By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 11, 2006
It was the kind of game that Jason Campbell said would drive him crazy for a long time. The blueprint to help a young quarterback grow should have been perfect. The Washington Redskins ran 70 offensive plays. They rushed for 210 yards, and held the ball for 37 minutes 46 seconds. In the second half, Campbell's passer rating was 113.
But for Campbell, yesterday's 21-19 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles was just another learning experience that resulted in a defeat.
Depending on how one keeps score, Campbell is now 1-3 as a starter since taking over for Mark Brunell Nov. 19. The Redskins were 3-6 under Brunell, and in the column that matters most, haven't done much better under Campbell.
But if Campbell is judged by his weekly progress, and how his team responds to him, he said yesterday he believes he turned a corner.
In the first half, when he was sacked once, threw two interceptions and suffered through a passer rating of 29.7, Campbell seemed to mirror his shakier moments last week against Atlanta, when the game seemed to be moving too fast for him.
But in the second half, although his execution was not perfect and at times not even good, Campbell made enough big plays to give the Redskins a chance to win.
And the result was a quarterback who believed he sent the message to his teammates that he would not quit in tough moments.
"Everyone is looking at you when things aren't going right. They want to see how you respond," Campbell said. "Are you going to be a guy who gets down, who goes in the tank and not help the team fight, or are you going to be someone who keeps fighting until the end of it? I want them to understand that I'm going to be with them through thick and thin."
On the Redskins' second series, Campbell dropped back on third and three from his 41, looked for wide receiver Santana Moss running a slant, but was intercepted by rookie linebacker Omar Gaither. Campbell said he was outsmarted by Gaither, who faked a rush and settled into a drop zone. Gaither returned the interception 16 yards and set up the Eagles' first touchdown.
On the Redskins' third possession, Campbell was poised, surviving a false-start penalty by Moss and converting two third downs. But on third and nine from the Eagles 23, Campbell tried to hit tight end Chris Cooley on a quick screen. Cornerback William James jumped the route and tipped the ball into the hands of safety Michael Lewis, who raced 84 yards for a touchdown. The score was 14-3.
"There's still a long time to play. There was a lot of game left. At halftime, I felt good. I felt like we could come back in the second half and beat them," Campbell said. "The whole team believed because we were moving the ball. We just had to knock off those mistakes we were making."
But in the second half, Campbell grew more assertive. In a season in which the Redskins had been unable to take an opportunity and build momentum, Campbell made the biggest play of the game. On third and eight from the Philadelphia 49 with 35 seconds left in the third quarter and the Redskins down 21-9, Eagles defensive end Juqua Thomas raced past right tackle Jon Jansen and forced Campbell to throw incomplete.
But Thomas was called for grabbing Campbell's face mask. On the next play, Campbell threw a perfect pass on a fly pattern to Antwaan Randle El, a 34-yard strike that cut the lead to 21-16.
"He did a good job running the route. We do it in practice all the time, working on the deep ball and the timing," Campbell said. "He did a good job getting past his man and getting downfield. I wanted to make sure he had an opportunity to make a play."
Associate head coach Al Saunders and Coach Joe Gibbs said they were impressed by Campbell's resilience. Saunders intimated, however, that Campbell will be truly evaluated in the offseason. Campbell is so good, Saunders said, that he has been able to rely on his ability instead of his technique. But reaching the next level, Saunders said, will require sharper technique on Campbell's part. Saunders wants Campbell to see the game faster, to read defenses and release the ball faster. He said he wants Campbell to shorten his delivery, tighten his mechanics and see the game as a sharp NFL quarterback.
"Jason has to live at this facility in the offseason," Saunders said.
There were final moments that underscored the good and bad of being young and talented. On the Redskins' final drive, Campbell drove the Redskins to the goal line in 12 plays. On third and 10 from the Philadelphia 18, Campbell dashed 15 yards to first and goal at the 3. But confusion -- penalties and a crushing sack of Campbell by safety Brian Dawkins -- forced Campbell to finish the game without heroics.
"Every play he takes out there is a learning experience for him. He would probably say there are a number of things he would like to have back and do differently, but sometimes the only way you get that is by playing," Gibbs said. "There were a lot of experiences in there. I was proud of the fact that we had such a bad first half and he had a tough first half. To see him come back and fight says a lot about him."