Redskins' Campbell Is Playing It Cool

"I've seen Jason [Campbell] from the moment he came here, and you can see that change in him," Chris Samuels said.
"I've seen Jason [Campbell] from the moment he came here, and you can see that change in him," Chris Samuels said. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 19, 2008

The leader of the Washington Redskins' offense exuded confidence. Quarterback Jason Campbell had shown strength during other tense situations, several of his teammates said yesterday, but this situation was different.

The Redskins were trailing the New Orleans Saints by two points late in the fourth quarter in their home opener Sunday. Campbell had been booed often as the offense failed to capitalize on earlier opportunities, and Washington got the ball back with 3 minutes 38 seconds to play.

The call for a deep pass came from Coach Jim Zorn, and Campbell assured everyone in the huddle good things would happen as long as they performed their assignments well.

"I just told 'em, 'Here we go, guys. This is what we've been fighting for, working for, for the whole offseason. This is our opportunity. We've got the ball, and let's do something big,' " said Campbell, who was the subject of intense media and fan scrutiny after the season-opening loss to the New York Giants. "I told 'em that first play was going to be big, and guys were very confident in the huddle."

What followed was a 67-yard touchdown throw to wide receiver Santana Moss that completed the rally from a nine-point, fourth-quarter deficit in the 29-24 triumph.

In his fourth season, Campbell has asserted himself more in the locker room and on the field. He has shouldered much of the responsibility for the inevitable growing pains in the transition to Zorn's West Coast scheme, which is what he should do, the team captain said, while mentoring younger players.

Regardless of how outsiders view Campbell, he has the trust of the people he works closest with, teammates said. Washington will host the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, and the Redskins are eager to see what Campbell does next.

"I've seen Jason from the moment he came here, and you can see that change in him," left tackle Chris Samuels said. "Whenever you get experience under your belt, you get more comfortable in a leadership role. Jason is being more vocal in practice, giving words of encouragement to the team, and then you see what he did in the last game. The way he stepped up, I was just so proud of him."

Against the Saints, Campbell completed 24 of 36 passes for 321 yards and the touchdown to Moss. He had the third-highest passer rating (104.1) of his career. Campbell was more efficient at locating his second and third receivers than in the 16-7 loss to the Giants, Zorn said, contributing to Washington's diversity in the passing game as nine players had receptions. In the 2007 season, the Redskins did not have a game in which at least nine players caught passes with Campbell as the starter.

On the Redskins' possession prior to the Campbell-Moss connection, Campbell was perfect in five attempts for 82 yards. Sacked for a 12-yard loss on the first play, Campbell came back to find tight end Chris Cooley for a 23-yard gain and a first down. Running back Clinton Portis ended the drive with the second of his two second-half touchdown runs, as the Redskins cut the lead to two points.

And then in what teammates described as the biggest play of his career, Campbell threw a great deep ball to Moss for the touchdown, despite being off balance. "He threw that ball 61 yards in the air," Zorn said. "There aren't a lot of quarterbacks who can do that."

The play changed more than just the score. Had the Redskins failed to win the game and started the season 0-2, Redskins Park would not have been a pleasant place to be, players said. "No one wants to even think about that," wide receiver Antwaan Randle El said. "It was a big, big play."

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