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In a Heartening Preseason Debut, Redskins Rout Bills 42-17


You want to be an optimist and now there's no reining you in. The Redskins' preseason began Friday night with a 42-17 dehorning of the Buffalo Bills and you can't see anything but the sunny side.

The Redskins can.

"Our guys are mature enough to understand it's a first step and we have a long way to go," head coach Mike Shanahan said after a most heartening debut.

Usually it is better to be more of an optometrist, especially when we peer through the lens of a single outing. Better? Worse? Or about the same? Standard questions, from the optometrist and for the optimist.

Better. Oh, boy. Better. Preseason results don't mean much. Every new Redskins coach since Norv Turner won his first preseason game except Marty Schottenheimer and where did that get the club? Nowhere fast under Steve Spurrier, Jim Zorn and even Joe Gibbs, though the latter saw the team twice reach the playoffs in four seasons.

Everyone wants lollypops and sunshine when a team undergoes a facelift. The surgery done here could have altered the visages on Mount Rushmore. New general manager, new coach, new quarterback, new offense, new defense. You are now properly armed if any one should ask, "So, what's new?"

What's new? How about points? How about scoring? The Redskins had broken the 20-point barrier three times in their last 21 preseason games but put up 21 before the middle of the second quarter and didn't stop there. The 42 was the most they'd scored since 1988, 91 preseason games ago.

They had a measly 12 takeaways last season and almost never put their offense in a position to score. On this night, DeAngelo Hall knew exactly where a Trent Edwards pass was going, jumped in front of it and carried that interception 30 yards to the Bills 12, to set up the second touchdown.

"When the quarterback hesitates a little bit, DeAngelo's going to make a play," Shanahan said.

Offense and defense. Well, ignoring special teams would be like a slap in the phase. The third phase. And there was no ignoring rookie free-agent Brandon Banks' explosive 77-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter. The Redskins sadly lacked anything or anybody like Banks last year when they finished with 152 yards on punt returns – in 16 games.

"The other 10 guys did a good job. (Special teams coordinator) Danny Smith did a good job drawing up the scheme. All I did," Banks said, "was run."

As the Redskins ran away.

They dominated every meaningful statistical area in the first half after allowing the Bills an early field goal. First downs, yards, time of possession, all were better.

Banks' return up the right side made it 28-3 but the score in one sense didn't matter. The Bills were more determined to look at players than try to make up a deficit, as they ought to in preseason, though they barge part way back when they trailed 35-3.

We should assume they got a good look. Under new coach Chan Gailey they've run a much tougher and physical training camp than those of his predecessor, Dick Jauron. As a result, 14 players were announced as pre-game scratches (and that doesn't include the two the Bills left home).

Like the Redskins, the Bills sport new faces in many places. New general manager, new coach, new 3-4 defense. For at least Friday night, the similarity ended there.

The Redskins showed the fresh legs Shanahan's camp portended, receivers found seams, Donovan McNabb began to settle in. The defense yielded little and special teams provided the long-absent oomph.

After 11 years with the Philadelphia Eagles and endless chatter about his worth since the April trade that brought him here, McNabb finally played "for real" in Redskins' garb.

"When I came out of the tunnel it really hit me, obviously," he said.

The Redskins scored on short passes and long, on runs and a return. Variety truly is the spice of life.

"Everybody wanted to see everybody get out there and make plays in game situations and I think we were able to show that," McNabb said.

Forget the score. Consider the other stuff. That makes Friday night's win a real win.

Better? Worse? Or about the same? Optimist or optometrist?

We can be sure things are not the same as they were a year ago when the Redskins could not manufacture points or return a punt longer than four yards or intercept a pass. They're not worse. Not by any stretch, in coaching or personnel.

That leaves only one way to see the new Redskins.

Better. Ah, better. Make no predictions off one preseason game. Make no promises. Just know the Redskins are better and do not forget the simple progression in the English language – good, better, best.

The Redskins can be better without being good. The step up from 4-12 is a short one. But better is better and better can be good and good gives hope for the best.

For now, let us just say better. For now, that's plenty good.

Larry Weisman, an award-winning journalist during 25 years with USA TODAY, writes for and appears nightly on Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet. Read his Redskinsblitz blog at and follow him on

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