New Life for the Redskins

By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 17, 2007

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Dec. 16 -- Outside, a winter wind whipped across the icy parking lot of Giants Stadium, the field inside the place was caked hard with frost. But with the heaters churning inside the locker room Sunday night, the Washington Redskins laughed, the playoffs were suddenly in sight, the new quarterback had a new baby and for a moment the season seemed saved.

It is strange how two nights of success in the NFL can change a team's outlook on life. Two weeks ago, after Sean Taylor had died but before his body had been buried, the Redskins lost a game at the last moment to the Buffalo Bills and the despair of that afternoon seemed to have all but ruined what remained of in the year.

But something has happened in the days since Taylor's funeral. Something more than just last night's 22-10 victory over the New York Giants. Suddenly a team that seemed lost is a team that still has a chance of making the playoffs as a wild card with a 7-7 record.

"For one thing, Sean's death brought us closer together," linebacker London Fletcher said. "The Buffalo game [a loss six days after Taylor was shot in his Miami home] was too emotional. I wasn't sure how we were going to play that day after what happened. But after the funeral we were able to focus our minds."

A few lockers away, defensive end Phillip Daniels, having just peeled off his jersey and shoulder pads, nodded.

"We know he's out there every play," Daniels said. "And at the same time he healed us and gave us composure."

Still, it is more than the spirit of Taylor that has changed the Redskins. Everything has been different since starting quarterback Jason Campbell dislocated his kneecap 10 days ago against the Chicago Bears. His season-ending injury forced the team to play Todd Collins, a rarely used backup for much of his NFL career but a player with an intimate understanding of the offense of Al Saunders, the associate head coach-offense.

That little bit of understanding seems to have ignited an offense that until two weeks ago was taking Washington nowhere. On Sunday, Collins was not overly effective. The wind that blew over the swamps of the Meadowlands tossed enough of his throws to hold him to a very unimpressive statistics line: eight completions of 25 passes for 166 yards. But it isn't numbers that Collins brings. It's confidence, a belief that after 13 years in the league he has an idea of what he's doing as opposed to Campbell, who was in his first full year as a starting quarterback.

Or as running back Clinton Portis said after the game, "Jason would go out there trying not to make a mistake where Todd will take chances."

Apparently Collins has taken enough. For even when he was ineffective, he managed to get just enough passes into the hands of receivers to open up a running game and that's all Washington needed to do on a night when anything conventional was simply not going to work.

As the gales whipped over the stadium, stiffening the flags and sending the fans who actually did come to the game (about two-thirds of the announced crowd of 77,899) scampering up the aisles and out to their cars, the simple act of throwing a football became an adventure. Redskins punter Derrick Frost said he was startled to watch the ball fly out of the hands of each quarterback, then hurtle downfield well over the outstretched hands of receivers.

He noted how many Giants players dropped passes much to the chagrin of the few Giants fans who dotted the otherwise empty red and blue stands and said that would probably draw much of the attention here in New York. But he said that would be an injustice to the Redskins receivers who managed to follow the floating ball enough times to get the offense going.

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