An Exorcise Routine

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By Mike Wise
Tuesday, September 18, 2007

PHILADELPHIA

It's only right that Jason Campbell got his first NFC East road win here, showing poise and purpose amid these ruffians with their ears pinned back, amid the same rowdy mob of Philadelphia Eagles fans and players who celebrated the demise of the Washington Redskins' season a year ago.

Moving his team 73 yards in 1 minute 33 seconds at the end of the first half, keeping a fourth-quarter drive alive with two big third-down completions, Campbell wasn't just staking Washington to a unlikely 2-0 start. This was his unintentional thank-you card to a fickle town and its winless team.

See, Philadelphia essentially gave Jason Campbell his job; the Eagles' utter dominance of the Redskins here last November forced Coach Joe Gibbs's hand.

This was not merely the second game of the season for the Redskins; this was an exorcism. Campbell and his teammates didn't beat the Eagles on "Monday Night Football" as much as they got rid of the memory of that pitiful team that came to Lincoln Financial Field a year ago and pilfered its season away.

This was where Clinton Portis broke his hand, Mark Brunell lost his starting job and Gibbs realized that the promise of the 2005 playoffs meant zilch. The Redskins were done -- cold-cocked, 27-3. It came a week after a wild win at home against the Dallas Cowboys that gave the Redskins a glimmer of hope. But between the injuries and awful execution against the Eagles -- a fumble and an interception were returned for touchdowns -- they left here with nothing. They weren't mathematically through at 3-6, but the totality of the Redskins' collapse was made official as the light died here that afternoon.

And that was when a kid was chosen to lead them. Two games into 2007, can he lead.

"Totally different feeling from then, totally," said Chris Cooley, the tight end whom Campbell found for a touchdown at the wacky end of the first half Monday night. "Last year we came in the locker room at halftime and just felt like, 'What can we do?' We came in tonight and it was like, 'Our offense can move the ball.' A lot of that was Jason."

Campbell went up against a Jim Johnson-coached defense that wanted to pile-drive a 25-year-old into the ground nine games into his career as a starter. Donovan McNabb was his counterpart just as much as he was Campbell's mentor, the sage whom he called for advice on how to cope with starting in the NFL. With all due respect to McNabb, the pupil outplayed the teacher in Washington's 20-12 victory.

Campbell wasn't perfect; in fact, he was beating himself up for overthrowing Santana Moss on a play that would have put the game away. He also telegraphed another interception early. But he regrouped and gathered himself just like last week against Miami. It also can't be minimized how well he played in the crucial moments Monday night, when the Redskins faced a third and long, for example, or when he merely needed to get rid of the ball in the face of pressure.

Never mind the numbers, the 209 yards on 16 completions to six different receivers. They were decent enough to win. His real contributions were made in the clutch. He flat-out looked more poised under duress than McNabb, whose accuracy began to disappear as the game tightened. McNabb showed his usual panache late. But if there is a quantifiable measure for calm amid calamity, for the ability to put mistakes behind before they escalate into something lasting and dangerous, Campbell has got more of it early in his career than a lot of veteran quarterbacks will ever amass.

With the Eagles threatening to come back, with the Redskins leading 13-9, Campbell took Washington down the field in the fourth quarter, converting two huge third-down passes to Cooley and fellow tight end Todd Yoder. He found Yoder in the flat after scrambling to his right amid pursuit. Did we mention Yoder dropped a Campbell pass that hit him right in the chest earlier in the game? It was the perfect opportunity for Campbell to turn upfield and run with the ball and gather enough yards to put Shaun Suisham in position for yet another successful field goal within 40 yards. Why risk it on the backup tight end who already had a drop?

But that's not how Campbell operates. His teammate was open, he was in trouble and, so, why not trust Yoder to bail him out?

And Moss? He wasn't even perturbed about the overthrow. "Jason just has this mentality, 'You want me to sling it, I'll sling it,' " Moss said. "I'd rather have that mentality than anything else. You can work with it. Here's the deal with Jason. We're not even clicking on all cylinders for us to give him the help he needs right now. When that happens, you'll see something from him."

Beyond beating back an Eagles team that a lot of observers felt was good enough to win the NFC East, this was an important win for Campbell and the Redskins in so many ways. It came after Randy Thomas was lost with a torn triceps -- a development that, along with Jon Jansen's dislocated ankle last week, basically sidelined the entire right side of Gibbs's 2007 offensive line. It came after the New York Giants laid an egg against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday and now come to FedEx Field next weekend as undeniably the weakest link in the division. Three of the Redskins' next four games are at home against very beatable opponents -- the Giants, the Detroit Lions and the Arizona Cardinals.

Does anyone believe Campbell can't outplay Eli Manning, Jon Kitna or Matt Leinart after how efficient he was against the Eagles and McNabb on Monday night? Again, this was not just about the second week of the season. This was about returning to the scene of the accident and moving on.

For the Redskins, a win was just as paramount as not embarrassing themselves as they did last Nov. 12, the day Gibbs decided his days with Brunell as the quarterback were over. Looking back, no one thought of that as a gamble at the time. No one was worried about throwing a young quarterback to the wolves and ruining his confidence.

Everyone, it seemed, wanted to see if Campbell could play and lead. On a very different evening in Philadelphia than last November, playing against a counterpart considered among the best quarterbacks in the game the past decade, Campbell answered both questions. This isn't just a 2-0 start after what happened on this field nearly a year ago; this was Jason Campbell showing his bosses that they were right to believe in him when they gave him the reins last season.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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