EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Seemed like old times.
Not good times. Old times.
Those times when the Washington Redskins' offense couldn't score a touchdown. When Jason Campbell could make mistakes but not magic.
In fact, it looked a lot like last season's opener. Same venue – Giants Stadium. Same opponent (of course) in the New York Giants. Same overall tenor. The Giants moved the ball aggressively in the first half but came up short of scoring thanks to Washington's defense rising at the appropriate moments. Yet they appeared dominant and the Redskins looked dominated.
The scoreboard read 23-17 at the end. It wasn't that close. Here's the story it really told.
The Redskins' offense, with that new and improved offensive line and rookie Malcolm Kelly starting at flanker, would have needed a moving company to get the ball down the field in efficient fashion.
The lone touchdown scored by the Redskins in the first half came on a fake field goal, with holder Hunter Smith running eight yards for the score. The offense's only contribution came inside the final two minutes when the stadium had nearly emptied in anticipation of a New York triumph, margin be damned.
The offense actually gave up a touchdown when Campbell, failing to step up in the pocket, pump the football or give any other sign he could sense the action around him, endured the sack-strip-fumble return triple inflicted on him by Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora.
So, no scoring from the offense. In preseason, that was further delineated as the first-string offense. Now it's just the offense. These guys are all in this together.
Do statistics lie? Not the ones on the scoreboard. Others lack a certain honesty. Look at Campbell. He completed 8 of 13 passes for 113 yards in the first half. Yet he lost one fumble that went the other way for a score, fumbled and recovered a shotgun snap but salvaged the play, threw an interception when he'd already scrambled across the line of scrimmage (the Giants declined that penalty).
Here's another stat that doesn't lie – the drive chart. A football team knows it gets only a dozen opportunities at best to put its offense on the field and produce points. The Redskins had 10 chances and the chart showed five punts, two turnovers, two touchdowns and a field goal. Not enough. Not with the offensive touchdown so late, skewing Campbell's numbers upward. Did he really earn a 93.6 passer rating?
To be fair, this all happened on the road. Against a team that has been the Redskins' nemesis, winning six of the last seven games. Against a team that won the Super Bowl two seasons ago and the NFC East last year with a 12-4 record. A team with the fifth-ranked defense in 2008 and several new additions to it, plus Umenyiora, who missed all of the last season with a knee injury.
To be balanced, it came against a Giants defense with only three healthy cornerbacks and six defensive backs total ready to go. One of them, safety Michael Johnson, had to leave for a bit in the third quarter with a burner. Did the Redskins exploit this? Attack? Throw repeatedly on first down.
No, they looked like the Redskins of a year ago. Thinking of them as the Roaring Twenties -- that's pretty much where they grind away. Short stuff underneath, dinks and dunks, taking the long way home.
Which is okay provided they get home. One clue, lads. Look for the goalposts. Go toward them. Even after the defense provided its second takeaway of the afternoon and put the Redskins in business on the Giants 11-yard line, the offense failed. Two yards in four plays? Campbell, confused way too often by the Giants, burned the team's second timeout on a third-and-six, only to come back and be sacked for a two-yard loss.
So Shaun Suisham kicked a 27-yard field goal and the Redskins trailed 17-10. That's a touchdown differential. Must the defense score it for them?
The Redskins wasted a fairly solid defensive effort. The 'D' held the top rushing team in the NFL last year to 103 yards on the ground and a 3.3 rushing average. It allowed one touchdown, sacked Eli Manning once, forced a fumble and put the team in scoring position with DeAngelo Hall's interception of a pass tipped by LaRon Landry.
Even there, though, the offense's failure to extend drives led to wear and tear. After yet another Washington three-and-out, the Giants drove 66 yards in 10 plays and siphoned 6:11 off the clock, settling at the end for another 28-yard field goal Lawrence Tynes. That left the Redskins only 3:12 to make up a 13-point deficit.
They finally got seven. With 1:30 left. Campbell to Chris Cooley. That gave hope but it was the false hope built on onside kicks and desperation. The Giants gobbled up the onside kick and the Redskins had only timeout left in their pocket to slow the feet of the Giants and the hands of time.
The Redskins lost this game by nine points last season. Pray that losing it by six is not the sum of the off-season and the attempts to improve.
Larry Weisman covered professional football for USA TODAY for 25 years and now joins the Redskins Broadcast Network and Redskins.com to bring his unique viewpoint and experience to Redskins fans. Go to Redskins.com for the Redskins Blitz column and NFL Blitz on Friday. Larry also appears on The Jim Zorn Show on WRC-TV on Saturday night, on Redskins Nation, airing twice nightly on Comcast SportsNet, and on ESPN 980 AM radio, all in the Washington, D.C. area. Read his blog at redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.