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Loss kills early buzz for 'Skins

LANDOVER, Md. -- Since we're in the instant analysis business, early returns on the Washington Redskins indicate that Clinton Portis' recuperative powers are intact, Al Saunders' offense shows promise, and Gregg Williams' defense desperately needs at least one standout cornerback.

That's where we were on a night that combined football, patriotism, a dash of schmaltz and a competitive game -- exactly what the NFL was looking for in its first Monday show of the season and the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

What the NFL wanted and what most of the 90,000-plus at FedEx Field wanted differed slightly. When Skins kicker John Hall pulled a 48-yard, potential game-tying field goal in the final seconds, it got the TV audience to Oakland-San Diego cleanly, but it represented a buzz-kill of the highest order.

The easiest jumping-off point for dissection was the Redskins' defense, particularly on the perimeter.

Cornerbacks Mike Rumph and Carlos Rogers didn't make anyone forget Shawn Springs, on the mend after abdominal surgery. Each was burned for long plays that were either scores or led directly to scores.

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Rumph was beaten by Troy Williamson deep down the sideline on the game's first possession, giving the Vikings a first-and-goal that they converted.

Rogers watched wide receiver Marcus Robinson haul in the Vikings' other touchdown midway through the third quarter after biting on a pump-fake by Brad Johnson, who at age 37 still possesses one of the game's most accurate arms when given time.

But the last mistake by the corners was perhaps the most damaging. With the score tied at 16 and the Vikings facing a third-and-9 near midfield with less than three minutes remaining, Rogers missed a tackle on Williamson that would have brought up fourth down.

Not only did Williamson get the first down, safety Sean Taylor was flagged for a face-mask personal foul on the tackle that set up the Vikings at the Redskins' 15-yard line.

Four plays and three Redskins' time-outs later, Vikings' kicker Ryan Longwell hit the eventual game-winner.

"Since Shawn is injured, everybody in the secondary has to step up and make plays," cornerback Kenny Wright said. "We came up short tonight, but we're going to keep on doing what we have to do."

From the offense's standpoint, the Redskins were unable to find the end zone. Three of four trips inside the Vikings' 10-yard line yielded only one touchdown.

Saunders, the new assistant head coach for offense and primary play-caller, spent the preseason essentially driving the Ferrari around the block. Few formations, little pre-snap motion, much vanilla.

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On Monday, there were plenty of formations, personnel packages, movement and mint chocolate chip. But it still resulted in just three field goals and one touchdown.

Veteran Mark Brunell, one year younger than his Vikings counterpart, played more like a risk-assessment manager than a gunslinger -- not out of line with his recent track record, nor with what head coach Joe Gibbs often asks of his quarterbacks.

Dave Fairbank writes for the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.).His column is distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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