Backup Collins Steps to the Front for Redskins

By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 7, 2007

The line of teammates waiting to congratulate Washington Redskins backup quarterback Todd Collins continued to grow as he approached the sideline late in the fourth quarter last night at FedEx Field. Collins had directed the offense well after he replaced injured starter Jason Campbell before halftime in Washington's 24-16 victory over the Chicago Bears, and the Redskins were eager to show their appreciation.

Collins made time for everyone, shaking hands, receiving congratulatory slaps on the back and "atta-boys," enjoying the type of moment he had rarely experienced in a 13-year career spent mostly holding clipboards. With Campbell possibly sidelined for the remainder of the season because of a dislocated left kneecap, Collins moves to the top of the Redskins' depth chart for the final three games.

It's a role Collins hasn't had since he was the Buffalo Bills' starter a decade ago, but he's in the spotlight now as the Redskins struggle to remain in contention for an NFC wild-card berth. Fortunately for the Redskins, at least Collins is off to a good start.

"Todd was big. Todd stepped in and played great for us," wide receiver Keenan McCardell said. "When you're a backup like Todd, you don't get a lot of chances to play, but he stepped in and played huge. There was a lot of concern when Jason went out, a lot of concern, but Todd was like a pinch hitter. He was like a big-time pinch hitter, who stepped in and hit a home run in the clutch. You only get one chance to hit the home run, and he did it tonight."

With 2 minutes 59 seconds remaining in the first half, Campbell was injured after Bears defensive end Mark Anderson landed on his left knee after Campbell got off a pass to running back Ladell Betts for a seven-yard gain. Washington's medical staff rushed to the field to attend to Campbell, whose leg was immobilized in an air cast as he was carted off the field and into the locker room.

Campbell was diagnosed with a dislocated patella, the Redskins said, and will undergo an MRI exam today to determine the severity of the injury. In his relief duty against the Bears, Collins completed 15 of 20 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He had a 144.6 passer rating.

"When Jason went down, everyone got a little uptight and worried," left tackle Chris Samuels said. "No one wanted to see Jason like that. But we knew what we had in Todd. He's been in the system a long time and he's comfortable with it."

On Collins's first series, Bears defensive end Alex Brown slapped the ball out of his hand and defensive end Adewale Ogunleye recovered the fumble at the Chicago 47-yard line. Then Collins seemed to get comfortable quickly.

Cornerback Shawn Springs intercepted a pass by Bears backup quarterback Brian Griese (starter Rex Grossman left in the first quarter because of a knee injury) and returned it 53 yards to the Chicago 21.

One play later, Collins found tight end Todd Yoder for a 21-yard touchdown pass with 24 seconds remaining in the half. The Redskins took a 7-0 halftime lead.

"Right there, that was big," wide receiver Santana Moss said. "We knew that there probably wasn't going to be no letdown when Todd came in, we just had to make the plays for him. We were hurting for Jason, we didn't want to see him like that, but we had no time to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves. Todd did well by coming in and helping us dig out of that hole."

On third and 11 in the fourth quarter, Collins completed a 33-yard pass to tight end Chris Cooley. Shaun Suisham capped the drive with a 23-yard field goal that extended the Redskins' lead to 17-10. With 2:41 left in the game, Collins teamed with Betts on a 16-yard touchdown pass that triggered a sideline celebration with Collins at the center of the action.

"The ball I caught in the middle of the field, it was on me the second I turned around," Cooley said. "He did a great job getting the ball in everyone's hands."

Of course, this was the role Collins prepared for since signing with the Redskins as an unrestricted free agent before the 2006 season. The team wanted a steady, veteran quarterback as a backup for the inexperienced Campbell, and Collins had previously worked under Al Saunders, Washington's associate head coach-offense, while with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Prior to joining the Redskins before last season, Saunders directed high-scoring offenses with the Chiefs. Collins, 36, was either Kansas City's backup or No. 3 quarterback for eight seasons, and Saunders thought Collins would be a good fit in Washington while helping Campbell to develop.

"I'm familiar with the offense," Collins said. "I haven't gotten any reps lately, or any game action, but I do a pretty good job studying during the week and week to week. So I felt pretty good being able to pick up when my number was called."

Nothing against Collins, but the Redskins had hoped to see him on the field only in exhibition games or during mop-up duty at the end of blowouts. In his first season with the Redskins, Collins did not appear in a game. He had not attempted a pass since Dec. 19, 2004, while with the Chiefs.

Collins last played regularly in 1997. He was Bills' starter that season, after beating out Alex Van Pelt and Billy Joe Hobert. Collins had his most productive season statistically with 2,367 yards passing, 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

"Todd came in there cool and calm tonight," center Casey Rabach said. "He made some big throws and big plays. Thank God we've got him on our team."

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