Mike Shanahan, the Washington Redskins coach, and Donovan McNabb, his quarterback, expect their high-profile partnership to produce some great moments during the forthcoming National Football League season. The new regime got off to a good start in the team's pre-season opener, routing the Buffalo Bills 42-17.
"It was an exciting time," said McNabb, who was traded to the Redskins from the Philadelphia Eagles in the off-season. He played two series and threw a short touchdown pass in the first quarter. "When you play your first game, obviously, with a new ballclub, it takes you back to the first game you played," he said. " Your adrenaline is high and you have to settle down a little bit." In front of a crowd announced at 69,578, the Redskins dominated the Bills in Washington's return to their home field for the first time since a major off-season makeover, which team officials hope will transform the team's fortunes after two poor seasons in the doldrums.
Daniel Snyder, the owner, hired Shanahan and gave him control of the football operation, and also brought in Bruce Allen as general manager to work with Shanahan. But the arrival of McNabb, the Pro Bowl quarterback acquired in a surprising Easter trade with the Eagles, energised the fan base the most. "He is special," Snyder said in a televised interview. "His form, his leadership - he is the total package."
Coming off a 4-12 season, the Redskins have turned to Shanahan and McNabb to help restore the once-successful organisation to prominence. Their initial steps on Friday against the Bills, who went 6-10 in the 2009 season, would seem to have stirred optimism that they are indeed making steps in the right direction. "It was a good first game," Shanahan said, "and hopefully we can build from here." Although not particularly sharp early in training camp, McNabb has improved recently while working with Kyle Shanahan, the offensive co-ordinator, and becoming more comfortable in the West Coast scheme. Scheduled to participate in a maximum of 18 plays, McNabb was in for 17.
McNabb, beginning his 12th season, helped the first-team offence take a 7-3 lead late in the first quarter when he teamed with Anthony Armstrong, the wide receiver, on a four-yard touchdown pass. Television replays appeared to show that the ball did not reach the goal line, but the Bills did not challenge the call and the Redskins had their first touchdown of the pre-season. The quarterback was productive lining up directly behind Casey Rabach, the centre, or from the shotgun, and he displayed good mobility.
On a third-and-one play, he faked a handoff left and then rolled right, beating the Bills' defence to the sideline to pick up the first down for his team. McNabb seems to be developing a good rapport with Chris Cooley, the tight end who missed much of the 2009 season after fracturing his ankle in the seventh week of the campaign. With Cooley fully recovered, the Shanahans have big plans for the Pro Bowler and for Fred Davis, the emerging third-year tight end who caught a nine-yard pass for a touchdown from Rex Grossman, the backup quarterback.
The new-look Bills, meanwhile, looked like the same old Bills, making lots of mistakes and adding two running backs to their already lengthy injury list. Fred Jackson will miss the rest of the pre-season with a hand injury, and Marshawn Lynch has an ankle problem that Chan Gailey, the new coach, hopes is "more short-term than it is long-term" and he will not be sidelined for long. "Thank goodness it's pre-season," Gailey said. "When we get to early September, it's going to be 0-0 on the win-loss column and thank goodness for that. But we've got to find who can do what in these next three ballgames and get ourselves ready for that first one."