When It Mattered, Dr. Jason Kept Mr. Highlight in Check

Quarterback Jason Campbell, left, stood tall in crucial situations and overcame two interceptions by the Dolphins.
Quarterback Jason Campbell, left, stood tall in crucial situations and overcame two interceptions by the Dolphins. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)

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By Mike Wise
Monday, September 10, 2007

It was already past 4 p.m, still hot, sticky and undecided. No matter. They rose in unison. Ninety-thousand, standing to see the kid in the crucible.

Jason Campbell vs. the Miami Dolphins' malicious defense, pro football's fourth-best unit a year ago. In overtime.

The situation was third and seven from the Washington 43-yard-line, and the prospect of giving the ball back -- and perhaps the game -- was one bad decision away. So who would take the snap under center?

The unruffled, grounded guy who, at times, smartly managed the game? Or the thrill-seeker already intercepted twice, picked off more by his own impetuousness than Miami?

What a defining moment this would be. As one-game referendums around here go, if Campbell was ready and right then, by extension, his team was ready and right.

If a young quarterback could overcome two interceptions, the occasional brainlock in the pocket and having his favorite wide receiver taken away from him for 60-plus minutes -- if Campbell could rebound from all that in his first September start in the NFL -- the remaining 15 games held so much more promise than the usual chat-room doom.

He saw the blitz coming from the strong side, barely dropped back and threw toward tight end Chris Cooley, running a look-in pattern. Cooley had been blanketed all afternoon, held without a reception. Worse yet, Campbell had forced his first pass to Cooley and it ended up in the hands of the wrong team.

Not this time. Ten yards. First down. Enough breathing room for Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts to carry him home.

Poised Jason 16, Impulsive Jason 13.

The mature Campbell won out over the relatively inexperienced Campbell as much as the Redskins won out over the Dolphins yesterday. In a game absolutely critical to the confidence of a 25-year-old, third-year quarterback, Campbell played maestro when it mattered, guiding Washington 58 yards on its first possession after the Redskins won the overtime coin flip.

It doesn't happen, of course, unless Portis churned all his pent-up feelings of persecution into every one of his 98 yards. If Campbell or any of Portis's teammates every truly wondered, "C.P. are you with me?" Portis answered affirmatively after he took his first handoff in 10 months. Portis -- and Betts, to a lesser extent -- enabled Campbell to be less than great but still win.

Portis didn't play with a chip on his shoulder, as he said in an almost uncomfortable postgame news conference, in which the media laughed at his remarks and Portis did not. Instead, standing there unsmiling, he appeared to have a refrain in his brain: "You think I'm done, don't you? Don't you!?"


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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