• Looks like reports of the Giants defensive line's demise were ... you guessed it, greatly exaggerated. Wow, a preseason story line that blew up upon contact with the regular season. That's never happened.
Defensive end Michael Strahan might be a happy and healthy employee of FOX, and the Giants' lone 2007 Pro Bowl selection, sack-man Osi Umenyiora, might have been lost for the season with a knee injury a couple weeks back, but the Giants' D-line can still bring it, folks.
The Giants sacked Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell only once -- on Washington's first play from scrimmage at that -- but that's deceiving because New York pressured the signal-caller consistently and hurried him into several early and inaccurate throws. Defensive end Justin Tuck led the way with that eight-yard sack and two tackles for loss, but re-converted defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, defensive tackle Fred Robbins and nose tackle Barry Cofield all looked like they had Washington's play calls at times.
"We knew all eyes were going to be on us up front with Strahan retiring and Osi going down,'' said Robbins, who had four tackles and one tackle for a loss. "We know a lot of people are gunning for us, we're the Super Bowl champs. But we also knew we had some guys who can perform. We wanted to show people we still can make it. We can still get after people. We can still do the job.''
Count Campbell among the believers. He might not have had to withstand the same barrage from the Giants that Tom Brady did in the Super Bowl, but he also never managed to get comfortable against the re-tooled New York defensive line. Who had the time?
"They had a lot of speed out there,'' Campbell said. "Osi and Strahan are great players, but tonight they were playing with a lot of speed. They were bringing the house, trying to create pressure and create turnovers.''
The Giants didn't create any Washington turnovers, but they did hold the Redskins to just 51 total yards in the first half, with two offensive first downs. Washington finished with 209 yards of offense, but a good chunk of that came in the fourth quarter, when the Redskins trailed by nine points and the Giants were content to give up yardage as long as they kept the ball in front of it.
"We were feeding off the crowd and feeding off that early sack,'' Cofield said. "A lot of people were writing us off when we lost Osi and Strahan, but we've still got some guys who can play. You would think we struggled last year, instead of won it all.''
The Giants did indeed win it all last year. And from the looks of it early on, if they don't win it all again this season, it won't be because of their defensive line became their weakest link.
• If you were wondering which Redskins offense was for real, the one in Washington's first three preseason games (all victories), or the one that scored just six points and got embarrassed in its final two, I think you got your answer Thursday night.
I'll repeat what I've been writing all preseason: Campbell's transition to head coach Jim Zorn's version of the West Coast offense is not going to be all butterflies and rainbows. It was way back in March that I had one respected NFL offensive mind tell me he had doubts about Campbell's ability to fit his skills into a West Coast attack, and I haven't seen any evidence to erase those questions from my mind.
Campbell simply doesn't have Zorn's offense down yet. At best, he's a work in progress in the West Coast. After Zorn harped all week about Campbell stepping up his tempo and the pace of his decision-making, the fourth-year veteran looked tentative, uncomfortable and never remotely got in sync. The Redskins offense didn't produce a first down for the first 28:50 of the first half, and Campbell was 2-of-6 for 25 yards, with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss just 13 seconds before the break.
"Just the whole team, we kept coming up short,'' said Campbell, whose Redskins finished 3 of 13 (23 percent) on third down. "Those third downs, we tried to convert and kept coming up short. I feel like, in the first half, we never got into a rhythm.''
Though Campbell rallied in the fourth quarter statistically to wind up 15 of 27 for 133 yards and that touchdown, his performance didn't look anywhere near that solid. It makes you wonder how long until the "start-Todd Collins" talk starts in D.C.? I'd give it another loss, maybe two, before it's approaching full boil. But it's coming if Campbell doesn't look better. You know it, and I know it.
Not that I think Zorn will flinch and turn to the Redskins veteran backup any time soon. He's way too committed to getting Campbell's game straightened out for that quick panic move.
"We're on our way to the passing game, but we're not there yet,'' Zorn said, somewhat optimistically. "That's what I'm disappointed about. We can't run every down in the ballgame. We've got to be able to throw the ball. We've got to be able to protect. Those are the things we need to improve on. No question about it, it's our passing game.''
• Speaking of Zorn, it was a rather ragged debut for the Redskins' likable rookie head coach. His team didn't seem to play with any particular sense of urgency all night long, even when it trailed in the fourth quarter by nine points and needed two possessions to win the game.
Washington was still calling plays like it was a one-possession game, throwing underneath on third and fourth down, wasting time even on clock-killing spikes, and passing up the chance to kick a potentially helpful 49-yard field in the game's final seconds -- which would have allowed the Redskins, at the very least, to try an onside kick down by six points.
It was the basic NFL Coaching 101 stuff that Zorn seemed to struggle with Thursday night. That's not going to help erase the questions about whether or not he was prepared to be a head coach, after never serving as a coordinator in the league.
"We were trying to run the two-minute (offense),'' Santana Moss said, of his team's fourth-quarter approach. "I mean, there was a penalty here, a missed opportunity there, a negative run here. And when that stuff happens, you can't really run what you want to run. You saw it, we saw it, and now we've got to fix it.''
That part I agree with.
• Proving once again that preseason games and practice time are way over-rated, we submit to you Plaxico Burress. The Giants' top receiver skipped most of his team's training camp workouts while protecting his sore ankle, which had to drive head coach Tom Coughlin and many of his teammates just a little crazy.
But when the bell rang Thursday night, there was Burress front and center, just like always. The angular one -- as Howard Cosell once wonderfully dubbed 6-foot-8 Eagles receiver Harold Carmichael -- caught a game-high seven passes for 98 yards in the first half alone. Burress finished with 10 catches for 133 yards, and he showed an amazing ability to first bobble and then pull down passes despite having a Redskins defensive back draped all over him.
Burress had plenty of reasons to go all-out against Washington, of course. About 35 million of them. Just before the game, the Giants awarded Burress a new five-year, $35 million contract that will pay him $11 million in the first year. We can only assume Burress is happy at last, and will practice a little more frequently now that he has gotten his big payday. Most Giants-watchers assumed that Plaxico's lingering caution with his ankle in camp had more than a little bit to do with his demands for a new contract.
• I know new Redskins defensive end Jason Taylor was playing with a bruised knee that he suffered less than two weeks ago, but he was a total non-factor in his Washington debut. He was credited with two tackles, but mostly what we saw of No. 55 was him getting blocked at the point of attack.
He got hooked inside on Manning's one-yard touchdown run, and the Giants usually ran right at him at left end, once even using tight end Kevin Boss to seal him off on a key 3rd-and-3 first-quarter run by Derrick Ward. And Boss isn't known for his blocking at this point in his career.
Taylor did manage to make his 131st consecutive start, fighting through the injury enough to get on the field. But all I kept thinking as I watched him in the first half was that he looked like a late-career Bruce Smith out there. And that's not an image Redskins fans want to linger.
• Watching the Giants start the new season the same way they ended last season -- with a methodical 80-yard-plus touchdown drive that numbered in double digits in plays -- I couldn't help but wonder what might have been running through the minds of Bill Belichick and his New England Patriots defenders? Been there, lived that?
Short of the David Tyree glue-on-the-helmet catch, the two scoring drives were remarkably similar. On their final Super Bowl-winning drive against the Patriots in the fourth quarter, New York marched 83 yards in 12 plays, using 2:07 to forge that 17-14 final margin of victory. First time out of the shoot in 2008, the Giants went 84 yards in 11 plays, in a considerably less-urgent 5:06, grabbing an early 7-0 lead over the Redskins on Eli Manning's 1-yard touchdown run.
Impressive in both cases.
• It's now tradition that the defending Super Bowl champions get the host duties for the NFL's Thursday night opener, giving them one last chance to take a bow before their fans and salute their championship.
I get it. To the victors go the spoils, and all that. And it was the Super Bowl upset for the ages that New York was celebrating.
But the phrase "over the top'' came to mind when I watched the retired Strahan take to midfield in the pre-game ceremony, preening and shouting while standing in front of a huge replica of the Lombardi Trophy. Wearing his old No. 92 jersey, Strahan was part-emcee and part-Big Blue cheerleader.
Can't anybody just smile and wave, and act like they've been there before? Even if they haven't? Then again, hand Strahan a mike and what do you expect? The man is incapable of avoiding the ham act. That's why he's going to be perfect for those wacky guys on the FOX pre-game show, where hilarity always ensues.
• The hit of the game came early, when bruising Giants running back Brandon Jacobs ran over and through Redskins free safety LaRon Landry, who tried to go low on the 6-4, 264-pound Jacobs -- but he didn't go low enough and got laid out flat on his back. It was a tone-setter, as they say.
"I think it did set a tone, because after that guys were pumped up and the defense was up off the bench,'' Jacobs said. "Normally those guys are sitting down and trying to get some rest.''
Jacobs was a weapon all night, rushing 21 times for 116 yards, a 5.5-yard average. He almost single-handedly softened up Washington's defense in the first half, gaining 74 of his yards on just 11 carries.
"We've got a physical offense and we might get in some of those games where's it's a pound-it-out game,'' Jacobs said. "We know what we've got to do in that case.''
Bad news for the rest of the league just in: Jacobs has been working on running lower this preseason, in order to run over defenders the way he did the 202-pound Landry, who briefly left the game after the hit.
"He really tried to hit me low, but I got my shoulder down there,'' Jacobs said. "I've been working on that, trying to keep my balance. I kept my balance and had a nice pad level.''
• New York's win had to be particularly sweet for Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who in February interviewed for the Redskins' head-coaching job before pulling his name out of consideration. Washington has since tried to maintain that he wasn't necessarily going to get a job offer, but I don't buy that bit of revisionist history for a minute.
Watching New York's defense fairly well dominate Washington's offense Thursday night, I'd say Spagnuolo probably believes he made the right career choice. But the Redskins might understandably feel some renewed regret.