By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Five members of the Washington Redskins' medical staff huddled around quarterback Jason Campbell last night, examining his left knee after he absorbed a painful blow, while three worried teammates kneeled by his side and Coach Joe Gibbs glared painfully from the sideline. The home opener was still three weeks away, but the hush that befell FedEx Field as Campbell writhed on the ground conveyed the severity of the situation: The season hung in the balance before it had even begun.
"That's your dreaded fear," Gibbs said.
Campbell, dropped by an illegal and direct shot to the outside of his left knee from the blindside by defensive end Brett Keisel, was soon walking on his own with what is being called a bruise. Team doctors are confident Campbell's injury is not severe, Gibbs said, and Campbell said he will undergo an MRI exam today to ensure there is no tendon or ligament damage. "It was a scary moment," said Campbell, whose practice status will be reevaluated on a daily basis.
Then, with five minutes remaining in the first half of the Redskins' 12-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, came another scare. Linebacker Marcus Washington hobbled off the field grimacing with a dislocated right elbow. "It was sitting kind of crooked," said Washington, whose starting spot is likely to be taken by Lemar Marshall. Doctors were able to pop the elbow back in place, and the former Pro Bowler expects to miss about two weeks but should be back for the regular season opener Sept. 9.
Mike Espy, showing signs of being a valuable depth receiver in his second season, later ruptured his patellar tendon and will undergo season-ending surgery on his left knee today.
Campbell (6 of 8 for 75 yards) had shined in his brief appearance, the first-team offense stirring from slumber and the defense looking every bit as stingy and punishing as it did in 2004-05, before last year's collapse. The Redskins took a 7-3 lead into halftime -- both teams played reserves in the second half -- and displayed enough spunk and proficiency to quell the angst spawned by an erratic showing last week.
This was by no means a flawless outing -- the offensive line struggled in the running game and against the blitz, while the defense failed again to force a turnover -- but was a much more positive one, especially considering the quality of the opponent.
"Certain parts of our football team played extremely well," Gibbs said, " and other parts have got a lot of work to do."
In a season that surely will be all about Campbell, he provided the drama. With the offense desperate to finally get into the end zone, he moved the ball from the opening drive.
"Tonight, we made steps in the right direction," associate head coach-offense Al Saunders said.
Twice Campbell connected on sharp third-down passes, and completed a 29-yard pass to tight end Chris Cooley (five catches for 60 yards) on the play that knocked him from the game. Keisel pushed aside rookie left guard Stephon Heyer, who held up well again, and, arriving at Campbell late, thrust himself into his knee. Keisel was penalized for a personal foul and later apologized to Campbell, who said he did not think the shot at his knees was intentional.
Todd Collins, who went 10 of 13 for 74 yards to solidify his pursuit of Mark Brunell for the No. 2 quarterback spot, came in for Campbell and threw a seven-yard strike on third down to Brandon Lloyd in the back of the end zone (Lloyd did not score last season). The Redskins converted seven of 10 third-down opportunities in the half, including several from long distances, with the passing game compensating for the running attack (Clinton Portis remains out and top reserve Ladell Betts played just a few series).
"The running game is not anywhere close to where we want it to be," Gibbs said.
Offensive line coach Joe Bugel demanded improvement from his players after they lost last week in Tennessee, but they failed to open holes on the ground and yielded three more sacks. Journeyman Mike Pucillo, the latest candidate to become starting left guard, performed admirably, but right tackle Jon Jansen had trouble on some blitzes again, and, like last week, a defensive back was allowed to blow past the left side of the line untouched for a free shot at a quarterback.
Assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams, meantime, could glow about his charges. The unit was fierce and fast for the second straight week, limiting Pittsburgh to 121 net yards in the first half. Youth was served again, with rookie safety LaRon Landry a force in the run defense coming off the edge and second-year linebacker Rocky McIntosh turning in a masterful display of sure tackling and physical punishment -- principles very dear to Williams's heart.
"Coach challenged us to play physical and get the ball, and that's what we tried to do," McIntosh said.
McIntosh was in on five straight defensive stops at one point -- sharing a sack with cornerback Shawn Springs -- and he led a stand at the Washington 3 at the end of the half. McIntosh deflected a pass with the Steelers in the red zone, and seemed glued to the football, anticipating plays after studying hard all offseason to grasp this system. On first and goal from the 4 he exploded off the snap and darted to the backfield to drop running back Verron Haynes for a four-yard loss, and the Redskins had conceded only a field goal as the first half ended.