ASHBURN, Va. – For his opening act with the Washington Redskins, Mike Shanahan managed to win a game without his team scoring an offensive touchdown.
For Act 2, he'd would like to see less smoke and mirrors.
"Hopefully, 'Shanahan football' will be scoring a few more points," the coach said Monday.
For starters, though, a 13-7 victory over the rival Dallas Cowboys is more than sufficient. For, even though the Redskins barely won the game, at least they did win the game. They got the right bounce and the right call when they needed it, something that hasn't happened enough over the past few years.
The consensus in the locker room was unmistakable: Washington would have found a way to lose that game a year ago.
"It shows you how important it is for guys to play for 60 minutes, when you look at the last play of the half and the last play of the game," Shanahan said. "That's what separates teams."
"Play for 60 minutes" is an old coach's cliche, but it rang true Sunday night — with a few seconds added on. The clock had already hit 0:00 when DeAngelo Hall somersaulted into the end zone at the end of the first half on a fumble return that turned out to be Washington's only touchdown, and time had also ticked away by the time the officials signaled a holding call that negated Dallas' potential game-winning touchdown pass at the end of the game.
Had Jim Zorn won a game like that, he would have been leading a cheer of "Hip, Hip, Hooray!" in the locker room. Joe Gibbs, the color slowly returning to his face, would have been telling everyone how his stomach was tied in knots. Steve Spurrier would have shook his head in aw-shucks disappointment because his quarterback didn't throw for a half-dozen touchdowns.
Shanahan? He comes across as someone taking it all in stride, looking about as happy as a shopper who just got 20 cents off a can of beans at the supermarket. The coach known for his sideline glare — he looks mad even during the national anthem — did crack a smile or two when it was over, but there was no time to display any nervousness or tension when the Cowboys were driving late in the game.
"The intensity's always there," he said. "But you're thinking throughout the game, so you don't really get a chance to get too emotional — or you try not to — because you want to think through different situations."
Even if Shanahan had wanted to whoop it up in private, he didn't have time. It took him about 2 hours to drive home from the Redskins' stadium, which is located on the opposite side of Washington, D.C., from the Redskins Park training facility in the area where the coaches and players live.
"I'm not used to this traffic, so it's a little bit unusual," Shanahan said. "I do feel like we played on the road."
That's one problem even Shanahan can't solve. Still, while one game does not a season make, the opener did open a window on where the team might be headed:
— Brian Orakpo's 11-sack season as a rookie was no fluke. Dallas' Alex Barron didn't stand a chance. It was only fitting that the game ended with Barron grabbing Orakpo around the neck in desperation, an obvious holding penalty that took away Tony Romo's touchdown pass to Roy Williams.
— Moving LaRon Landry back to strong safety was so overdue. He was all over the place, finishing with a game-high 17 tackles.
— Albert Haynesworth, no surprise, stands out as the odd piece of the puzzle. He started on the bench and rotated in for about 16 plays, barely making an impact in a 3-4 scheme that doesn't suit his talents. Shanahan said Haynesworth played "extremely hard" and is getting more comfortable in the defense, but Sunday offered more evidence that the defense might be able to survive just fine without him.
— Donovan McNabb showed good pocket presence and didn't have a turnover, but he also played like a quarterback still getting used to a new offense — which is exactly what he is. He completed 15 of 32 passes for 171 yards.
"Obviously he's got a lot of game experience," Shanahan said, "but there's nothing like calling the plays, executing a different offense in the heat of battle. And in the first game I thought he did a good job."
— Offensive linemen were shuffled in and out, usually not a good sign for a unit that relies heavily on continuity. Stephon Heyer got some snaps at right tackle because Shanahan was uncertain whether Jammal Brown could play an entire game after missing all of 2009 with a hip injury. Kory Litchtensteiger got some plays at left guard after coaches decided he was just about equal with starter Derrick Dockery. McNabb was sacked only once, but Clinton Portis averaged only 3.5 yards per carry.
The Redskins won despite gaining 130 fewer yards than the Cowboys, and despite an 8-minute deficit in time of possession. Perhaps the important number on the night was 12 — the number of penalties committed by a Dallas team that was clearly not all it was built up to be.
"There's going to be games throughout the year where the offense plays well, the defense plays well, or the special teams," Shanahan said. "But at the end of the day, there's only one thing that matters, and that's finding a way to win."
Notes: Shanahan said the Redskins had no serious injuries. ... Shanahan's news conference was far from lively, but the Redskins compensated by having legendary singer Chuck Brown step to the podium after the coach was done. The godfather of go-go will be the halftime entertainment for Sunday's game against the Houston Texans. "It's like a dream come true for me and the band," he said.