CANTON, Ohio - Joe Gibbs knew it would be tough. The returning Washington Redskins coach told anyone willing to listen not to quickly expect anything evoking the team's glory days, of which he was an integral part.
For the first time since 1993, Gibbs coached a real game last night - if preseason can be considered real - and watched his offense sputter as neither of his leading quarterback contenders distinguished themselves.
Worst of all, the Redskins lost starting right offensive tackle Jon Jansen for most if not all of the season with a ruptured left Achilles'. Jansen was helped off the field with 5:04 left in the first quarter after suffering the injury on a short passing play. Nicknamed "The Rock," Jansen has never missed a game in five years as a Redskins starter, and is the team's most senior player and a captain the past two years.
The Redskins managed to win the game, 20-17, on Ola Kimrin's 39-yard field goal as time expired, with the outcome decided well after the first-team players had left the contest. Rookie Sean Taylor scored on a 3-yard interception return to put the Redskins ahead with 11:06 left in the third quarter.
But Jansen's departure and the Redskins' early difficulties - they were outgained 187-44 in the first half, when they managed just three first downs - clouded what was to have been a celebration of Gibbs' return to football.
Gibbs' debut - a sequel, really - came at 22,364-seat Fawcett Stadium, adjacent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where Gibbs was enshrined in 1996. The man who led the Redskins to three Super Bowl titles has joked during training camp that his bust might have to be removed and melted down if his return is a flop.
Before the game, Gibbs cautioned that his team had been in training camp for little more than a week and that he planned to keep the offense simple.
The coach kept to his word.
On his first offensive call, Gibbs had quarterback Mark Brunell hand the ball to Clinton Portis for 3 yards. Portis, expected to be a workhorse this year, also got the ball on three of the next four plays. He finished the game with 11 yards on four carries.
It wasn't all dismal for Gibbs and the Redskins.
Taylor, the team's first-round draft pick, bulled his way in front of Denver tight end Jeb Putzier and returned the ball three yards for a touchdown to give the Redskins a 10-9 lead. It was Taylor's second interception of the night.
Shawn Springs, acquired during the offseason from the Seattle Seahawks, also made a diving interception on Denver's first possession that led to a Washington field goal.
The interceptions were Washington's only highlights until Tim Hasselbeck connected with Gari Scott on a 33-yard scoring strike to give the Redskins a 17-9 lead with 6:54 left in the game. Denver tied it with 1:26 left as Jeb Putzier caught a 4-yard touchdown pass and the Broncos got the two-point conversion.
Gibbs got little information to aid in his decision, not expected until the end of training camp, on who will be the starting quarterback.
Brunell played three series and, while effective on short passes, looked like a quarterback still working on his timing with receivers on medium and deep routes. He finished 4-for-8 for 18 yards.
Unlike Brunell, Patrick Ramsey didn't have the benefit of playing with the starting offensive line during his appearance at quarterback. He entered in the second quarter and played briefly at the beginning of the second half, completing three of eight passes for 12 yards.
NOTES: Denver fans significantly outnumbered Redskins fans at last night's game, owing to Sunday's induction of former Broncos great John Elway into the Hall of Fame. ... Running back Ladell Betts, offensive lineman Randy Thomas and cornerbacks Walt Harris and Rashad Bauman were among the Redskins who didn't make the trip because of injuries.