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By Mark F. Gray

There’s never, ever, ever anything that can be taken from the first NFL preseason game because most of the players will be pros at something other than football in a couple of weeks. However, Mike Shanahan’s first dress rehearsal for his edition of the Burgundy and Gold took a major step in restoring them to relevance.

It doesn’t matter that the Buffalo Bills looked like a team already on the clock for next year’s draft, the Washington Football Team played with passion, discipline, and focus. There were blown defensive assignments early and several passes that Donovan McNabb wishes he had back. However, the team looked prepared and motivated and as a whole they had a swagger that only a true leader can give them.

This team has bought into Shanahan and all that remains is whether a year off has made him a better in game strategist in the regular season or if this defense will hold up for an offense that will score touchdowns for a change. The Washington Football Team put a beat down on a bad team which is what good teams do. Don’t buy tickets for the Super Bowl in Dallas just yet ‘Skins fans. However, you won’t be punch lines for bad jokes this year either.

For a team that was a willing accomplice to ending the Detroit Lions losing streak last season, the win over the Bills marked a notable milestone in the transformation process. Though just preseason, the Burgundy & Gold decisively beat them and left no doubt which team was superior. For the past few seasons there were too many games where they were clearly the better team but undisciplined mistakes and poor efforts led to season derailing losses.

However, please be reminded that this team is still a work in progress. They have to identify the receiver opposite Santana Moss and who will be the starting tailback. Trent Williams, while talented and nasty, is still a rookie and the best thing about a freshman is that he becomes a sophomore.

This defense has promise which is the stuff of unfulfilled dreams and fired coaches though. You’ve got a front seven that is big and physical inside with enough speed on the edge to finally bring consistent pressure. The secondary is vulnerable although Carlos Rogers is a solid cover corner with bad hands. DeAngelo Hall teased us with a interception he almost returned for a touchdown on a play where he was twisted by Lee Evans but the pass from Trent Edwards was late and behind him.

After the first week of the fake football Burgundy and Gold fans can take solace that they have proven there is a direction and sense of purpose. There was no scratch your head rationale and lame excuses following a poor exhibition where you promise to mysteriously get better by the season opener. A real barometer lies ahead, however, with the Baltimore Ravens coming to FedEx Field Saturday night.