By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 7, 2007
Safeties Vernon Fox and Pierson Prioleau kneeled and prayed on the field, Coach Joe Gibbs wore a look of deep concern from the sideline and quarterback Jason Campbell screamed in agony. The scene the Redskins hoped most to avoid during what already had been a season of tragedy and tumult -- their potential franchise quarterback being carted off the field -- became reality last night, overshadowing the game itself and Washington's tepid playoff pursuit.
Campbell was tackled from behind by Chicago Bears defensive ends Adewale Ogunleye and Mark Anderson -- who weigh 515 pounds combined -- and writhed on the grass, tugging at his left knee. He flipped off his helmet and soon was carted into the bowels of FedEx Field, grimacing while halfheartedly lifting his arm to acknowledge the crowd. The Redskins went on to a 24-16 victory over the Bears before a stadium pocked with empty seats (the announced attendance was 82,213), and by halftime Campbell's injury was diagnosed as a dislocated patella (kneecap), possibly ending his season, with the full scope of the injury to be determined after an MRI exam this morning.
Campbell, 25, has been absorbing regular abuse behind a piecemeal offensive line in recent weeks, and was knocked out of the game for one play earlier in the second quarter after taking a helmet to his throwing elbow. He was pounded on his left knee from the blind side in the preseason as well -- narrowly avoiding serious ligament damage -- but thriving in his first full season as a starting quarterback. With the Redskins losing four straight games to fall to the outskirts of the NFC postseason chase, Campbell's development already was of primary import to some, and Washington will look to seldom-used veteran Todd Collins, who excelled last night, to continue its playoff push behind center for at least a few more weeks.
"It's extremely tough," Gibbs said of Campbell's injury. "We've got a young guy that's working so hard progressing for us. But I think the good news is they don't think it's ligaments, and I'm hesitant about saying anything more than that."
Campbell left what was a scoreless game having completed 10 of 16 passes for 100 yards. He has earned praise from coaches and teammates for his poise, and threw 12 touchdowns with 11 interceptions this season while completing 60 percent of his passes. But Campbell also has struggled at times, showing a propensity for turnovers and late-game mistakes.
The Redskins (6-7, 4-5 vs. the NFC), playing for the second time in five days and still grieving for slain safety Sean Taylor, provided a reason for spectators to cheer after Campbell left the field. Before his departure, it had been an evening of unsightly football: There were 10 punts and three failed field goals in the first half, with Redskins place kicker Shaun Suisham missing two of them.
The Bears (5-8) also lost their starting quarterback, Rex Grossman, in the first quarter to what appeared to be a serious knee injury when he was struck on the side of his left knee by defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin. Grossman's backup, Brian Griese, did not fare as well as Collins.
Griese was intercepted by cornerback Shawn Springs with 36 seconds left in the half, and Springs returned it 53 yards, putting Washington in the red zone. Springs, playing despite a bad back, anticipated the short out pattern. "I just wanted to get a quick jump on the ball," said Springs, who entered with two interceptions since 2005 but had two in the span of two drives last night.
On the first play after Springs's first interception, Collins (15 of 20 for 224 yards and two touchdowns -- a nearly perfect passer rating of 144.6), found backup tight end Todd Yoder wide open, and he rumbled into the end zone for a 7-0 lead. Collins, who has not started a game since 1997, threw his first regular season pass since 2004 last night and his first touchdown since Dec. 1, 2002.
"I don't think I've ever had a better performance [by a quarterback] coming off the bench," said Gibbs, who avoided matching the longest losing streak of his career.
The Redskins -- who blitzed with abandon, unlike they have most games this season -- went ahead 14-0 on the opening drive of the second half. Tailback Clinton Portis scampered 54 yards on a screen pass down to the Chicago 1, and fullback Mike Sellers punched it over the goal line two plays later.
Griese then threw for 70 yards on a 10-play drive that ended with a field goal -- over-aggressive rookie safety LaRon Landry's 13-yard personal foul keyed the drive -- and Bernard Berrian leapt over Springs in the end zone, making an acrobatic 17-yard touchdown catch to cut the lead to 14-10 entering the fourth quarter.
Tight end Chris Cooley, repeatedly exploiting seams in Chicago's zone defense, made catches of 33 yards and 20 yards to get the Redskins down to the 5, but their drive stalled there and they settled for a 23-yard field goal with just less than 12 minutes to play.
Chicago answered by using speedster Devin Hester to catch passes of 17, 16, 14 and 11 yards on a long drive, but the Bears' march stalled, too, and they ended up with just a field goal to make it 17-13.
The Redskins avoided any chance of another late-game collapse on the next drive, with Collins, 36, hitting tailback Ladell Betts for a 16-yard touchdown pass on third and six for an 11-point lead with less than three minutes to play. The pass-heavy drive was in stark contrast to most in the second half this season, with Gibbs often eschewing a conservative approach.
"It was not the typical Redskins drive at the end of the game," Cooley said. "Maybe we're learning from our past mistakes."