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."
Everyone knew it, especially Campbell. "J.C. knew we could do this," Moss said. "You could just see he was ready to take a shot. It was like, 'Let's do this.' "
On the play, Randle El was the primary target, running a pattern about 20 yards, and Moss had the deeper route. But there was a breakdown in pass protection -- fullback Mike Sellers made an alert play to block a defensive lineman who had clear path toward Campbell -- and Campbell had to step up in the pocket to avoid the rush, disrupting the timing of the play.
"Once I avoided [the rush], I knew I couldn't go to Randle El anymore," Campbell said, "so the first thing I wanted to do is see if I had Santana down the field."
Overall, the offensive line had a strong game, Portis led a productive rushing attack, and the Redskins were outstanding defensively, but Campbell's performance in the comeback was "what you need from your quarterback," cornerback Shawn Springs said. "For the confidence of the offense, for the confidence of the team, it just goes higher and higher when you see something like that."
Campbell never doubted he could deliver in such situations, even after he was criticized following the team's Week 1 loss.
"But it wasn't just J.C.," Samuels said. "We're all learning a new offense, and it takes a lot of quarterbacks time to get this offense. I wish people would just give him some time."
When fans booed and directed derogatory remarks at Campbell last week, he maintained his focus "because doing anything else would be letting down my teammates and coaches," he said. "The real fans, the true people, they will always be behind you, and you're always going to have the ones who only stick with you when things are going good. When things are going bad, you can never find them, but that's just part of this business, and that's how it goes.
"I don't put too much effort into it, or spend too much time thinking about it, because I always try to think about the positive things. Just being in this game and in this league, I've learned that the negative things take your focus away from the most important things you should be focusing on. I'm just trying to adapt to this offense each and every week, trying to be a leader for this team, trying to get better and win games. And it takes time and hard work. We're all trying to get it figured out week to week."
In two games, Campbell has completed 61.9 percent of his passes for 454 yards. He has two touchdown passes, no interceptions and a 94.3 passer rating -- 13th in the league. For the first time, Campbell is responsible for the offensive line's protection calls, and "it's a lot of work," center Casey Rabach said. "He's got to read coverages, read pressures, and now he's got to make adjustments in protection."
At the request of offensive line coach Joe Bugel, Rabach helped Campbell with the protection calls against the Saints and plans to continue to do so until Campbell becomes comfortable. It would be easier for Campbell if Rabach made all the calls, "but this is part of my job," Campbell said. "It wouldn't be right for me to have somebody else do my job. You don't want to set an example like that for the younger guys. If you're asked to do something, you need to go out and do it."
When Campbell was a rookie, Samuels, Sellers and Moss were among the veterans who mentored him. Campbell has been very supportive of this season's rookie class, including wide receiver Malcolm Kelly, who was among the most impressive rookies in training camp but has been slowed by injuries.
"You've definitely got to talk to the younger guys," Campbell said. "Most guys go through adversity early in their careers, and you can hear some pretty tough stuff out there. You don't want to have shell-shocked young guys from the negative talk. You don't want them feeling down on themselves to a point where they can't get back up and reach their potential. Some people have tough skin and some people don't.
"I've never understood what makes people think that booing a young athlete, or being down on them, is going to help someone perform better. It's crazy. Everyone has their own opinions about things, everyone does things differently, and that's fine. But when guys are younger in their careers, you want to encourage 'em and try to get 'em on the right track. That's what I always try to do."
One clutch performance, however, may not silence critics, and the Redskins probably still have rough moments ahead. But Campbell has a handle on things.
"We can make this work," Campbell said. "I'm definitely confident about that."