EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.—The regular-season coaching debut of Jim Zorn wasn't the elixir that the Washington Redskins sought against a Super Bowl-winning defense.
Playing without Pro Bowl linemen Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora, the New York Giants limited the new-look Redskins to 11 first downs and 209 total yards. That defense gave indications that these Giants are back for another run during a 16-7 victory that ushered in the NFL season Thursday night.
The Redskins' Jason Campbell finished 15-of-27 for 133 yards, but he was ineffective on third down. Washington converted only three of 13 tries.
"The thing that hurt us was not converting those first downs when we had the opportunity," Zorn said. "We had third-and-6 and we'd make 5. We'd have third-and-9 and make 8 1/2 . We'd have third-and-7 and make 6. We just couldn't get over that line."
Giants defensive tackle Barry Cofield said, "We played well and it's no surprise to us. We feel like we got capable guys, and we held them for very few yards, other than the two-minute situations where they got most of their yardage. We are confident in our defense and feel like if we stick with the scheme, we'll have success all year."
Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning, Virginia Beach's Plaxico Burress and the rest of the offense that started the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots also came up big in spoiling the debut of Zorn and his West Coast offense.
Manning capped a game-opening 84-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, and recently signed John Carney kicked three field goals as the Giants scored on their first four possessions in posting a rare home victory. They won their final 11 games away from Giants Stadium in capturing their third Super Bowl triumph, but they were 3-5 at home, losing the last four games.
"It was a great opening to the season," said Manning, who completed 19 of 35 for 216 yards and an interception. "There was a lot of emotion, a lot of excitement. You could feel it in the crowd. They were fired up. It was good to play well at home and to win a game at home. It's been a while."
Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and his defense made sure that home skid came to an end, and in the process might have made Redskins owner Dan Snyder think twice about trying harder to hire him.
Spagnuolo was a serious candidate to replace Joe Gibbs until backing out to stay with the Giants.
Zorn eventually got the job.
Jason Campbell threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss with 13 seconds to play in the first half for the Redskins' points. The score was set up by a 50-yard kickoff return by Rock Cartwright.
Washington only got in New York territory three times, the last time in the final seconds.
"A team held us to three and out for over half the game," said Redskins halfback Clinton Portis, who had 84 yards on 23 carries. "We have to be better than that."
The only concern for the Giants was that defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka went down with an ankle injury on the final play, but he said after the game that he was OK. He was switched from linebacker to end when Umenyiora was lost for the season with a knee injury in the preseason.
Other than that, the game belonged to the Giants, who have been overlooked regarding their chances of repeating. Their odds were 25-1 heading into the game.
The game started with fanfare as Strahan, who retired in June after a 15-year career including seven Pro Bowl berths, showed off the Lombardi Trophy and got a standing ovation.
Manning, Burress (10 catches for 133 yards) and halfback Brandon Jacobs (21 carries for 116 yards) had the fans on their feet often in the rest of the half.
Manning completed passes of 30, 19 and 11 yards to Burress on the opening drive.