By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
Todd Collins or Jason Campbell?
At this point, according to Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs, there's no question. Gibbs said yesterday that veteran backup Collins will remain the starting quarterback for Saturday's first-round playoff game at Seattle, with Campbell "a long ways away" from recovering from a knee injury. Collins has been outstanding in an improbable four-game winning streak that has taken the team to the playoffs, with accolades pouring in after every performance.
Campbell, who turned 26 yesterday, dislocated his left kneecap and strained a knee ligament when he was hit early in a game against Chicago on Dec. 6. Campbell has been rehabilitating the injury since then, but he has been unable to practice. Gibbs said Campbell continues to be evaluated daily and could increase his workload, but the staff does not anticipate him being on the game-day roster to face the NFC West champion Seahawks (10-6), with veteran Mark Brunell and rookie Sam Hollenbach behind Collins, 36, for now.
"I doubt right now that Jason will be back to that point yet [to serve as a backup]," Gibbs said. "We've still got quite a ways to go. I talked to [director of sports medicine] Bubba [Tyer] this morning and I think there's a long ways to go there still. . . . We're going to take it day by day and you never know with our players, but we think right now it's still a little into the future before we can get him ready."
Collins, who had not started a game in 10 years before this season but is versed in the system from years as an understudy, has yet to make a major misstep, throwing five touchdown passes and no interceptions. He has posted a passer rating of 100 or better in three of his four games -- a windy storm in New York the only exception -- and his 106.4 rating overall was second best in the NFL in December. Only Peyton Manning had a better rating -- 122.2.
Gibbs again praised Collins's intellect and "fearlessness" yesterday after he completed 22 of 31 passes for 244 yards and a touchdown in a 27-6 victory over Dallas to cement a playoff spot. With Collins playing, the offense -- ranked just 15th overall for the season -- has been more dynamic, with playmakers Clinton Portis, Santana Moss, Chris Cooley and Antwaan Randle El all involved.
"I think Todd's opening things up for everybody the way he's spraying the ball around," Portis said. "Teams got to play us honest."
The passing game has far outpaced the running game (averaging just 3.3 yards per carry during this four-game streak), and the coaches have shown more confidence in throwing with a lead with Collins.
"With Todd that's to be expected because he knows the [offense] well," Moss said, "and the coaches don't have to second-guess him, saying that he's not going to make one of those decisions that [they] don't want him to make. I think when you have a young guy like Jason throwing the ball, we know he's going to be great, but at times you try to say, 'Let's make sure we don't put him in situations where we hurt him because it's too soon where we told him to do something that he wasn't ready for.' "
Collins's surprising rise from obscurity has mirrored what the team has accomplished as a unit. Following the death of safety Sean Taylor in November, then blowing a late lead at FedEx Field and losing on a last-second field goal to Buffalo that week, Gibbs said he "would never have dreamed" a trip to the postseason would be possible.
"To think we could play four weeks like this after having the four that we had previous to that, I think it's just a testimony to our players and their attitude. I think right now everybody's kind of lost their selves. They're not worried about individual goals; they're worried about the team. Everybody's being accountable to each other. If we can keep that, that's the key to playing real, real good football."
Washington's defense also has keyed the revival, stopping the run -- Dallas managed one yard on 16 carries -- and rattling passers. Opposing quarterbacks have a combined 59 passer rating -- with three touchdowns and five interceptions -- in the past four games. A unit that finished 31st overall a year ago finished eighth in total defense this season, ranking third in yards allowed per rush and sixth in yards per pass.
"If you're going to get something done in the playoffs, your defense has to lead you," Gibbs said.
Players have made a pledge to eliminate the trend of blowing halftime leads as well, Gibbs said. "We got burned so many times," he said. The Redskins lost five games in which they led at the half -- a problem during their four-game losing streak in November -- but have outscored opponents 105-53 during the four-game winning streak and have led by an aggregate 58-6 score at halftime.
"I think our team has learned that lesson," Gibbs said of the blown leads.
In turn, Gibbs has bucked his natural tendency to drive players harder down the stretch. He has curtailed Wednesday practice in favor of a walkthrough since having to play Chicago on a Thursday night two days after Taylor's funeral, opting for more meetings and mental work.
"I definitely feel like that's something that I've changed over," Gibbs said. "I backed off some. In the past we were going to pound it until our brains fell out on the field and we've taken a little different approach. . . . But I also think this team has been one that lends itself to that because it's so conscientious and works so hard in practice."