Collins's Steady Play Is Money in the Bank

By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 29, 2007

While meeting with reporters this week at Redskins Park, Washington quarterback Todd Collins was asked about the potential reward he soon could receive in free agency because of his impressive performance since becoming a starter. Collins sidestepped the topic while emphasizing the importance of the team's recent strong play.

It appears, however, that Collins is in line for a lucrative new contract after playing a key role in resuscitating the Redskins' season.

"Who knows, really," Collins said. "I'm just enjoying this week to week. I don't know how long this is going to last. I'm just going to savor the moment."

Collins has led Washington (8-7) to three consecutive victories since taking over when Jason Campbell was injured against the Chicago Bears on Dec. 6, putting the Redskins on the verge of only their third postseason appearance in 15 seasons. With a victory over the Dallas Cowboys (13-2) tomorrow at FedEx Field, Washington would clinch the NFC's last playoff spot. The Redskins would not be in this position, many players said, without Collins, who has exceeded their expectations and helped himself in the process.

"With what he's done in the past and what he's doing lately . . . it's pretty amazing," center Casey Rabach said. "We couldn't be happier with the guy we have there, he's doing a heck of a job for us. Obviously, everybody had confidence in him to get the job done. But maybe not to the extent he's been doing it."

In two starts and one long relief appearance, Collins, 36, has completed nearly 61 percent of his passes for 644 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Collins, who had not appeared in a game this season prior to filling in against the Bears, has not thrown enough passes to qualify for the NFL's quarterback rankings (a minimum of 14 passes per game through 15 games). If Collins had enough attempts, his 107.0 passer rating would rank only behind Tom Brady's league-leading mark of 117.2.

Collins has finished games well, completing more than 73 percent of his passes after halftime with a 119.3 passer rating. Collins's closing ability is a welcome attribute on a team that has lost five times this season -- and 15 times since 2004 -- in a game in which it had led at halftime.

"The coaches are giving Todd the opportunity to make plays and he's making them," wide receiver Santana Moss said. "We've always known that Todd knows this offense and knows how to play, but he's going out there and really taking advantage of this opportunity."

Collins had the best outing of his career in the 32-21 victory over the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome last Sunday. He completed 22 of 29 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns in guiding Washington ahead of Minnesota in the NFC wild-card standings. Early in his career while with the Buffalo Bills, Collins had games in which he completed more passes and had higher yardage totals than in his previous performance, but he had never been so efficient and productive, especially in a game his team had to win to keep its playoff hopes alive.

After a four-game losing streak, the Redskins were 5-7 when they faced the Bears. Collins -- who had not thrown a pass in a regular season game since Dec. 19, 2004 -- entered late in the second quarter when Campbell was carted off the field with a dislocated left kneecap and strained medial collateral ligament.

Collins led the Redskins to all their points. He completed 15 of 20 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns. For his efforts, Collins was named the NFC offensive player of the week. Then, in his first start in a decade the following week, Collins led the Redskins to a 22-10 road victory over the New York Giants.

Collins struggled in difficult weather conditions (8 of 25 for 166 yards) but had no turnovers. He provided steady leadership under pressure and managed the offense well, coaches said, teaming with 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. Against the Vikings, Collins connected with tight end Chris Cooley and Moss on 33- and 32-yard touchdowns.

"Throwing the deep ball the way he has, and making big plays, has kind of been missing this year," Rabach said. "It couldn't have come at a better time."

It seems Collins's timing could not be better. He has a salary cap number of almost $1.48 million in the final year of a two-year contract that will pay him more than $2.5 million, and likely will receive a significant raise. "Obviously, I'm sitting here smiling, watching my TV every week," said Collins's agent, Brad Blank.

Considering how efficient and productive the Redskins' offense has been with Collins, primarily a backup throughout his 13-year career, as the No. 1 quarterback, re-signing him would seem to be a priority for the organization.

"I can't make decisions for the people upstairs, I don't know what they have in mind, but he's definitely making a great case for himself," running back Ladell Betts said. "He's put together three wins in a critical situation for us. Hopefully, he can get a fourth."

Said associate head coach-offense Al Saunders: "He's invested a lot of time, and invested a lot of energy, and really gone through the ups and downs of being in this business. Now, all of a sudden, he's in a situation where people can appreciate what he brings to the table."

Collins credits his teammates for his success. When asked about his performance, he often lists the solid pass protection of the offensive line, the production of running back Clinton Portis and the playmaking ability of Cooley and Moss high among the reasons for the winning streak. The Redskins also have been formidable defensively during their late-season playoff push, "so it's really not all about me," Collins said. "I'm just a part of what we're doing. . . . In the NFL, if you produce, you get to stay. You play well, you get to keep playing."

Redskins Notes: Coach Joe Gibbs acknowledged he was nervous yesterday after the Redskins completed preparations to face the Cowboys.

"Yeah, I'm nervous. I'd say it's the biggest game since we've come back," he said. "It's four years of hard work. . . . If somehow, some way, we can get this, then you have a chance for the football dream of getting into the playoffs. Our veteran guys that have been here for four years, working hard, know it. It's just a matter of can we get it." . . .

Wide receiver Terrell Owens and cornerback Terence Newman were among four Dallas starters declared inactive for tomorrow's game. Backup safety Patrick Watkins (ankle) also will sit out for the Cowboys. Wide receiver Terry Glenn, whose has missed every game this season with a right knee injury, was listed as probable.

Nonetheless, Gibbs said the Redskins are preparing for a challenge.

"It's a big deal for us," he said, "playing a team like this that's really, really talented all the way across the board." . . .

With backup center Mike Pucillo (back) on injured reserve, Gibbs said reserve guard Rick DeMulling would move to center if Rabach was injured. Right guard Pete Kendall would serve as an emergency center. . . . Tight end Todd Yoder (knee) is probable. . . . Campbell is the only player on the active roster ruled out.

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