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Hope for the Future

Despite a late interception and some red-zone hiccups, yesterday's loss belongs to the defense, not rising young quarterback Jason Campbell (348 yards).
Despite a late interception and some red-zone hiccups, yesterday's loss belongs to the defense, not rising young quarterback Jason Campbell (348 yards). (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)

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By Mike Wise
Monday, November 19, 2007

IRVING, Tex.

The temptation is to use his lone interception against him, to say the throaty roar of Texas Stadium got to Jason Campbell, until his snap-count was almost inaudible, his nerves were jangled and, well, that's why he couldn't finish off the Cowboys for the most pulsating comeback in his scant 17 games as the Redskins' starting quarterback.

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But that gets away from the long view, what a career-best 348 yards and so many pretty, third-down throws really meant, what Campbell's performance in defeat said with clarity as Washington slipped to 5-5.

For the first time in at least 15 years, the Redskins are set at quarterback for the foreseeable future. For the first time since 1991 and Mark Rypien, they have a quarterback about to enter his prime. If recent history is any gauge, they're actually more stable behind center than at any time since Joe Theismann occupied the position.

Heath Shuler was a bust of a draft pick, and his projected backup, Gus Frerotte, was not ready to take the reins. Brad Johnson left when the Redskins brass preferred Jeff George, and Mark Brunell was past his prime.The one quarterback who could have been that player was Trent Green, and he left as a free agent.

Campbell is ready to be the guy for the next decade. He showed it in his play-action abilities Sunday, in all the ball fakes that fooled the defense, and the sweet 19-yard strike to Chris Cooley for the first score.

This was not just a coming-out party for Campbell, who, if not for the most famous receiver in football, would have out-Romoed his counterpart for the Cowboys; this was a sign of great things to come. Campbell is 25 years old, and he looked every bit his age when he threw right into the arms of Dallas's Terence Newman with 1 minute 50 seconds left and the Redskins trying to pull off a majestic comeback from inside the Cowboys 20-yard line.

Good for him. He made the kind of mistake that's going to keep him humble, keep him listening to his coaches and not taking his athletic gifts for granted. It's the kind of wrenching letdown at the end every young quarterback should know and feel until he gets it right.

Tony Romo is the NFL's It Guy today, but remember 10 months ago in Seattle? He was the boneheaded kid who couldn't get the snap down and then scrambled nowhere to throw away the Cowboys' season.

He internalized that loss and moved on, just as Campbell will after Sunday.

Beyond that blunder at the end and some red-zone tentativeness, Campbell clearly looked comfortable running a spread offense and moving the ball as he saw fit. He reconnected with Santana Moss, a receiver he barely works with in practice anymore because of Moss's physical ailments. And when all the bizarre plays and Terrell Owens's breakdowns were finished -- in a game his team was supposed to lose by 10 points or more -- Campbell put much of the loss on himself.

"I need to put more on my back," he said, in reference to why the Redskins were only 2 for 4 on scoring opportunities inside the 20-yard line. "There's things I need to do better to get us in there."


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