Joe Gibbs returned Monday night for his first NFL game in 11 years as the Washington Redskins faced the Denver Broncos before a crowd of 22,177 at Fawcett Stadium, near the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where Gibbs was inducted in 1996. However, Gibbs's preseason comeback -- a 20-17 victory on a late field goal -- was marred by a season-ending injury to right tackle Jon Jansen, who was a critical part of Washington's run-oriented offense.
Ola Kimrin's 39-yard field goal on the game's final play won the Hall of Fame game, which kicks off the NFL preseason. But the thrill was overshadowed by what occurred with about five minutes left in the first quarter: Jansen -- who had never missed a game in his five-year NFL career -- suffered a ruptured left Achilles' tendon.
"I got to tell you we had a big downer there," Gibbs said minutes after speaking to Jansen following the game. "It took a lot out of us there for a while. . . . He's going to play here forever. I told him the main thing now is to get this fixed and get back here so he can work with Buges [offensive line coach Joe Bugel] for the rest of the year. He means a lot to the team as a leader and everything."
With Jansen lost for the season, the Redskins have to reconstruct the offensive line before the regular season opener, Sept. 12 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at FedEx Field. Jansen was replaced by Daryl Terrell, who was eventually replaced by rookie Mark Wilson, a fifth-round pick from California. Without Jansen, the Redskins may reconfigure the offensive line, making guards Derrick Dockery or Kenyatta Jones options at right tackle. Gibbs said he will leave it up to Bugel to decide on a replacement.
The longest-tenured Redskins player and a co-captain, Jansen had seemed indestructible since being selected early in the second round of the 1999 draft. He had started all 82 Redskins games, including the playoffs, after not missing any games at the University of Michigan.
In Washington's second series Monday, Jansen grimaced on the ground after quarterback Mark Brunell completed a seven-yard pass to running back Chad Morton on third and nine from the Washington 28-yard line. After being examined for several minutes, Jansen looked anguished while being helped off the field by two trainers.
"First of all, when Jon stays down you know it's fairly serious because I've never seen him stay down," said quarterback Patrick Ramsey, Jansen's best friend on the team. "I know when I saw him kneeling on the field that we were in trouble."
As Jansen solemnly sat on a bench near the 45-yard line, several teammates trickled over, starting with Ramsey. The quarterback and place kicker John Hall patted Jansen's head, and others shook his hand and appeared to give him words of encouragement.
Soon, Jansen had a towel draped over his head as the Broncos drove down the field for Jason Elam's 40-yard field goal and a 6-3 lead. Jansen replaced the towel with a Redskins ballcap before he was placed on a cart and driven into the tunnel.
"That just shows you you've got to play every play like it's your last," said linebacker LaVar Arrington, who said he had spoken to Jansen before the game about what a great year it would be, "because you never know what can happen."
The most impressive aspect of Jansen's NFL streak was that he missed only one play: Late in his second game, the Redskins were en route to a 50-21 route over the New York Giants. Then-offensive line coach Russ Grimm, who was a member of the Hogs, removed Jansen for one snap. When asked Friday about his streak, Jansen said, "I wish I could say I played every play."
The most impressive Redskin was rookie safety Sean Taylor, who collected two interceptions in his first game. He gave the Redskins a 10-9 lead early in the third quarter by jumping in front of a pass to tight end Jeb Putzier and scampering three yards for a touchdown before being mobbed by teammates. "He had a real good week in practice, too," said Gibbs, smiling.
Gibbs was inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, after guiding the Redskins to three Super Bowl titles in 12 seasons from 1981 to 1992. Gibbs's return turned the game's other intriguing story lines into subplots: Pro Bowlers Clinton Portis (four carries for 11 yards) and Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey faced their former teams for the first time since the blockbuster offseason trade between Washington and Denver, and Mark Brunell and Ramsey played for the first time in their quarterback duel.
Gibbs -- who last coached in a playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Jan. 9, 1992 -- is the second person to coach in the Hall of Fame game after being inducted. (The other is Paul Brown, with the Cincinnati Bengals in 1975.)
"It's a little different being back out there in the heat of battle," Gibbs said. "It was good being back out."
The Redskins had just nine days of practice to prepare for this game. Gibbs opened training camp particularly late, on July 30, hoping to keep players fresher in the regular season.
The Redskins are expected to have no fewer than 11 new starters, including seven on defense. Brunell, acquired for a 2005 third-down pick in the offseason, has been considered the leading candidate to start at quarterback. However, neither Brunell nor Ramsey have been impressive in training camp, and that carried over Monday.
Brunell (4 of 8 for 18 yards) played three series before being replaced by Ramsey (3 of 8 for 12 yards.) Projected third-string quarterback Tim Hasselbeck, who has earned the most praise from Gibbs during training camp, replaced Ramsey late in the third quarter.
"Tim kind of got us going there," Gibbs said "I've been bragging on him all the way."
Gibbs is using the preseason to adjust to some of the NFL's significant changes on game day. Monday night he used a helmet radio, linking him to his quarterbacks, for the first time in a game. During Gibbs's first stint, coaches used hand signals to relay plays to quarterbacks.
"It's a lot better than signaling," Gibbs said. "I've spent a lot of time practicing."