Campbell's Learning Experience

Atlanta's Paul Carrington is within arm's length of Jason Campbell, who said,
Atlanta's Paul Carrington is within arm's length of Jason Campbell, who said, "No one likes losing, and you can't put your head down and go in the tank." (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 4, 2006

The wayward passes and interceptions and poor decisions were inevitable. Yesterday, they caught up to Jason Campbell.

After two effective outings, Campbell looked like a 24-year-old quarterback making his third NFL start, unable to conjure his playmaking touch in a 24-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons at FedEx Field that left the team 4-8. Campbell, the 25th overall pick in 2005 out of Auburn, was overwhelmed at times by the Falcons' defense, and both of his interceptions came at inopportune times and swayed the game heavily in Atlanta's favor.

Campbell was e rr atic when trying to execute the two-minute offense late in the game, finished 18 for 38 for 218 yards, with one touchdown and two turnovers for a 52.3 passer rating, and will undoubtedly have much to process when he reviews game film this week. It was the first afternoon in which Campbell had faced real adversity, after guiding the offense calmly and astutely for two weeks, and emblematic of the ups and downs that come with playing the position.

"It was a tough day for him," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "That's a process they have to go through sometimes. You hope it wouldn't happen, but I'm sure when we look at the film it will be a very good learning experience for Jason. It will be something he takes a look at, and we'll be a better player because of it."

Everyone associated with the franchise was quietly ecstatic about Campbell's first two outings. He coolly led the team in his first start at Tampa Bay and threw a game-winning, 66-yard touchdown pass to Chris Cooley against Carolina a week ago. He had four touchdown passes to just one interception through two games, but was far less accurate yesterday after an inspired start. The Redskins led 14-0 early, with Campbell hitting wide receiver Santana Moss for a 42-yard score, then the game and Campbell's performance began to unravel.

"Right now it's tough, because we lost," Campbell said. "No one likes losing, and you can't put your head down and go in the tank. I'm going to keep my head up high and continue to keep walking and understand that things will get better."

Campbell completed both of his passing attempts on Washington's first two drives -- both of which reached the end zone -- for 57 yards and a touchdown.

He engaged the safety and lobbed the ball to Moss around the end zone, letting Moss rise to grab it for a 14-0 lead. "He's like, 'If you give me a chance, nine times out of 10 I'm going to come down with the ball,' " Campbell said of Moss. Campbell also scrambled 13 yards for a key first down on third and two -- setting up the first score -- but after the first quarter the realities that haunt most young quarterbacks took hold.

Even within a scaled-back offense, mistakes were made.

"There are things we'd like to do from strategic standpoint, but you have to do what you think your players can handle," said Al Saunders, associate head coach-offense. "And I think Jason has done an admirable job in handling the things we've given him to this point."

The Falcons forced Campbell into a errors by blitzing aggressively, particularly on third down. The Redskins were in Atlanta territory on the opening drive of the second half, leading 14-10, when safety Lawyer Milloy -- who was allowed too many free shots by the pass protectors yesterday -- got his hands around the quarterback. Campbell tried to unload the ball to the ground, but it went straight to oncoming defensive end Chauncey Davis, who he returned it 41 yards to key the go-ahead drive.

"I tried to throw it away in that incident and save us field goal position," Campbell said. "Unfortunately, the guy picked it and ran it downfield."

Washington trailed by 10 late and drove to the Atlanta 16 when Campbell found wide receiver Antwaan Randle El in the end zone. But he was crushed by linebacker Demorrio Williams as he released the ball, and safety Chris Crocker caught it, effectively ending the game. Campbell's teammates also dropped too many passes -- Cooley had a few himself -- and were quick to assume blame as well.

"They made plays on defense that hurt us, but nobody's perfect," guard Derrick Dockery said. "He's a young kid, and we weren't perfect blocking, either."

Campbell was 5 for 11 for 91 yards and a touchdown for a 104.7 passer rating in the first half, but just 13 for 27 for 127 yards and two interceptions for a 30.94 rating in the second half. Routinely, linemen knocked down his passes -- Campbell has a big wind-up unloading the ball -- and during a span of 11 pass plays through the third and fourth quarter with the game on the line, he completed just four passes and was sacked once.

Many of these game situations were new to Campbell at this level, and the coaches opted not to run a no-huddle offense given his inexperience. The team struggled to get plays off quickly within the two-minute offense as the clock wound down, and Campbell's education took a new turn in what will likely be a long process of adaptation.

"It's one of those situations where you try to move the ball down the field," Campbell said. "You don't want to try to throw short passes; you want to look deep and get a big one there to save us some time, but overall I learned a lot through that whole process."

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