By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 13, 2010; 2:30 AM
The clock had passed midnight, the day had turned to Monday and the Washington Redskins' offense was already looking ahead. Quarterback Donovan McNabb walked out of the stadium, bumping into offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and his wife on the way. They exchanged pleasantries and congratulations on opening the season with a win - and then the veteran quarterback issued a promise.
"We'll get it next week," McNabb told him, after a rough outing for the team's offense.
The Redskins' 13-7 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night was an important one for the franchise because it got the Mike Shanahan era off to a good start. But it offered little validation of the team's new offense. McNabb left FedEx Field knowing there's more work to be done.
"We scored 13 points and the defense scored seven" of those, McNabb said. "I would just kind of be hard on ourselves and say offensively, we just didn't get the job done today. We made enough plays and we drove the ball and got the chains moving and got in the red zone. We just got to finish it."
McNabb's regular season debut with the Redskins was rarely pretty, but the defense came up with a fumble return for a touchdown to make up for the fact that the offense failed to find the end zone. Though they won the game - the Redskins' first division win since 2008 - they tallied only 250 yards of offense and were just 3 of 13 on third-down conversions. In nine drives, they totaled 17 first downs, seven fewer than the Cowboys had in a losing effort.
"That's discouraging for us, because we had been progressing all throughout the preseason, as well as . . . great week of practice," McNabb said. "We have to be critical of ourselves on the offensive side."
The Redskins crossed the Cowboys' 20-yard line twice and failed to score a touchdown either time. They settled for a field goal on their first possession of the game. Later, on the opening possession of the second half, the Redskins reached the Cowboys' 5-yard line. Coaches called three straight pass plays, which resulted in three incompletions.
"Offensively, we just have to be able to close it out ourselves - fourth down, third down, we get in the red zone, we have to score touchdowns," McNabb said.
Sunday's season opener marked the first time McNabb played in a game since Aug. 21, when he suffered a sprained ankle in the team's second preseason game. He missed the final couple of weeks of practice in the preseason, and his execution of the offense on Sunday looked anything but fluid. Miscommunication with receivers hurt on a couple of plays and the Redskins had to burn two timeouts early in the third quarter when the offense was too slow.
McNabb finished the game with 171 yards on 15-of-32 passing. He had a passer rating of 63.4.
"It's getting there," tight end Chris Cooley said. "I thought he played well today. I thought he was consistent. Obviously, he'd like some stuff back, but we're going to keep moving forward."
Cooley was among McNabb's favorite targets in his first regular season outing since the team acquired him in a trade from the Philadelphia Eagles in the offseason. Cooley and wide receiver Santana Moss each had six receptions and each was targeted nine times.
For others, it wasn't such a great night. Anthony Armstrong was the only other wide receiver to pull down a reception, starter Joey Galloway was targeted just once and tight end Fred Davis didn't have a single pass thrown his way.
"Santana and Cooley, it was their day," McNabb said. "Next week, it could be Fred's or Joey's. You never know. Just whatever the defense dictates."
Mike Shanahan's offenses have historically been predicated on the run, but the Redskins' rushing attack didn't find a rhythm until late in the game. The team finished with 89 total rushing yards, 3.9 yards per carry, and Clinton Portis finished the night with 63 yards on 18 carries. But Portis again proved a reliable blocker and important security blanket for McNabb.
While McNabb's final numbers were well below his career averages, offensive players said he was a calming voice in the huddle. He's played in big games and electric environments before; in this game, he led the offense into Dallas territory on four of its nine possessions.
"He's awesome, he always is," center Casey Rabach said. "He's upbeat, he's ready to go. He's a great guy to have in there."
The Shanahans' system is just the second offense McNabb has had to learn since entering the league 12 years ago. Many around Redskins Park have warned that a gradual learning curve might be necessary. The team's offense - particularly its running game - often struggled in the preseason. And to start the regular season, the group netted just a pair of field goals. But that was still better than the Redskins' last performance against the Cowboys - a 17-0 loss at home last December.
"I think offensively, we'll be fine. We'll be able to put points up," said Cooley, playing his first game since he went on the injured reserve list midway through last season. "But if our defense is going to keep winning like that, we're going to be very tough to beat."
While players will review film this week and see plenty of areas in which they can improve, in McNabb's first game with his new team, they won in the one area that counts most: the final score.
"That's the most important thing," McNabb said.