Campbell Should Follow Path Blazed by Manning
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.
Jason Campbell should have every alibi at his disposal. Lousy protection. Rotating coaches and playbooks. No rookie wide receiver emerging to the fore and giving him another weapon. And he's coming off a knee injury, the most draining physical comeback in sports.
He also knows Eli Manning had alibis a year ago in New York, and it didn't matter a bit. At some point, the kid had to make plays to make people believe. Last year became a career-defining season, one in which Manning would either show the promise and poise of a face-of-the-franchise quarterback or the jitters and vacant stares of a four-year veteran who doesn't yet get it.
Manning told him so on Thursday night, before and after the Giants beat an out-of-sync and lethargic-looking Washington Redskins team, 16-7, on the night the Super Bowl champions celebrated their surreal upset last winter.
"He was talking about all the things he went through and now where he's at," Campbell said. Manning talked to Campbell about forks in the road of a career, how he somehow veered down the right path against every piece of evidence to the contrary.
It is Campbell's fourth season now, his own fork in the road. With his own uneven and sometimes unsightly performance Thursday night, he begins the same arduous journey his counterpart took a year ago.
He wasn't very good and he knows it. Campbell badly overthrew a couple check-down passes, including a screen to Ladell Betts that he rifled over the running back's head on a second-and-long play in the fourth quarter. He didn't complete a pass until less than two minutes remained in the first half.
Under siege by the young, bull-rushing Giants, unprotected at times by his offensive line, he never got into a rhythm and never gave anyone the sense that he had grasped much of Jim Zorn's West Coast offense. He admitted as much afterward.
"I don't think anyone expected us to come out here tonight and look like the Seattle Seahawks, the way they run their offense right now," he said of Zorn's former team. "They've been running it for a while and they've been in it for a while. This is our first regular season game running it and each guy could go back and look at films and say, 'I could have done that better, I could have done this better.' "
The good news for the new union of quarterback and coach: It took Matt Hasselbeck, now a Pro Bowler in Seattle, almost two full seasons to really incorporate what Zorn was teaching him into game-day productivity. The bad news is, Campbell probably doesn't have two years. He needs to show progress now. He needs to make plays today. He needs to duck out of trouble, run to his right and somehow find a guy who makes a tremendous catch downfield in the crucible of a big game. Like Manning to David Tyree, circa last February.
Parking in front of a humongous banner that read "2007 WORLD CHAMPIONS" late Thursday afternoon, it's still hard to fathom.