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Collins's Perfect Timing

"Todd is perfect for this system," Redskins wide receiver Keenan McCardell said of Todd Collins, above. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
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Even Collins's receivers are impressed at how he's seized his opportunity. "Todd is perfect for this system," said Keenan McCardell, who is eighth on the NFL's all-time receptions list. "When you make your cut, the ball is right on you, but nice and catchable. You never see the ball leave his hand. Right now, he's on rhythm. This is the best time of the season for a quarterback to be on fire."

And scorching he is. At times, the passing attack has been so smooth, so oblivious to the existence of the defense, that Collins seems to be playing a private game of catch, even on third and long. Leaving out the Giants game, played in crosswinds that gusted to 50 mph, Collins has completed 59 of 80 passes (73.8 percent) for 722 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer ratings in those three games have been 144.6, 124.8 and 104.8. In contrast, in 20 career starts, Campbell has two games with ratings better than 100.

Because Collins was preserved in amber for a decade, his body and his confidence are unscarred. His last NFL interception was in 1997. "I was still in high school," Rabach joked.

Coach Joe Gibbs praises Collins's courage in the pocket. Sellers calls him "oblivious to the rush" and a quarterback who always "steps up in the pocket" as he should, rather than drifting side to side.

Of course, perhaps Collins simply can't remember what failure is like and, once reminded, may revert to it. Some passers can "feel pressure" coming from behind from long experience. Collins doesn't. Blindside him and he often fumbles, including twice against Dallas on Sunday. But others do, too. "We have to keep his uniform clean," Rabach said.

The Redskins still maintain publicly that Campbell might, in theory, return if this postseason run goes long enough. The players themselves know better, privately acknowledging that Collins will play out this streak to its conclusion and that Campbell's dislocated kneecap is a serious injury. (I had one long ago. My son had one a few years ago. Forget "four weeks.") "Jason knows," one Redskins veteran said. "He's not going to rush back."

Before next season, the Redskins may have some hard thinking to do, depending on how complete Campbell's recuperation is and how much more success Collins has. But it shouldn't be a forgone conclusion that the quarterback job is Campbell's just because he's 10 years younger. Campbell is the future. But with a veteran team, Collins might be Mr. '08.

The Redskins themselves are evaluating Collins every week. If December games in a playoff run have extra weight, then playoff wins on the road are pure gold in a quarterback's bank. Collins, who will be a free agent after this season, is very close to cashing in. "I don't think Todd wants to go anywhere else," Sellers said. "The management here will give you what you deserve if you deserve it."

So the delicious question hangs in the air: How good is Collins?

"He's real good. And I'm not just boasting on my quarterback," Randle El said. "He's so prepared he's almost over the top with it. If you knew Todd, that's just how he is. I'm not taking anything away from Jason. When he was in, it was happening, too. But Todd has been studying this system for seven years and it shows: 'Let it go early and trust it.' "

Does he remind you of any other quarterback, Randle El was asked.

"That timing and rhythm he has with his receivers, that's like Peyton Manning," said Randle El, without laughing.

Who was that?

"Peyton Manning," he repeated. Again, not even a trace of a smile.

Todd Collins. Peyton Manning. Take your pick. They don't even allow plots this outlandish in bad movies. Savor it while it lasts.

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