By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 14, 2010; 2:00 AM
One season after losing eight games by less than a touchdown, with new Coach Mike Shanahan wearing the headset on the sidelines, the Redskins finally benefited from some generous bounces, squeezing out a six-point win against the Dallas Cowboys in the season opener Sunday night. "We've had so many heartbreaking losses around here," said linebacker London Fletcher. "It's a new era, new Redskins football."
Perhaps, but the new coach warns it's not yet his brand of football.
"Hopefully, 'Shanahan football' will be scoring a few more points," the coach said Monday.
As the Redskins turn their attention to the Houston Texans, their Week 2 opponent, they know there is plenty of room for improvement and many differences between the game plan and their performance.
"We didn't play the way we are capable of winning, so that's a little bit discouraging," said cornerback DeAngelo Hall, the lone Redskin to score a touchdown against Dallas. "We'll learn from this."
Much of the focus will be on the offense this week, which will have to turn up its output to match the Texans' high-powered attack. With Kyle Shanahan as its offensive coordinator, Houston had the league's fourth-ranked offense last year and the top-ranked passing game. The Texans don't appear to have suffered much of a letdown after changing coordinators. In Sunday's 34-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts, they scored four touchdowns.
By comparison, the Redskins' offense didn't find the end zone once, which is unusual for a Mike Shanahan-coached team. In 2008, Shanahan's last year in Denver, his Broncos team scored at least one touchdown every game and 2Â½ touchdowns per outing. Until Sunday's game, the last time Shanahan's offense was kept out of the end zone entirely was December 2007.
After reviewing tape Monday of the win over the Cowboys, Shanahan didn't seem too concerned about the disparity in performance between his offensive and defensive units.
"There's gonna be games throughout the year where the offense plays well, the defense plays well, special teams," he said. "But at the end of the day, the one thing that really matters, you've got to find a way to win. And if you win in the National Football League, enjoy it. Because it doesn't happen all the time."
While the defense certainly seems to have momentum going into Week 2, the offense also saw several bright spots in Sunday's win. Rookie left tackle Trent Williams mostly held his own against one of the league's best pass rushers, DeMarcus Ware. Shanahan said his first-round draft pick did a "very good job."
"You could see his athletic ability in both the running game and the passing game. To go against DeMarcus Ware throughout the majority of the game was quite impressive," Shanahan said.
The game also marked Donovan McNabb's regular season debut in Redskins colors. While his final numbers didn't earn him any fantasy football awards for the week - 171 yards on 15-of-32 passing - Shanahan liked what he saw, considering it was the first time in 12 years that McNabb has been asked to run a new offense.
"I think as time goes on with our system, he'll just be more comfortable with the system, more comfortable with the terminology, just comfortable playing the position," Shanahan said. "Obviously, he's got a lot of game experience. But there's nothing like calling the plays, executing a different offense in the heat of battle."
While the team's ground game seemed to be an area of concern through four preseason games, it did show some signs of life in the second half against the Cowboys. Through the first two quarters, the team had only 29 rushing yards and only nine runs. Clinton Portis struggled to find holes and had only 12 yards on eight carries. But in the second half, Portis ground out 51 yards on 10 carries and the team finished with 89 yards on 23 rushes.
Shanahan's commitment to the running game is designed to pay dividends late in games.
"You want to wear football teams down," Shanahan said. "In the past, we've had some of our better running games in the second half because you do wear defenses down, running sideline to sideline. I thought we were able to do that in the second half."
Shanahan praised his team's mind-set and approach to the game. They'll need to match it this Sunday. While the Cowboys were picked by many analysts as the preseason favorites in the NFC East, the Texans showed by beating the Colts, the defending AFC champs, that they are a formidable team. Houston has smart coaches, talented players and plenty of momentum.
But Washington feels it finally has some good fortune bouncing in its direction.
"It's an unbelievable feeling," tight end Chris Cooley said. "This is so huge for us. This team has really come together. The importance of starting fast, getting some momentum and getting wins like this is everything.
"Everyone knows how tough it is to win in the NFL. There are so many games, even last year when we weren't playing well, [that] came down to the fourth quarter," Cooley continued. "You have to be able to win at that point, and if we can find a way to win, it's going to be great."