EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The dress rehearsal is the wrong place to get undressed by the enemy.
The third preseason game marks the last time the starters enjoy considerable playing time until opening day. It's usually the first of the four preseason matchups that includes enough game-planning to make a difference.
It's a rough look – and only that – at what a team may be, or wants to be.
It's less of a rehearsal if the starting quarterback can't play. And it's not much of a test of the running game with the fullback out. Yet either of those circumstances could come to pass (or run) during the regular season. Teams lose front-line players to injury and need to know what the backups can do.
That's how the Redskins went into Friday night's meeting with the New York Jets, the loud-mouthed stars of HBO's "Hard Knocks" series, at the New Meadowlands Stadium.
Donovan McNabb (ankle) and Mike Sellers (knee) didn't say yes to the dress rehearsal, leaving Rex Grossman to quarterback the club and converted linebacker Darrel Young at fullback until he departed in the third quarter with an unspecified illness.
The Redskins neither dressed to the nines nor got stripped down by the Jets, who led the NFL in rushing and defense last season while making an unanticipated surge to the AFC championship game.
At best, they held their own, not insignificant on the road against a Super Bowl contender, and they rallied for a 16-11 victory. At worst, their problems remain exactly the same.
"It wasn't a perfect game, by no means," Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan said. "But it was a start."
Good stuff first. Other than the Jets' first drive, and despite problems containing the run, the Redskins' first-string defense allowed no sustained drives and got off the field on third down. The Jets converted one of six third downs in the first half while being held to three points.
The Redskins (2-1) also worked Albert Haynesworth into their first-unit defense. He played some nose tackle and some right end. Whether or not he is Shanahan's favorite person (and vice versa), the big defensive lineman continues to make progress absorbing the scheme and finding a place in it.
Left end Adam Carriker applied some pressure on the pass rush and got a sack.
The defense, which never tried to strip or rip the ball away from opponents a year ago, put into practice what has been preached, with Phillip Buchanon tearing a fumble from the hands of Santonio Holmes for a takeaway, the second of four the Redskins would force. Beaten on the play, Buchanon recovered, attacked the ball and pried it loose, so that rookie linebacker Perry Riley could recover it near the sideline.
"I was pleased with our defense today," Shanahan said.
Give Graham Gano a nod as well, as he converted his three field goal opportunities and one extra point.
Now, the not-exactly-honorable roll.
Failure in the red zone by the first offense. Poor field position throughout the game. No running game and not much ability to stop the run. Another fumble on a punt return by Brandon Banks, this one lost. A high snap kicked deliberately out of the end zone by Grossman for a safety in the final two minutes of the first half.
After busting loose for 42 points in the preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills, the Redskins' offense grew quiet and now has taken a vow of silence.
A mere field goal against the Baltimore Ravens and a pair of them in the first half against the Jets. Anyone remember the last touchdown? It was with 2:09 remaining against the Bills and that's the way it stood until Larry Johnson's tote of a screen pass to the end zone late in the fourth quarter.
The Jets? They scored a touchdown in the first quarter of the opening preseason game and none again until early in the fourth against the Redskins. That's more quarters than you would find in a soda machine.
The Redskins' run defense made 31-year-old LaDainian Tomlinson look more like the 21 he wears on his uniform. Take the 43-yard scamper out of the equation and he still gained 42 yards on his other seven carries in the first half.
The Redskins yielded 125 rushing yards in the first two quarters alone and 161 overall.
Their own rushing problems remain. Willie Parker managed only 16 yards on eight rushing attempts, one week after Larry Johnson carried eight times for four yards.
Now either the Redskins simply can't solve the 3-4 played in similar style by Baltimore and the Jets or Parker and Johnson can no longer hit a hole, push a pile or break free from tacklers.
Rookie Keiland Williams looks more and more like the better bet as a backup to Clinton Portis, simply because he's younger and has upside.
The Jets (1-2), who admittedly try to win preseason games but apparently aren't very good at it, matched their first offense with the Redskins' second defense (and some of its third) and ate up most of the latter part of the third quarter pushing the ball toward the goal line.
Two plays into the fourth quarter, the Jets got that long-awaited touchdown on a pass from Mark Sanchez to tight end Dustin Keller but the Jets then missed the extra point, leaving them with an 11-9 lead.
Thereafter, the Redskins basically looked at bodies and got a touchdown doing so. They took a peek at John Beck and Richard Bartel at quarterback, at rookie Erik Cook at center, at combinations of players and concepts. They won and they came from behind to do it, with Bartel throwing a 15-yard screen pass to Johnson to make it happen.
The lessons for today? Running back is a problem. Run defense is a problem. Field position is a major hindrance to offensive productivity. Getting McNabb back to work, if only for practice and not another preseason appearance, will be critical.
Some players, like Anthony Armstrong, continued to help themselves. Others (Devin Thomas) were conspicuous by their virtual absence, though Shanahan said that was by design. Parker accomplished little and Johnson's bright moments, including that 15-yard catch-and-run for a score, came against the Jets' scrubs.
This was it, the dress rehearsal. The Redskins, without their starting quarterback, matched up well enough against the Jets but they have issues they cannot skirt.
Larry Weisman, an award-winning journalist during 25 years with USA TODAY, writes for Redskins.com and appears nightly on Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet. Read his Redskinsblitz blog at **Redskinsrule.com* and follow him on *Twitter.com/LarryWeisman*.*