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Survival Skills To Be Tested Again

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By Mike Wise
Friday, December 7, 2007

More than 82,000 people who braved the chill and a miserable first half of football became trapped in the moment. Many shuffled out of the stadium gates last night believing their team had genuine postseason hope for the first time in a month, and their favorite tight end summed up a reinvigorated locker room afterward:

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"I don't want to say I was thinking we actually forgot how to win," Chris Cooley said. "But I was worried we were learning how to lose. Four weeks in a row and we almost gave the game away. I've never been involved in anything like that."

So, for the loyalists, Washington 24, Chicago 16, felt good at midnight, almost reassuring.

But only in Washington, only during this unforgivably cruel season, does the home team win the game and lose its immediate future. Only here, only this season, is the hint of optimism bulldozed by the starting quarterback taken from the field in a motorized cart.

There are technically three games remaining. But if Jason Campbell can't come back before the regular season finale against Dallas, this resilient victory after a week of real-life hell was for the optimist. The realist probably saw the last, painful images of a lost season from FedEx Field: Campbell grimacing in agony, then clutching his left knee after a blindside hit. An air cast immobilizing his leg. The young quarterback carted away for the night, his kneecap dislocated, his season halted.

It's not over. Not mathematically. Beating back the Bears on a frigid, 26-degree night that felt like Chicago -- three days after attending the funeral of Sean Taylor -- must qualify as a major feat of perseverance.

With hardly any time to prepare and needing a victory to have any playoff hope in the wide-open race for the final NFC berth, the Redskins delivered for their crestfallen fans looking for any sign of progress after last Sunday's meltdown against the Bills.

Taking a micro look, who can quibble with Todd Collins coming off the bench, seeing significant playing time for the first time since he last started an NFL game in 1997? His last regular season pass was thrown the year Joe Gibbs returned in 2004.

Clinton Portis put his head down and made big plays. Return man extraordinaire Devin Hester never tap danced all over Washington on the way to the end zone. With the exception of two misses by Shaun Suisham early, Danny Smith again coached-up his special teams. Shawn Springs turned this game around with -- miracle of miracles -- his first interception of the season and a pretty return.

This was, in every way imaginable, an elimination game. Unless you believe 5-8 teams can run the table and rely on someone else to falter, the Bears are done. The Redskins survive, for at least two more weeks.

But the margin of error is beyond slim if Campbell doesn't come back. It's especially slim without a guy who was trying to become the first quarterback to start and finish all 16 games in Washington since Brad Johnson in 1999.

Campbell had growing pains, no doubt. He was tremendous before the red zone, marshaling his team downfield. But he seemed allergic to the end zone once the Redskins got within 20 yards of it. For his own psyche, he needed to throw a touchdown pass late to win a game rather than having it intercepted.


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