By Mike Wise
Monday, November 19, 2007
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.
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."
He didn't have to do that. Anybody watching this game came away with two, instant thoughts: Campbell held his own against a soon-to-be Pro Bowl quarterback, even looked better than Romo at times. And, who's got T.O.?
Whatever Campbell's shortcomings at the end, this loss was on the defense. How the most dangerous weapon on the field was not double-covered must be a mystery to even the most casual fan.
The NBA equivalent would be covering Steve Kerr like a blanket while letting Michael Jordan roam free. Had Campbell seen as many zone defenses Romo and Owens saw, he might have thrown for 450 yards. There was no excuse for T.O. scoring every Dallas touchdown, none whatsoever. Let anyone else beat you.
How close Campbell came to negating Owen's magical afternoon, though. Moss came off the field after he ran a perfect post pattern and beat his man on a first down from the 20-yard line. Campbell overthrew him by maybe a foot near the back of the end zone. The receiver smiled ruefully and put his right index finger and thumb together, mouthing, "This close, this close," to the sideline.
That's how close Campbell is to becoming a tremendous quarterback in this league, the difference between, perhaps, 7-3 and 5-5.
Given the green light by a coaching staff suddenly learning to trust his instincts and improvisation, he's now thrown for five touchdowns the past two weeks and picked apart better-than-average defenses.
Beyond making T.O's highlight tape for him, against a team playing like a potential NFC champ for much of the season, there is not much to quibble with given the Redskins' injuries. Let's be honest: Owens hearing Sean Taylor's footsteps instantly changes the complexion of this game; T.O. had not had a 100-yard receiving game against the Redskins since Taylor has been there. Taylor, of course, was out Sunday with a knee injury.
But there is this second-guess: Fourth and one from their 40-yard line in the first half. The Redskins, already leading 7-0, had started the drive at their own 4-yard line. They had done everything right and profited from some wild, broken-play luck to have advanced the ball that far.
Why not show ultimate confidence in the offense instead of asking Shuan Suisham to make a 50-yard field goal, which he missed? Why not keep the Cowboys, a team averaging more than 32 points per game, on their heels there? Just a thought, the kind that comes to mind when Campbell starts rifling 20-yard out patterns into the arms of his receiving corps, using dinks and dunks to keep the Cowboys off-balance and essentially using the passing game as a running game.
For a few minutes, it appeared the West Coast offense had come to Washington. Crazy, no, that they now have a competent kid who can run it for at least the next few years? Make of this loss what must be made of it, but don't think Jason Campbell is going to be a .500 quarterback for very long.