Galloway, Parker and Johnson appeared to be dependable options if not breakaway ones. Those were all good developments, as was the aggression of the defense in forcing the Jets to give the ball up - witness four sacks in addition to the turnovers.
Obviously, preseason is not the time for the Redskins to show all that they have or can do. We won't really know who they are until the opener against Dallas. But it's hard to say how much they are holding back by design, and how much of their lack of identity is the result of so many lingering uncertainties. The victory was nice, but you got the distinct sense that they wished they knew a little but more about themselves by now.