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Zorn Stands by His Man

By Mike Wise
Monday, October 5, 2009

Coach, did you think about replacing Jason Campbell?

No.

Are you lying?

No.

Has Jason Campbell threatened to extort $2 million from you with pictures he has of your playbook?

Not that I know of.

This Jim Zorn guy, he just won't budge.

You can turn over the ball four times.

You can throw three interceptions and everything but the game away.

You can have a quarterback rating nine points less than your age (18.1) after two of the most God-awful quarters of football imaginable.

You can have Hall of Famer Sonny Jurgensen saying at halftime on the radio broadcast that he would go to the bullpen, calling for Todd Collins to relieve you.

Heck, you can be outplayed by someone named Josh Johnson, who sounds more like a "Dawson's Creek" extra than a guy starting his first NFL game for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Doesn't matter. It's immaterial to the Z-man.

If your name is Jason Campbell, the coach of the Washington Redskins is sticking by you.

"I think a lot of that has to do because he played the position," Campbell said of Zorn, the former Seahawk who once threw six interceptions in one game. "He has probably had one of those days and to understand how important it is to let the guy in there to fight through this and not give up."

Good idea, no?

Two third-quarter touchdowns, including that 59-yard strike to Santana Moss. The impromptu, broken-play scrambling for first downs. And, after one of the most mistake-filled days of Campbell's career, instant redemption.

"I don't remember ever throwing three interceptions in a game -- not Pee Wee, not high school, not college," Campbell said. "I couldn't believe it."

Asked earnestly if he thought about pulling Campbell, Zorn said: "No, especially because I thought he was into the game. It was really frustrating for us all. I started looking at the game plan and at what else could go wrong that I was calling. It's really on me. I'm the play-caller here."

Sometimes it feels like Zorn is more of a defense attorney than a head coach.

Anyhow, let's be clear: This victory was almost as hideous as Week 2 against the Rams. Yet surviving Tampa Bay did answer the most important question of Campbell's make-or-break season: No matter who else deserts Campbell, Jim Zorn will be there, electronically whispering sweet nothings and encouragement into his helmet transmitter.

Okay, the Z-man and Doug Williams.

"He's pressing," Williams, the former Super Bowl-winning quarterback in Washington and now a Buccaneers executive, said at halftime Sunday. "He doesn't look totally relaxed back there. But, you know, any quarterback that isn't winning, they're pressing. You see Drew Brees and Peyton Manning and Tom Brady back there; they're relaxed. There's a reason for that."

Five years ago, Williams fielded a phone call from a rookie quarterback. "Mr. Snyder told me to call you and ask you if it's okay if I wear number 17," a humble Campbell said.

The only black quarterback to win a Super Bowl felt touched, honored even.

"I love Jason," Williams said. "I want Jason to do well. I wish he was 30 of 31 today and [the Buccaneers] win."

Williams added that he left Campbell a voice mail a couple of weeks back, telling him to hang in there.

"I haven't heard back," he said. "He'll call. He's got a lot going on right now."

Memo to Campbell: Call Doug Williams back. Now.

Campbell, of course, has alibis to fall back on. We've all heard them.

His head spinning from changing playbooks three times in five years, he's explored more systems than James T. Kirk.

He had no healthy line to speak of the last eight games of 2008.

His young receivers have yet to professionally grow up.

His coach allegedly won't take off the training wheels and let him air it out.

Or he can always fall back on the "they didn't want me anyway" defense, because his own team tried to replace him with everyone but Ryan Leaf in the spring, and no one but Zorn wanted him for a half on Sunday.

"It's kind of like, you're on this lonely island," Campbell said. "You're about 20 hours from here on a flight. Every one was booing left and right. . . .

"But I've been going through this ever since the offseason, so it's nothing new."

On they go, each alibi designed to give Campbell a pass for not coming through when it matters.

But at some point, when you pop an official in the head with a pass over the middle (presumably because neither Malcolm Kelly nor Devin Thomas could get open), when you lose a fumble that leads to the game's first touchdown, when you complete two more passes to the other guys than to Antwaan Randle El, well, you have to step up, make a play and help win a game.

"I'm proud of Jason," Chris Samuels said. "It wasn't a perfect day, but it shows the heart and character of that guy to keep on fighting and make the plays when it counted to win the game, so I'm proud of him."

So was Zorn. His stubborn, heartfelt belief that Campbell will emerge as an elite NFL quarterback in his multiple-read, thinking-man's system continued Sunday.

The coach is no longer just staking the Redskins' season on that belief; he's staking his career in Washington.

And you know what? Good for him. At least someone believes.

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