By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 5, 2009
As the booing of quarterback Jason Campbell intensified after each turnover and the Washington Redskins appeared inept on offense again Sunday afternoon, Coach Jim Zorn hurriedly searched his play sheets for something that might work during the first half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Zorn also questioned whether his game plan was flawed, sought the counsel of his assistants and thought about what he could do differently to help Campbell, he said later. But there was something the coach never considered: making a change at quarterback. Zorn stuck with Campbell despite his horrid performance before halftime, and Campbell rewarded his faith with two second-half touchdown passes to help the Redskins outlast the winless Buccaneers in a 16-13 victory at FedEx Field.
"I think the best thing that really happened today was us sticking with Jason," said top running back Clinton Portis, who overcame the pain of a calf injury to rush for a season-high 98 yards. "Behind four turnovers, I think today Jason really grew to being a leader of this team, sticking with it. It was a great feeling to see him continuously slinging the ball and come off the field without having an excuse after throwing an interception. Not, 'Oh, okay, I got it.' He came off the field, it was, 'Play over with. When we get the ball back, let's drive down the field.' I think for Jason to hold his head up after four turnovers, and everybody continued to fight, I think that was the best thing that happened today."
Facing increased speculation about his job security after last week's loss to the Detroit Lions, Zorn did not make a move toward backup quarterback Todd Collins despite Campbell's three-turnover half. Zorn kept working with Campbell while many in an announced crowd of 86,412 booed as the offense continued to struggle to get it together after the break.
Eventually, however, things improved for Campbell, who in the third quarter led Washington to 16 points, including a 17-yard touchdown pass to tight end Chris Cooley and a 59-yarder to top wide receiver Santana Moss. Campbell was intercepted for a third time (Buccaneers second-year cornerback Aqib Talib had all of them) in the fourth quarter, and Tampa Bay got the ball back for a final time at its 19-yard line with 1 minute 52 seconds remaining in the game.
But the Redskins' defense all but ended the game with a turnover in the final minute. Rookie defensive lineman Jeremy Jarmon forced a fumble, safety Chris Horton recovered the ball and then Campbell kneeled three times to run out the clock. The Redskins gave up only 229 net yards "and the defense played well in this game," said Pro Bowl defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who was credited with a quarterback hurry and a pass defended. "We were put in some tough positions, but we bow'd back, we bow'd our heads back, and kept fighting."
After a difficult week in Ashburn for Zorn, his staff and players, the Redskins (2-2) breathed a little easier following the victory over the Buccaneers (0-4). One difficult win won't silence the questions about Zorn's job status or the team's ongoing scoring problems -- speculation about whether owner Daniel Snyder might make a coaching change will continue almost regardless of how the team fares in its final 12 games -- but Sunday was about Zorn and Campbell. It seemed they would be linked for better or worse this season -- and it was both for them Sunday.
"I thought he was into the game," Zorn said in explaining why he did not turn toward Collins. "I'm looking in his eyes. If I'm kind of looking at these big orbs staring back at me not saying anything, but he was into it."
Albeit not effective.
In the game's first 30 minutes, Campbell had almost as many turnovers (three) as completions (five). In addition to losing a fumble on the first drive and throwing two interceptions in the half, Campbell never appeared comfortable in the pocket after being sacked on the second and third plays from scrimmage in the game. He had 60 yards passing and an 18.1 quarterback rating at halftime, which was better than his 5.6 rating at the end of the first quarter.
"My first two plays, I got hit and landed on my shoulder. It hurt for a while," Campbell said. "Then you start pressing, you start saying, 'Man, I got to get going.' But I never lost confidence. I never stopped being confident in what we were doing. It was just real, real frustrating."
Especially for Zorn. He has been roundly criticized by fans for the team's struggles on offense that began after last season's surprising 6-2 start. And with little working on offense again in the half, "it was really frustrating for us all," he said. "I start looking at the game plan wondering what else could go wrong that I was calling. It's really on me, I'm the play-caller here, and I felt very frustrated trying to get that sequence, I couldn't get it started. Super frustrating in the first half."
Meanwhile, the Redskins also had other problems. Punter Hunter Smith, the team's offensive MVP in the first three games, punted once, suffered a groin injury and sat out the remainder of the half.
Place kicker Shaun Suisham took over punting duties and averaged 26.7 yards, and only 25.3 net yards, on three punts. Smith, who said the results of an MRI exam would be reviewed Monday, held for Suisham on kicks in the second half, but Suisham handled Washington's only punt after halftime.
"In the locker room, we didn't have any yelling," Zorn said. "We just came in and said, 'Here are our adjustments, here's what we're going to do.' We felt like our game plan was sound and yet I questioned it. I questioned it for as little as we could squeeze in the first half. And yet we came back and we started really moving the ball on these guys."
Cornerback DeAngelo Hall got things started in a positive direction for Washington when he intercepted second-year Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Johnson, making his first career start, on the opening possession of the half. The Redskins finally produced points on the next possession, getting a 42-yard field goal from Suisham with 10:41 to play in the third quarter.
Then, after the defense got a three-and-out, Campbell directed a 10-play, 69-yard drive that he capped by connecting with Cooley for the touchdown. Campbell threw a deep strike to Cooley in the middle of the field. Earlier in the drive, Campbell located Cooley in the middle of the field for 12 yards on fourth and two.
On the Redskins' sideline, special teams co-captain Rock Cartwright hugged Zorn as if the Redskins had won the Super Bowl. But Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber rushed in from the right side on the point-after attempt and blocked Suisham's kick, so Tampa Bay had a 10-9 lead.
The defense came through with another three-and-out, and Campbell and Moss combined on their second big play in as many weeks. Moss eluded Talib on a double move along the right sideline and Campbell hit him in stride for a 59-yard touchdown pass. Suisham's kick extended the Redskins first lead of the game to 16-10. In the third quarter in the loss to Detroit, Campbell and Moss teamed on a 57-yard touchdown.
Overall against the Buccaneers, Campbell completed 12 of 22 passes for 170 yards with two touchdowns and four turnovers (three interceptions, one lost fumble). He had a 70.5 passer rating -- his lowest in four games. He completed 67.6 percent of his passes in the first three games.
Campbell's confidence never waned, Moss said. "He was still the same guy," said Moss, who had two receptions for 74 yards. "He knew that this team will go as far as he takes us. He had to make a play, and he did that with his feet a lot. And he got the ball in people's hands when the time came. I think he did a great job, even though he threw three interceptions.
"I told him the only way he's going to be able to know what he's got out there is by taking those chances. I hope this is something for Jason to say, 'Okay, I took that chance, now let me see by watching film, let me see what I should've did.' Now, he can critique himself, and say, 'Okay, now I know better.' That's the only way we're going to get better is by him getting better."