By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 25, 2006
ST. LOUIS, Dec. 24 -- Jason Campbell's first start Nov. 19 against Tampa Bay was a conservative affair, with two rookie quarterbacks trying to minimize mistakes. His next three starts were more defense and ball-control oriented, with turnovers making the difference.
But Sunday, Campbell took another step in his NFL experience, hooking up with the St. Louis Rams in a Christmas Eve shootout that did not end the way he or the Redskins envisioned but was wild nevertheless.
The Rams' 37-31 overtime win was indeed that. In his young career, the Redskins have put up more yards -- they eclipsed 400 in a 21-19 loss to Philadelphia, for example -- but never so many points with Campbell. Nor has Campbell played a game in which so many points were scored that it appeared the last team with the ball would win. In fact, that is precisely what happened when Steven Jackson raced by Sean Taylor for a 21-yard, game-winning touchdown.
The teams combined for 915 yards and 47 first downs. Campbell threw for 160 yards and a touchdown on 13-of-26 passing, but it was mostly hard running by Ladell Betts (129 yards) that contributed to 336 total yards and a 28-14 lead, the first time since Sept. 24 at Houston the Redskins enjoyed a two-touchdown lead in the second half.
"You get that lead, and you don't think it's going to go to overtime, but you also know that the Rams have so many players and the ability to strike and score quickly," Campbell said. "You look over there, and you know what they could do."
But Rams quarterback Marc Bulger was better than the entire Redskins team, hitting for 388 passing yards. The Rams battered the Redskins defense for a season-high 579 total yards. That was the most the Redskins have allowed since assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams took over in 2004. In the second and third quarters combined, Bulger was 12 of 16 for 238 yards and four touchdowns for a passer rating of 156.2.
Campbell, meantime, started the game 3 for 3 with a touchdown before misfiring on his next eight passes. Then he was perfect on his next five.
"I like a seesaw game, things going back and forth," Campbell said. "Our running game was making a lot of plays and their passing game was hitting a lot of plays. It was one of those type deals. You hate to end up on the other side of that style of game."
He engineered three drives of 10 plays or more, three with at least five first downs, and was even able to put the ball in the end zone.
Early, he even appeared to be bettering Bulger, wiping out a 14-7 deficit with two touchdown drives.
But then, with the Rams down 28-14 with 6 minutes 42 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Bulger hit running back Steven Jackson underneath for about seven yards. Jackson did the rest, blowing first by safety Vernon Fox and then past Taylor. Sixty-four yards later, Jackson was in the end zone.
"I always try to watch the veteran quarterbacks to see how they do it, especially a guy who's going to the Pro Bowl," Campbell said of Bulger. "You don't look at the numbers, because we run two different systems, but you know."
Campbell took over and promptly went three and out, missing Antwaan Randle El on third down. Neither he nor Brandon Lloyd caught a pass, but Randle El rushed twice for 21 yards. After 15 games, Lloyd, who signed a $30 million contract in March, does not have a touchdown this season. It was the third game Lloyd has been shut out this season, and he hasn't caught more than four balls in a game this year.
Bulger immediately hit Torry Holt for 22 yards before Jackson (150 yards on 33 carries and six receptions for 102 yards) took over. Four Jackson rushes gave the Rams first and goal at the 10, and two plays later, former Redskins running back Stephen Davis took a shovel pass into the end zone to tie the score.
By the end of three quarters, the Redskins had blown a two-touchdown lead over two defensive series and were left waiting to see if their young quarterback could save the game. Meanwhile, Bulger was 16 of 23 for 260 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. His quarterback rating was 146.7.
By the end, as Bulger raised his game, Campbell and the offense began to wilt. After the opening possession of the second half gave them their biggest lead, the Redskins would not hold the ball for more than four plays on their final six drives.
And even so, they still rushed toward the game-winning field goal before Betts fumbled away what would have been a spirited victory.