When discussing his expectations for his team’s preseason opener — his first game as a head coach in the NFL — Jay Gruden kept things simple.
He wanted to put his players in a position to compete. He wanted order on the sideline. And he wanted everyone to emerge from the game healthy.
The starting offense demonstrated an ability to move the ball in the 10 snaps it played. The starting defense proved stingy and aggressive, holding the Patriots — albeit without quarterback Tom Brady and wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola — scoreless and not surrendering a first down.
Meanwhile, players battling for roster spots capitalized on opportunities, while a few others came away with some things to work on.
In all, it was as good an opener as Gruden and his staff could have hoped for.
“Overall, it was a good performance by everybody. Now it’s time to move on. Unfortunately it doesn’t count,” Gruden said after the game. “. . . But overall, all three phases, I think, did well. It’s something to build off of, and that’s all we were looking for.”
Washington’s defense opened the game with a strong stand. The unit forced the Patriots into a third-and-18 situation after Brian Orakpo drew a holding call on left tackle Nate Solder. Solder was trying to prevent a sack on Ryan Mallett, who started in place of Brady.
Mallett’s pass intended for Brandon LaFell fell incomplete, and on came the punt team.
Following a 14-yard return by Andre Roberts, out trotted Robert Griffin III and the starting offense. They were ready to provide a bite-sized taste of the Gruden offense.
The sampling had a familiar flavor to it.
Serving as his own play-caller, Gruden dialed up a run-heavy attack that featured five Alfred Morris runs for a total of 27 yards, a run by Roy Helu Jr. and two Griffin passes sprinkled in as Washington marched 40 yards to the New England 16-yard line.
Morris looked to be in midseason form as he picked up chunks of seven, three, nine and eight yards all on runs to the left. His only non-productive run came on a carry that went to the right side, where he was stopped for no gain.
Griffin, who played without his top two wide receivers, Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, was serviceable in his limited action.
Late on the opening drive, Griffin looked to Robinson on a stop-and-go route that would have been a 16-yard touchdown pass. But after Robinson snagged the ball and tucked it in the crook of his right arm, he used his left hand to brace his fall. Robinson’s hand came down out of bounds before his feet, and the play was ruled an incompletion, bringing on the field goal unit.
Third-year veteran Kai Forbath — battling seventh-round pick Zach Hocker for place-kicking duties — bounced a 34-yard attempt off the right upright. But a delay of game on Washington gave him a second chance, and he made the 39-yarder.
The 10-play series concluded the night for Washington’s offensive starters.
“We came out and did what we wanted to do: got the [starters] in and out, had an effective drive,” Gruden said. “. . . I think it’s a positive for us. We’ll take tomorrow off and then be back and work Saturday and be ready to go.”
Although the offensive starters retired for the night, the first-team defense returned for a second series.
In that stand, the Redskins continued to generate pressure on the quarterback. Orakpo recorded a sack and Ryan Kerrigan had a quarterback hurry. New England went three-and-out again, and Washington’s second-team offense took the field.
Kirk Cousins completed 9 of 13 passes for 103 yards and a touchdown — a 10-yard strike to Robinson on a slant fit into a tight window. The scoring play came with 2 minutes 18 seconds left in the first quarter and put Washington ahead 10-0.
“It felt good. There’s always going to be plays you want back, but overall, I felt it was a good first game,” Cousins said. “I’m learning, growing and building a good foundation for Year 3.”
Robinson — battling for a spot behind Garcon, Jackson and Andre Roberts — finished as the leading receiver with three catches for 45 yards.
After Hocker made a 27-yard field goal late in the second quarter, Forbath missed a 46-yard attempt in the third quarter, then shanked a kickoff out of bounds for a penalty.
Hocker later made a 39-yard attempt and made an open-field tackle on kickoff coverage.
The second half served as an audition for Washington’s rookies. Running back Lache Seastrunk, a sixth-round pick, racked up 63 yards on 12 carries, and Silas Redd, who went undrafted, ran for 45 yards on nine carries.
Meanwhile, other rookies shined. Rashad Ross, another undrafted player, had a 37-yard kick return and a 35-yard reception from Colt McCoy, and tight end Ted Bolser caught a seven-yard touchdown pass from McCoy.
It almost looked as if Washington’s defensive units would combine for the shutout. The second team had denied the Patriots on a fourth-and-goal from the 4 when second-year cornerback Chase Minnifield broke up a pass intended for Josh Boyce in the end zone.
Early in the fourth quarter, New England reached the Washington 23-yard line. But third-string outside linebacker Adrian Robinson forced a fumble and inside linebacker Akeem Jordan recovered it. However, with 1:23 left, Jimmy Garoppolo threw a pretty fade pass to wide receiver Brian Tyms to put his team on the board.
Now the Redskins head back to Richmond, where they will hold four days of practice and then close training camp.
Washington then plays its second preseason game Aug. 18 at FedEx Field against the Cleveland Browns.