for this game

Redskins-Giants Preview

Sep 9, 2009 - 8:16 PM By TOM CASTRO STATS Senior Editor

The New York Giants watched a promising 2008 season turn sour after an ugly incident led to the loss of star receiver Plaxico Burress. They'll be trying to make sure his departure doesn't continue to negatively affect them this year.

Looking to finally put the incident in the past as well as replace Burress' production, the Giants open their season by hosting the Washington Redskins on Sunday.

The Giants went 12-4 last year, but opened 11-1 and looked to have a good chance to repeat as Super Bowl champion. However, Burress, who caught the winning touchdown in the '08 Super Bowl, accidentally shot himself in the thigh with a gun that was tucked into his pants while at a New York nightclub Nov. 29. That led to a suspension by the team and marked the end of his season.

New York won its first game without Burress, defeating the Redskins 23-7 the day after the shooting, but the loss of the 6-foot-5 receiver was clearly felt as the Giants dropped three of their last four games before falling to Philadelphia in their playoff opener.

Not only was Burress' receiving ability missed - New York averaged 29.9 points before he was lost and 18.2 after, including the playoff game - the shooting continued to hang over the team. Linebacker Antonio Pierce, who took Burress to the hospital and brought the gun to his own home, was briefly investigated by police and testified before a grand jury, which declined to indict him for his role.

Burress was released by the Giants in April and subsequently pleaded guilty to a two-year prison sentence, and New York goes into this season with a group of inexperienced receivers. Third-year players Dominik Hixon and Steve Smith will start, with second-year wideout Mario Manningham and promising rookie Hakeem Nicks also expected to see significant time.

"We felt we had a good team last year," said quarterback Eli Manning, who threw one touchdown pass to a wide receiver in six games after losing Burress. "We had opportunities and we just didn't take advantage of them the way we could have. Only certain times you feel you have all the right guys in the right spots and you feel like you have playmakers and people are special and you can be a great team. We felt that. We didn't take advantage of it."

Manning, who signed a $97 million, six-year extension in the offseason that made him the NFL's highest-paid player, will be depended on to get the offense back on track. He'll have the help of a running game that led the NFL last season behind Brandon Jacobs' 1,089 yards and 15 touchdowns. Speedy third-year back Ahmad Bradshaw is expected to take on an expanded role with the departure of Derrick Ward.

Perhaps just as important, the Giants moved to rebuild the formidable pass rush that keyed their Super Bowl win. Besides signing defensive linemen Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard as well as linebacker Michael Boley, New York welcomes back end Osi Umenyiora after he missed last season with a knee injury.

"We still have to play," said Umenyiora, who had 13 sacks in 2007 and will help take the pressure off fellow Pro Bowl end Justin Tuck. "Everything looks real good on paper, but we still have to go out and perform."

The Redskins didn't do that last season after opening 6-2, limping to an 8-8 finish and missing the playoffs. Perhaps the biggest key for the Redskins is the continued growth of fourth-year quarterback Jason Campbell, who threw for 3,245 yards with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions last season.

Some, however, doubt Campbell's ability to develop into a franchise quarterback. Washington's 16.6 points per game last season were 28th in the league - one spot below winless Detroit - and the Redskins may have to show marked improvement to beat their NFC East rivals Sunday.

"That defense is amazing," center Casey Rabach told the team's official Web site. "They've got some really good football players on that side of the ball. They disguise their blitzes and they'll bring corner blitzes that you have to recognize and that will be a big challenge for us."

Washington will again be counting on big seasons from Clinton Portis - fourth in the league last year with 1,487 rushing yards - and Santana Moss, who had 1,044 yards receiving.

"We're not hitting on all the things that we need to, but we're on our way," coach Jim Zorn said. "I'm not discouraged; I'm encouraged in where we're going, but we're not there yet."

Zorn's team, which opens on the road against New York for the second straight year, was outscored 39-14 in losing both matchups with the Giants in 2008. They have lost five of the last six meetings.

While the Washington offense struggled last year, the defense was solid. The addition of run-stuffing tackle Albert Haynesworth from Tennessee fortifies a unit that was fourth in the league in total defense at 288.8 yards per game and sixth with 18.5 points a contest.

The 6-6, 350-pound Haynesworth is known for playing with an edge, which seems certain to continue based on his responses to questions about facing the 264-pound Jacobs.

"They all fall the same," Haynesworth said. "It doesn't really matter. What is he, 250? I weighed 250 when I was in the 10th grade."