It was a season opener unlike most that fans of the burgundy and gold have experienced in recent memory. For the second year in a row, the Redskins opened up the season with a divisional win at FedEx Field, this time with a convincing 28-14 victory over the New York Giants.
Coach Mike Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen have helped usher in a new era featuring a youth movement that appears to have the franchise on the rise. With 15 of 22 starters from Sunday 28 years of age or younger, the Redskins were led by young core that aims to be in D.C. for years to come.
The biggest play of the game came just after the second half began when rookie first round linebacker Ryan Kerrigan tipped an Eli Manning pass, caught it at the nine-yard line, and ran it into the endzone for his first touchdown since he played tight end in high school. As a 4-3 defensive end at Purdue, the 23-year old was known more for forcing fumbles (14 in his career) than interceptions (one), but he showed he is versatile enough to make the transition to a 3-4 linebacker.
“I definitely feel like I belong. The Redskins picked me to come in here and make plays for the defense. That’s my goal here, and that’s what I’m trying to do,” Kerrigan told reporters after the game Sunday.
Another rookie who made a big contribution was the hulking nose tackle out of West Virginia, Chris Neild. With his two sacks and forced fumble against the Giants, the 319-pounder proved he not only can take up multiple blockers but can provide a pass rush as well. His lunch-pail, blue collar attitude and approach to football were key factors in the results he put out.
“Any time a guy gets two sacks, I don’t think you’re expecting that in the first game of his first season, especially a nose tackle but Chris has that type of mindset. He’s a worker, like the way he handles himself, very accountable, and he played accordingly,” coach Mike Shanahan said following the win Sunday evening.
Known as “The Pocono Punisher,” Neild almost went undrafted this April but the Redskins decided to select him with the second-to-last pick. That, coupled with his productive outing against the Giants, makes him one of the best delightful surprises coming from the new crop of young talent.
One of the best performances on offense came from tight end Fred Davis, who didn’t take full advantage of his opportunity in the preseason with Chris Cooley missing all four exhibitions. In the opener against the Giants, Davis surpassed his preseason total (three catches for 41 yards) by contributing career highs with five receptions for 105 yards. All five catches resulted in first downs, with one of them being aided by an unnecessary roughness penalty from Giants safety Antrel Rolle when he made helmet-to-helmet contact with Davis while he was on the ground.
This was a pleasant sight to see considering only two other players remain from the Redskins’ infamous 2008 10-man draft class. Given that his fellow second rounders, Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly, are now off the roster and having been stuck behind Cooley on the depth chart for the past three seasons, all the 25-year old wanted was a chance to show what he can do. He took full advantage of that when it mattered against New York.
“I’m put in that situation to finally make plays. When you get the opportunity, that’s what it’s about. Usually, when you fall, that’s when you don’t last long in this league. You got to make plays when you’re out there,” Davis said after the game.
This display of youth and potential for a bright future is a sign that the tide is starting to turn in Washington. While enthusiasm may need to be tempered, fans should still be able to kick back and enjoy watching what a new mentality can bring to a struggling franchise.
Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Jake Russell