By Barry Svrluga and Jason Reid
Monday, October 19, 2009
When the Washington Redskins emerged from their locker room after halftime Sunday, they had zero points and a second quarterback. Todd Collins pulled on his helmet, which he hadn't worn in a regular season game since December 2007, and began taking warmup snaps. Jason Campbell threw a few balls, pulled off his own helmet and grabbed a ski cap, benched for the first time in his NFL career.
The future of Redskins Coach Jim Zorn has long been tied to the development of Campbell, the 27-year-old former first-round pick who had started each of Zorn's 22 games in Washington. Now, with one move in the midst of an abhorrent 14-6 loss to the previously winless Kansas City Chiefs, both those futures are more in doubt than ever: Campbell was pulled from a game, and hours later, Zorn was stripped of his play-calling duties.
"I told Jason in the second quarter that he was going to have one last shot," Zorn said. "We didn't move the ball. . . . But I felt the need to create a spark on our football team offensively, and went with Todd."
Thus, a stunned Campbell, who had played every snap of Zorn's tenure, was relegated to the sideline after completing 9 of 16 passes for 89 yards and a last-play-of-the-half interception, good for a 46.1 quarterback rating. The Redskins, under Campbell's watch, didn't score in the first half and managed just 110 yards against a defense that was allowing 403 per game -- worst in the league. Campbell overthrew an open Antwaan Randle El on a third-down play early in the second quarter. He missed an open Santana Moss deep down the field on first down of the next drive. He then threw a third-down pass that could have been intended for either Chris Cooley or Randle El -- and found neither.
So before the end of the half, Zorn told Collins he would play in the third quarter. At halftime, he told Campbell, who said afterward, "It was his decision to make, and he made the decision." But he also remembered his performance from two weeks earlier, when he committed three turnovers in a miserable first half against Tampa Bay, but returned to rally the Redskins to a win.
"Sometimes it takes you a while to find your rhythm in games, and I just didn't find it in the first half," Campbell said in a telephone interview after he left FedEx Field. "No excuses. The ball to Santana was definitely one I would have liked to have back because it could have been a big play. I just didn't have my rhythm early on. But I also didn't have my rhythm in the game against Tampa Bay."
Zorn, though, said he felt the entire offense was stagnant, and that Campbell had missed enough plays to warrant a switch.
"I felt like we had some things open, some things that were obvious," Zorn said. "I felt that Jason, as he was trying to get the ball to the right guy, two things: we were a little late on hesitating, hitting some things, and then we were inaccurate."
Thus, a situation that has been deteriorating all season -- the Redskins' inability to score touchdowns even as Campbell and Zorn are in their second season working together -- reached a nadir. Zorn said afterward that the move was his, and his alone. And he said that he does not know which quarterback he will play next week, when the Redskins host Philadelphia on "Monday Night Football."
"Right now, I'm going to just evaluate what I'm going on," Zorn said. "I still have confidence in what Jason can do."
When Collins took the field for the Redskins' first drive of the second half, the frustrated FedEx Field crowd cheered loudly.
"You definitely hear it," Campbell said. "You know that people are basically looking at you like you're the only problem, that if it wasn't for you, things would be going a lot better than they are for us right now.
"At the same time, I want our team to be successful. So when the decision was made to put Todd in, I was behind him. The fans wanted him in there and you heard it, but I can't let that get me down. I can't let that get me discouraged. You know some people would like you to get down, but I always try to stay positive because that's the only way you can come back and get better."
Since he became the starter 10 games into his second season, 2006, Campbell has fostered both support and frustration from fans who can see his laid-back demeanor as either a strength or a weakness. Some analysts believe Campbell's lack of development has hindered the Redskins' offense, one that entered Sunday's play ranked 27th in the NFL in scoring. Others believe the offense's other deficiencies -- such as instability and poor health along the offensive line and the failure to find a consistent wide receiver opposite Moss -- have in fact hindered Campbell.
"This lack of production is not Jason's fault," center Casey Rabach said. "I want to make that clear. There's 11 men out there that's not getting it done. Unfortunately, Jason had to get pulled today, and I think a lot of people are going to look at it as being his fault and stuff. But it's not Jason's fault."
Regardless of the blame, one element remains unavoidable: The Redskins, under Zorn and Campbell -- with Collins at the helm in Sunday's second half -- are averaging 15.6 points per game.
"We haven't scored," Cooley said. "We haven't moved the ball. I think it's hard for both guys. I felt bad for Jason when Todd was cheered like he was. That's so tough on a guy.
"At the same time, I think you're putting Todd Collins in a tough situation because he hasn't practiced all week. "
Still, Collins immediately energized the moribund Redskins. His first pass was exactly the kind that Campbell had missed, a pass down the seam to Moss, who hauled it in for a 42-yard gain to the Kansas City 27.
From there, though, the results were no different than they had been for Campbell.
Collins's final numbers: 6 of 14 for 75 yards, a rating of 60.1. And with 26 seconds left in the game, as if to emphasize how far the Redskins' offense had fallen -- regardless of the quarterback -- the Chiefs sacked Collins in the end zone for a safety. Afterward, he jogged off the field, not knowing if he would make his first start since Campbell was hurt late in the 2007 season. That year, Collins ripped off four straight wins, and the Redskins made the playoffs.
This year? "I have no idea," Collins said.
Neither, of course, does Campbell, who faces the most significant crisis of his career. The fifth-year quarterback is due to be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. Sunday night, in the wake of his first benching, he hadn't considered how his performance on one dreadful afternoon for the Redskins might play into that.
"At the moment, I'm not thinking that far ahead at all," Campbell said. "I really can't do that right now. But I know this: I am definitely at a critical point of my career."