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Collins Shows His Mettle

By Mike Wise
Monday, December 17, 2007

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. Andrea Collins was not due with her second child until Dec. 29. Maybe the only person more expectant was her husband, who has been due for, like, 10 years.

But Friday she gave birth in Boston to a 6-pound, 15-ounce boy, and Todd Collins was astonishingly there to see it. Two nights later, he started and won his first NFL game in forever, or at least 1997.

"The last couple of weeks have been insane, you know?" the quarterback said in a cold New Jersey stadium after he directed the Redskins to a victory they so badly needed over the Giants Sunday. "Just getting a chance to play. The baby. Now this start. Now it's pretty good. I'm not complaining."

Little Jack, who presumably came 15 days early for the momentous occasion, should know straight-up: Under very trying circumstances, your Pop did good.

Collins did not have big numbers, throwing for 166 yards and completing 8 of 25 passes in this pivotal 22-10 win. But he's a man who knows how to win in bad weather. Born in Walpole, Mass., he's a former Michigan man who also played in Buffalo, the franchise for whom he last started a game 10 years ago.

This wintry mix of cold and wind was his kind of game. He directed five scoring drives. When he wasn't dropping back, Clinton Portis carried the team and the ball, 25 times for 126 yards and a touchdown. In this kind of weather, the run-pass balance was skewed the way Coach Joe Gibbs likes it, with 10 more rushes than passing attempts.

Toddball has no discerning pattern two games in; except wins. He's 2-0 as this team's primary quarterback and 1-0 in games after taking the benevolent owner's plane from Washington to Boston after practice Friday, when he first received a harried call from his wife.

"From the tone of her voice, I knew she was in the hospital, ready to have the baby," Collins said. "But she was trying not to get me alarmed. So I called her back and said, 'Where are you?'

"They're going to induce at 3 o'clock because my blood pressure is too high," Andrea told her husband. "She says, 'Don't even think about it. I don't want you to come. You got too much to worry about this weekend.'

"And of course my mind was spinning. I said, 'I got to get up there.' How many times do you see this? I'm not going to miss the birth of my baby. I also don't want her to be alone.

"I told [quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor]. He talked to Coach Gibbs. From there, I guess they brought it up the chain. Next thing I know, I'm on the flight."

Owner Daniel Snyder had a car waiting at Logan Airport for Collins. "Jumped into the car and drove directly to Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston," he said. "I got there at 4:45. My wife was just thrilled I made it. They started to inducing at 5 o'clock. And straight up at 8 o'clock out came Jack."

Collins made it back for walk-through practice Saturday. And Sunday night, in the driving wind and cold of Giants Stadium, the Redskins won behind a rusty and so resilient Collins -- the most patient back-up quarterback in modern NFL history.

Beyond Collins's personal drama, this was a victory of fortitude, a triumph of resolve and about as big a win as can be had for the Washington Redskins in the second week of December.

Team Tribulation survived a maddening -- and familiar -- second-half scare before crumpling the Giants. In a game they needed badly to stay alive for a wildcard playoff berth and set up a monster showdown in Minnesota on Sunday, old-man Collins got hot late and leaned on his teammates for early support when nothing he threw came close to being caught.

Andre Carter stuffed a fourth-down run, Shaun Suisham made every big kick in inclement weather he had to, and Al Saunders made a tremendous call -- a third-and-nine draw from the 14 -- when Ladell Betts went up the middle and scored.

It's still just three weeks after the Redskins were touched by tragedy and one week since Jason Campbell was lost for the remainder of the regular season to injury. And who ever imagined that this unlikely protagonist would step into the season's sad and chaotic plotline, this 36-year-old relic from another millennium?

Collins could not find his range or rhythm early in the first half. He missed on his first eight passing attempts. For a moment, his victory over the Bears last week after Campbell went down with a knee injury, looked to be his lone highlight from the season.

The thinking going in among many observers was that Collins might be in real trouble. The Giants weren't a caught-off-guard Chicago team, trying to stop a quarterback whom no one had prepared for since December 1997, when Collins started for Buffalo. Even if you could find tape of Collins, you would have to either have a Beta, VCR or have your video coordinator convert the thing to a DVD quickly.

But with a week to prepare for a very immobile quarterback with an average arm, well, let's just say the Giants were salivating, ready to bring the heat and make Collins beat them quickly or else.

And then it clicked. A long route to Moss. And another. A crossing pattern to Cooley. A big completion to Todd Yoder, who caught the first touchdown from Collins last week against the Bears. (Raise your hand now if you saw the Collins-to-Yoder connection being such a seminal hook-up in December.)

On the Toddball train rumbled. Next to Eli Manning, who looked about as erratic as he's ever looked, Collins was poised under immense pressure.

One of the more short-sighted comments about the NFL was made last week on ESPN by the almost-always thoughtful Bob Ley, who prefaced a question to John Clayton the day Bobby Petrino resigned from Atlanta -- the same week Michael Vick received his sentence for a federal dogfighting charge. Ley essentially said no team had undergone such trial and tumult this year more than the Falcons, and Clayton, who only had seconds to respond, nodded and agreed.

Let's be clear about this: No team in the NFL -- and almost no one in recent American team-sports history -- has dealt with more physical and emotional hurt than the Redskins. Not the sorry Dolphins, the Jekyll-and-Hyde Chargers and certainly not the three-win Falcons, whose former franchise quarterback created many of his own problems that put the team in the NFC cellar.

They lost Vick, but he didn't die. When Sean Taylor was killed in Miami late last month, a team that didn't need another loss of any sort suffered an unimaginable tragedy.

And here they are, still in the hunt, with a 36-year-old quarterback. The guy came here on a lousy weather night and outdueled one of the NFL's faces of the future. Not much more good can be said about Gibbs's team and his reborn starting quarterback, whose son, Jack, arrived just in time to see his father start and win.

Nice of the kid to come early, but he could learn something about patience from the old man.

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