Thursday, December 6, 2007
Jason Campbell can picture it all so vividly: The game clock is dwindling, the Redskins are in need of a game-winning score and a teammate is nestling into a open area in the end zone. Campbell delivers a perfect strike to the receiver, the Washington Redskins win the kind of game that has often slipped away and the young quarterback claims his first John Elway moment in a fourth-quarter comeback.
To this point, Campbell has yet to achieve that reality, often falling gut-wrenchingly short. Late-game heroics require a level of savvy and experience not easily gained, and Campbell, 25, will enter his 20th career start tonight against Chicago still looking for a signature drive to close a game. Thriving in the final two minutes, he admits, is one of his last great hurdles as he aims to become the franchise quarterback the Redskins have long sought.
"We've been so close this season," Campbell said. "The Dallas game we almost come from behind and win it, and the Tampa game is so close, but you do that as a quarterback and go back over some of the moments and you wish for that" game-winning play.
"But I know it's going to happen for me one day. I've just got to continue to keep plugging and keep pushing on. I feel like I've made a major improvement from last season to this season. The only thing I have to do now is try to protect the football better when I'm getting hit, and when you make a throw just understand sometimes that it's better to just go ahead and eat it."
The lessons have come hard and fast this season, with the Redskins (5-7) dropping four straight games to fall to the periphery of the NFC playoff picture. They have lost several games in the final minutes.
At Dallas, Campbell marshaled the Redskins deep into Cowboys territory with the game on the line, only to throw an interception. Then he did the same thing twice the following week at Tampa Bay. Last week the Redskins needed only one more first down out of their four-minute offense to close out the game, but the running game faltered and Buffalo rallied for a 17-16 win.
Campbell can hardly shoulder the entire blame, with play-calling, pass protection and in-game management by Coach Joe Gibbs highly suspect at times as well. But he has turned over the ball 13 times in the past six games -- he has had at least one turnover in eight straight games -- and has not produced that final late touchdown when needed.
The crippling losses have at times driven him to tears and his teammates have voiced unequivocal support. And while he has displayed moments of brilliance during the losing streak, posting his first two 300-yard games and completing nearly 62 percent of his passes, it is the critical mistakes that haunt him.
"That's a natural part of your development, and the best place to learn at that position is in game-type situation," said backup Mark Brunell, a 15-year veteran. "And that's happening and Jason is getting better every week, and to see his progress, it's exciting to see where he's going to go, because he's going to be a very good one for a long time.
"He's got the talent and he's got the poise and what I've been impressed with is we've had some good wins and some tough losses, and he's been poised. He doesn't get too high and he doesn't get too low. He handles everything like a professional, and it's basically just who he is coming out on the field and I think guys respect that."
Campbell is still trying to take command in the waning stages of games. This season he has been a part of 10 drives that either carried into the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter, or began after it. He is completing just 49 percent of those passes -- he is completing 60 percent of his attempts overall -- with no touchdowns, two interceptions and a poor 45.6 rating.
Campbell threw a touchdown pass to tight end Todd Yoder in his first NFL start in 2006 -- cutting a 10-point deficit to three in defeat -- but has not thrown a touchdown inside the final two minutes of the fourth quarter since. During games decided by seven points or fewer -- a regularity for Washington -- Campbell has tossed five touchdown passes and nine interceptions, and the more times the Redskins have asked Campbell to throw, the more error-prone he has been. He has a 82.8 passer rating on pass attempts one through 30, but after that his rating drops to 52.8.