LANDOVER, MD - SEPTEMBER 11: Running back Tim Hightower #25 of the Washington Redskins reacts after scoring on a one-yard touchdown run in the second quarter against the New York Giants at FedExField on September 11, 2011 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
The NFL regular season is a pressure-packed journey for a group who takes a backseat from September to January, but the Redskins’ front office has to be admiring its handiwork following a 28-14 win over the New York Giants.
Washington’s victory on Sunday was especially sweet for Bruce Allen, the scouting staff, and others involved in personnel decisions. They saw several of their new acquisitions play key roles in the victory, vindicating some of the choices they made during the offseason.
Ryan Kerrigan, the team’s first-round pick in April’s NFL draft, proved he’s a quick study, fighting off a chop block to tip an Eli Manning pass to himself. And if an interception in his first game as a professional wasn’t enough, he returned it nine yards for a decisive touchdown.
It’s been a whirlwind year for Kerrigan. The standout defensive end from Purdue was forced to learn the outside linebacker position without any help over the summer from the coaching staff due to the lockout.
The setbacks didn’t end with the lockout either. Kerrigan injured his knee on the first day of training camp, missing nearly a week before getting the opportunity to truly work into his new role. It didn’t slow him down on Sunday as he scored his first touchdown since high school.
“I never scored a touchdown in college so I was pretty excited to get my first touchdown in my first NFL game,” he said. “I just remember not really being able to see anything as I was getting mauled by my teammates and [what] a great feeling that that was.”
Kerrigan wasn’t the only rookie who exploded onto the scene. Unheralded nose tackle Chris Neild had two sacks to help the Redskins defense limit the Giants to 102 yards and zero points in the second half.
While Kerrigan was a high profile player coming out of school, Neild was the runner-up for the Mr. Irrelevant title given to the last player picked in the draft. On Sunday there was nothing irrelevant about the most impressive debut by a late-round selection since Chris Horton and Neild was thrilled to be able to contribute early.
“In college last year I had three sacks in the whole season,” he said. “The year before that I had none so I didn’t expect that at all, but I just went out there and tried to do my job.”
On the offensive side of the ball, newcomers Jabar Gaffney and Tim Hightower didn’t disappoint either. Gaffney has quickly fit right in as the number two receiver, catching three passes for 54 yards including a late-game touchdown to seal the win.
The going was a bit tougher for Hightower on the ground, but he ended up with 97 total yards and a touchdown while missing just two offensive snaps. Frequently facing an eight-man front, Hightower kept New York honest enough to allow Rex Grossman to throw for 300 yards and two touchdowns.
Expectations are high after a terrific preseason and though Hightower felt he wasn’t at his best, it’s already clear he’s a significant upgrade at running back.
“It’s frustrating, man,” Hightower said of running against the Giants. “[You start] to second-guess yourself like ‘Is it me? Am I not running right? Am I not running hard? It’s one of those games where you just got to grind it out.
“The O-line did a great job, the receivers did an excellent job and the defense bailed us out,” he added. “It was frustrating a little bit for me personally. I want to be contributing to this team a little bit more from the standpoint of I feel like they’re counting on me, but that’s what team ball is about – guys stepped up today and that’s what we needed.”
Since the results reflect heavily upon the offseason decisions made by Allen and Company, it’s what the Redskins' much-maligned front office needed too.