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A Big Win, A Big Loss

Jason Campbell, Mike Sellers
Running back Mike Sellers and the Redskins training staff tend to injured starting quarterback Jason Campbell. (Jonathan Newton - The Washington Post)

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By Michael Wilbon
Friday, December 7, 2007

Usually victory on any given Sunday, Monday or even Thursday is about all that matters in the NFL, whether it's the undefeated Patriots, winless Dolphins or everybody in between. Pro football, demanding as it is, doesn't waste a lot of time with context.

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But the Washington Redskins have entered that rare athletic twilight zone where winning isn't everything. Yes, it helps. You could see that in the smiles after they beat the Chicago Bears, 24-16, last night. Still, winning is tempered, first because of tragedy, then sporting misfortune that leave tiny room or desire for a full feel-good victory celebration. "It's been such a struggle for us," Joe Gibbs said afterward. "It's been hard for anybody to laugh or have some fun."

As if it weren't trying enough to bury a teammate and play two games in a five-day span, the Redskins were hit with another disappointment last night, nothing tragic but nonetheless a downer, when quarterback Jason Campbell was carted from the field with a dislocated left patella. If there's good news in such a situation, it's that Campbell didn't appear to damage ligaments, though an MRI exam will be needed to determine the extent of the injury.

Surely, it says something tremendous about the Redskins and their spirit that they were able to rally emotionally and competitively in such a short time with so little preparation in the days after Sean Taylor's death, the crushing loss Sunday to the Buffalo Bills and Taylor's funeral Monday.

They put to shame the Bears, who were inadequately prepared and utterly inept, to the point even of being an embarrassment to their profession. If there's little joy under such circumstances, perhaps the Redskins found some solace or relief in winning.

But the victory, desperately needed, still doesn't change the fact that the Redskins reported to work this morning with a 6-7 record and their franchise quarterback's status up in the air.

It was a brutal evening from the outset of a game that should have been postponed until the weekend anyway. The Bears were plunged into their own disappointment when defensive tackle Antonio Garay was carted off the field with a leg injury. And as pitiful as Rex Grossman has played quarterback this season, nobody wanted to see his leg twisted under his body when he was crunched by Redskins defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, whose concerned face told the story of Grossman's injury.

Pretty soon that concern was directed inward. Campbell was sacked by Chicago's Mark Anderson and his leg was twisted in much the same way Grossman's was. While Grossman ultimately got up and walked to his bench, the Redskins' medical staff quickly placed an air cast on Campbell's left leg and carted him off the field.

Todd Collins came in and played exceptionally, throwing his first touchdown pass in five years. He completed 15 of 20 passes for 224 yards, two touchdowns and a 144.6 passer rating. That's Tom Brady-land. Collins, for all practical purposes, won the game. Gibbs called it about the best off-the-bench performance he's ever had. It's got to be one of the highlights of Collins's 13-year career, to come in from the bullpen and perform as he did.

But it's the big picture we have to survey now, not the snapshot.

Collins is a 36-year-old journeyman backup who is only here because Al Saunders is running the offense. No matter how well Collins played last night, he isn't the future of the Redskins; Campbell is. Campbell is the player the Redskins traded draft picks to acquire. Campbell is a player the club has invested in heavily, financially and emotionally. Campbell is the first young franchise quarterback the Redskins have had in a long, long time, since who, Trent Green? Mark Rypien? Jay Schroeder?

Watching him develop has been the No. 1 story line of this season, seeing how calm he's become in the pocket, how much better he's gotten at going through his progressions, at finding check-down receivers. Sure, the kid has thrown some killer interceptions that have cost the Redskins, but that's what kid quarterbacks do. Last night, remember, was only Campbell's 20th start.


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