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As the Offensive Line Goes, So Goes Campbell

By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 8, 2008

BALTIMORE, Dec. 7 -- As he was leaving the locker room to address the media following Washington's 24-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night, Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell shared a quiet word with a team staffer.

"Did it before," Campbell said quietly. "Do it again."

Campbell was referring to Washington's recent sudden-death late-season win streaks, closing the 2005 season with five consecutive wins to sneak into the playoffs, and ending the 2007 campaign with four straight wins to do the same. Campbell was on both of those rosters, but he wasn't the starter either time. In 2005, he was a rookie who never took a snap as Mark Brunell led the late-season push. Last year, he was injured as backup Todd Collins piloted Washington into the playoffs.

After Sunday night's loss, Campbell's record as a starter in December is 2-6, and as he said after the game, another loss this season would likely doom the Redskins' playoff chances.

"It's all or nothing now," he said. "You know, you have to will all of them, or it's nothing."

Sunday night's game followed one of the most difficult weeks of Campbell's professional career, as restless fans criticized the fourth-year quarterback for his on-field demeanor, his decision-making and his won-loss record. Campbell and his teammates seemed at times frustrated by the focus on one player, especially since the national media were mentioning Campbell as a league MVP hopeful just a few weeks before.

But, as in recent losses to the Giants, Cowboys and Steelers, the quarterback was harried and harassed for much of Sunday night's game, leaving it difficult to assess his sub-par numbers at face value. On Washington's third snap, Campbell was hit from behind, leading to an interception that Coach Jim Zorn said was not his quarterback's fault. During the next series, he was leveled by safety Jim Leonhard. Two series later, Ray Lewis slammed into Campbell, who gingerly rose to his feet. Later in that same series, Lewis again crushed Campbell, who again rose slowly. Lewis then batted a ball at the line of scrimmage on Washington's next possession, establishing a pattern of pressure.

"They can hit, now," Campbell said, when asked about the punishment he had absorbed. "They can hit. They've got some hitters."

Campbell's protection problems only increased as first right tackle Jon Jansen and then left tackle Chris Samuels were injured, leaving him behind a makeshift line featuring interior lineman Justin Geisinger and erratic backup Stephon Heyer.

"Man, you know, it's so difficult," Campbell said. "You lose your right tackle and then you turn around and you lose your left tackle. . . . Physically, you know [the hits are] part of football. You try to get your massages, get iced up and get ready for the next week. At this part of the season you're never going to be playing 100 percent."

Campbell will also have to listen to another week of questions about the offense he leads. While virtually every offensive skill player has seen his numbers plummet during the team's 1-4 skid, Campbell's statistical regression has been stark. When Washington was 6-2, Campbell had eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. In the five games since, he's thrown three touchdowns and six interceptions, with all the interceptions coming in losses. Campbell averaged just 219 yards passing in the team's first eight games, but that number has dipped to 205 over his past five.

"I think Jason, as he got protection, did fine," Zorn said of Sunday's performance. "Jason did not have a perfect game. There's a couple of things that Jason has to just continue to learn and know what we want. He got talked out of a couple things on the line of scrimmage. They did a nice job disguising some things for him that made him check out of a play that could have been all right. . . . It's just our tempo was slowed down because he was [making decisions] at the line of scrimmage. They caused our tempo to slow down because of all the movement they had at the line of scrimmage, and that made it difficult."

Zorn's critique of his offense Sunday night was comprehensive. "We're not good enough on offense," he said. "We've shown we're not good enough to sustain and teams have just been playing their defense. We have to be able to concentrate through any stress that gets put on us and we're not able to do that. We can look at all the positions. Nobody's immune to what I'm mentioning."

But if the team is to reverse this most recent mid-season skid with another late-season win streak, Campbell will almost certainly have to lead the way.

"That's a good question," Campbell said, when asked what has changed with his team's offense. "We're all in it together. We're all trying to figure it out. We're all asking ourselves questions. What we have to do now is just stick it out."

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