By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 26, 2008
As another late-game celebration began, Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell congratulated his teammates in the final seconds of Sunday's 24-17 victory over the Arizona Cardinals at FedEx Field. Campbell kneeled twice to end the game, his work completed after he performed well down the stretch for the second straight week.
The fourth-year quarterback has been at his best in the fourth quarter, making big plays to help provide the difference in consecutive victories. Buoyed by the trust Coach Jim Zorn, Washington's play-caller, has shown in him, Campbell has played at the highest level with the game on the line against the Cardinals and New Orleans Saints, many of his teammates said, quickly putting behind him a shaky opening outing against the New York Giants.
And up next, the Dallas Cowboys. The Redskins need Campbell to continue his impressive run against their biggest NFC East rivals on Sunday in Irving, Tex., coaches and players said. During the Redskins' last trip there, Campbell led a spirited rally that fell short in the final quarter. Campbell learned from that loss and other fourth-quarter setbacks last season.
"He's maturing each and every game, and he's getting more and more comfortable with the things he's asked to do," center Casey Rabach said. "He's becoming a solid NFL quarterback, and he's taking that step each and every week. He's doing really good things for us right now and playing at a high level in the second half, especially" in the fourth quarter.
Campbell has completed 71.9 percent of his passes for 331 yards with a 125.9 passer rating in the fourth quarter -- by far his best statistics in any quarter. He has six completions of more than 20 yards in the fourth quarter but only two in the first three quarters combined.
Overall, Campbell has completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 647 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He has not committed a turnover and ranks ninth in the league with a 100.1 rating.
"It feels good, yeah, it does," Campbell said. "But at the same time, I still feel like there's a lot of work to still improve on. I'm still learning the ways of this offense, still trying to get that stability and growth, so being able to step up and make plays to help us win" is an added bonus.
Although Campbell agreed with teammates who cited "experience and maturity" among the keys to his recent strong finishes, "the biggest thing is that we're taking chances as an offense," Campbell said. "Coach Zorn is giving us an opportunity to finish games off. He's taking chances out there and he's attacking. He has that trust factor in me, and that belief system in the whole offense, that we're going to execute."
Facing a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit against New Orleans on Sept. 14 at FedEx Field, Campbell led Washington to two touchdowns and a 29-24 victory. On the first touchdown drive, Campbell completed all five of his attempts -- including one for a 23-yard gain and a first down to tight end Chris Cooley after Campbell had been sacked for a 12-yard loss on the previous play -- for 82 yards, and running back Clinton Portis scored on an eight-yard run.
With 3 minutes 29 seconds remaining, Campbell teamed with wide receiver Santana Moss on a 67-yard go-ahead touchdown pass. On the game's final possession, Campbell completed an eight-yard pass to Moss for a first down that helped the Redskins run out the clock.
"The quarterback has to make plays in every quarter, and certainly the fourth quarter, no matter if we're up or down," wide receiver Antwaan Randle El said. "He's been making plays in the fourth quarter."
Again against the Cardinals, Campbell and Moss combined on the go-ahead score, Campbell throwing a short screen pass to Moss that resulted in a 17-yard touchdown reception and a 24-17 lead for Washington with 12:18 to play. Arizona ran only seven more plays and gained 21 yards against the Redskins' defense, which has shut out its three opponents in the fourth quarter under new defensive coordinator Greg Blache, and Campbell and Cooley finished things.
After the Cardinals punted, the Redskins took possession on their 16-yard line with 2:33 to go. Portis rushed twice for a first down. After the two-minute warning, Washington, on second down, needed seven yards for a first down. With Arizona out of timeouts, a first down would enable Washington to run out the clock. Zorn called for a bootleg pass to Cooley that resulted in a 26-yard gain. Game over.
"Most teams would try to sit on the ball in those situations, run the ball and just hope your defense can stop 'em, whereas we're playing to win the game," Campbell said. "Last year, we probably would have run the ball in those situations, but it's a totally different mind-set now. Our mind-set now is, 'Attack, attack, attack.' Really, no matter what time of the game it is, that's what Coach Zorn does."
At this point during an interview, Campbell paused to praise former coach Joe Gibbs, saying he did not want his comments to be viewed as critical of the conservative approach Gibbs often directed former play-caller Al Saunders to take last season. Gibbs won three Super Bowls in his first stint with the Redskins and "everyone knows what a great coach Joe Gibbs was for the Redskins, but Coach Zorn just does some things differently," Campbell said. "He doesn't let up. With six or seven minutes left in a game, we're still throwing the ball and trying to keep the Cardinals on their heels.
"A lot can happen in six or seven minutes, so you want to stay aggressive, and that's what we're doing. We're having fun. We're playing to win. Were not playing to keep the game close or make our defense have to hold someone to win the game. We're playing to win, we're letting it all out, and Coach Zorn is trusting the players."
Zorn's trust in Campbell increases daily, the head coach said. "As a play-caller, when you call a play, you have a certain idea what's going to be there, and you want your QB to be able to take you there," he said. "If he can't, then you have a hard time calling anything you can trust."
On the bootleg pass to Cooley for a first down against Arizona, left guard Pete Kendall suggested the play to Zorn during the timeout at the two-minute warning, Campbell said. "Players are not always going to be right and coaches are not always going to be right, but just to have that communication and that trust there, it has been great," Campbell said. "You tell [Zorn] something, and if he calls it, he expects you to execute it. And for the players, we trust that he'll put us in good situations to be successful. It works both ways, and it makes a big difference."
Said Kendall, "It's great that Jim has called plays that have allowed Jason to be instrumental in ending the game."
The Zorn-Campbell tandem was not productive in the fourth quarter of the season-opening 16-7 loss to the Giants. Zorn acknowledged he did not handle things well late, and Campbell was not sharp in his first regular season game in Zorn's offense, which features many three- and four-receiver sets. "But J.C. wasn't out there alone, it was the first game for all of us," Moss said. "All of us are still learning together, but you just want to keep seeing that progress. You're seeing it."
During Week 11 last season, the Cowboys defeated the Redskins, 28-23, for their 11th victory in the last 12 games between the teams at Texas Stadium. Washington trailed by 12 points (28-16) in the fourth quarter, but Campbell threw a short touchdown pass to Moss to help the Redskins close the gap to five points with 3:45 left.
The Cowboys ran three plays and punted, giving the ball back to the Redskins with 2:51 to play. Campbell -- who had a personal-best 348 yards passing -- threw an interception to end that possession, and the Redskins could get no closer. "You always want to win the game, but I learned a lot" that day, Campbell said. "A lot of it, a lot of what we've been doing in the fourth quarter as an offense, has to do with being in those situations before.
"You can't teach those situations in practice. You can get as close as you possibly can to it, but in order to get the ideal situation, you have to go through it in a game. You take it, you learn from it and hopefully you get better at it the next time you're in it."