Redskins' Collins Sets Proper Tone

Since Jason Campbell went down, Todd Collins has led the Redskins to two wins.
Since Jason Campbell went down, Todd Collins has led the Redskins to two wins. (Jonathan Newton - The Post)
By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 20, 2007

Although many of his passes fluttered off target because of high winds Sunday night against the New York Giants at Giants Stadium, Washington Redskins quarterback Todd Collins appeared unfazed in the huddle. And even after having no completions in his first eight attempts, Collins remained upbeat while encouraging his teammates to trust the game plan.

The Redskins followed Collins's lead in a 22-10 victory that kept their playoff hopes alive. Collins struggled in difficult conditions but won his first start in a decade, strengthening the Redskins' belief in him as they pursue an NFC wild-card berth with two games to play. Washington faces the Minnesota Vikings in a must-win game on Sunday in Minneapolis, and Collins, a longtime backup, has settled into his important new role.

"The last couple of weeks, what Todd's done, it really hasn't been surprising to us because we know what he's capable of in this offense," wide receiver Antwaan Randle El said. "You look at the preseason, he came in and took us up and down the field no matter who was in the game, but he just didn't have the opportunity to do it in the season. He's not going to worry or anything like that, he's just going to go out there and keep leading our offense and doing his job."

With a game-time temperature of 36 degrees and an 18-mph wind Sunday, the weather conditions could have been better for Collins's first start since Dec. 14, 1997, when he was with the Buffalo Bills. Collins moved to the top of Washington's depth chart on the strength of his performance in relief of injured quarterback Jason Campbell (who is not expected to play in the final two games against Minnesota and Dallas) in a 24-16 victory over the Chicago Bears on Dec. 6.

After Campbell was carted off the field because of a knee injury in the first half at FedEx Field, Collins entered the game and completed 15 of 20 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions. He had a 144.6 passer rating, prompting Coach Joe Gibbs to stay with Collins, 36, as the starter against the Giants instead of turning to No. 3 quarterback Mark Brunell, 37, a former starter.

Statistically, Collins's performance against New York did not compare favorably with his outing against Chicago. He completed only 8 of 25 passes for 166 yards and no touchdowns and had a 56.4 passer rating. But Collins had no turnovers, and coaches said he managed the offense well, teaming with wide receiver Santana Moss on 36- and 34-yard completions in the second quarter that helped the Redskins score 10 points in taking a 16-3 halftime lead.

"We all expressed that we felt confident in Todd's ability to win a game for us last week," left guard Pete Kendall said. "The weather conditions weren't ideal, it was hard for both teams to throw, but the thing that was best for us is that when we threw the ball and completed it, it changed the field.

"They were big plays. Even if we couldn't necessarily pull points out of it, which we did a lot of the time, it changed the field, changed the field position and gave our defense an advantage."

Said center Casey Rabach, "When we needed the big play, it seemed like Todd came through with it."

Under the circumstances, Collins impressed again, Gibbs said.

"I felt like [it was] an exceptional effort," Gibbs said. "We got off to a slow start for sure. That wind was whipping. What it did was it changed the ball a lot going to the receivers. You saw them drop a bunch and then us have a tough time adjusting to things.

"Todd got off to a tough start and then gradually came and got in a groove and made some big plays for us. Santana, he has an extra sense and GPS on those deep balls to hunt those things down like that in the blowing wind. To get a couple of them like that were great. Todd, as the game went, got better and better and got more comfortable."

Collins's confidence in his ability to execute the offense never wavered, though "it was pretty trying out there," he said. "Sometimes you'd throw the ball, but with the wind you just couldn't even compensate for it. In those situations, you just have to find ways to make more plays than the other team. Fortunately, this team did."

The Redskins (7-7) must defeat the Vikings (8-6) to remain in playoff contention. Unlike in the game against the Giants, conditions inside the Metrodome should be favorable for passing, but crowd noise could present problems, Collins said.

"Last week, what made it tough were the [weather] conditions. This week, it's definitely going to be the noise and the communications," Collins said. "Playing there a few times in the past, it can get very loud, especially with this type of atmosphere and a [potential] playoff team like Minnesota. A big game like this, I'm sure they're going to be hyped up in the dome."

After a 13-year career spent primarily as a backup, Collins has been thrust into a playoff race in a prominent position. There is no place else he would rather be, Collins said.

"The last two games, when we were 5-7, basically all these games are playoff games for us," Collins said. "That's what it felt like last week, [and] that's how we'll prepare for this week. It's exciting.

"Any time you're in the 16th week of the season and you're playing games that mean something, in terms of going to the playoffs, that's where you want to be, especially late in December. We're very fortunate to be in that position and we want to take advantage of this."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company