And everyone knows how that turned out.
Mike Shanahan and the Redskins definitely deserve a trending arrow that points upward after Friday night’s 16-7 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
No turnovers. No sacks allowed. No new injuries. Only three penalties. A 3-4 defense that actually suits the players on the field. An offensive line that looks more comfortable in the zone blocking scheme. Promising first steps by Rex Grossman and Tim Hightower in their respective bids for starting spots.
But, for a good reality check, all one has to do is remember Spurrier’s first time out, when the Redskins outgained the San Francisco 49ers 479-186 in the 2002 American Bowl in Japan, a game that turned out to be the high point in the ol’ ball coach’s otherwise calamitous two years in Washington.
The yardage numbers from Friday are eerily similar: 452-186. Another thing the two games have in common: The Redskins used their starters considerably more than the other team.
Shanahan had most of his first-teamers playing the entire first half, while Steelers coach Mike Tomlin had his backups on the field before the first quarter was over. Santana Moss caught more passes (seven) than he did in last year’s four preseason games combined (six).
So there’s no need to celebrate. September is miles away.
“I think we did some good things,” said nose tackle Barry Cofield, the new anchor of the defensive line. “We’ve still got a long way to go. There was some miscommunication out there — that’s how they got the runs they got. There’s obviously some work to do, but for the first time out and all the circumstances that surrounded this, I think we did pretty well.”
Grossman helped his cause by completing 19 of 26 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown while his competition, John Beck, sat out with a groin injury. Hightower also benefited from an absent rival, carrying 10 times for 44 yards while Ryan Torain recovers from a broken hand.
Brandon Banks showed he can still be an explosive kick returner despite his recent knee problems. Graham Gano made all three of his field goal attempts to take a huge lead over Shayne Graham, who missed twice.
Third downs again plagued the offense, despite the yardage total. The Redskins ranked next-to-last in third-down conversions last year and were only 5 for 14 against the Steelers. Of course, every preseason stat is skewed because so many backups are playing and the final score doesn’t matter.
“Still like to get in the end zone a few more times,” Shanahan said. “But overall, pleased with the effort.”
The worst Redskins news of the night had nothing to do with the game. Shanahan announced that tight end Chris Cooley could be sidelined at least another two weeks with a sore left knee. Cooley had surgery on the knee during the offseason.
“He’s had it drained a few times, and that’s not good,” Shanahan said.