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QB and coach, thrown for loss

By Mike Wise
Monday, October 19, 2009

Say you're from Bismarck, N.D., or, heck, Guam, and next week you happen to watch "Monday Night Football," which will be broadcast from this very FedEx Field. What a donnybrook, no? The Philadelphia Eagles vs. a free-falling franchise with no idea who its starting quarterback will be, no idea whether the new play-caller will say "stretch right" or "G-21" and, really, no idea of where it is headed or why.

That's not an NFC East battle; that's not even Hank Williams Jr. intoning, "Are you ready for some football?"

That's "NFL's Greatest Car Crashes" and that, sadly, is where we are today.

For some time now the Washington Redskins have become unrecognizable to the loyal legions of this region, the people who fondly recall their last Super Bowl appearance nearly two decades ago. But as they swerve into yet another embankment, as they fall further into the abyss of bad losses and neglectful stewardship, they are on the verge of becoming America's late-night joke, a flagship franchise in name only after losing to a winless team for the third time in four weeks.

Jason Campbell was benched Sunday by Jim Zorn, benched by the coach who hours later had his own job description changed.

Poor Jason. The last guy to have Campbell's back in the organization, the one person whom he believed would ride out the tough times with him no matter how cold, miserable and rotten the season got -- and six games in, it is ugly -- just retreated to base camp.

Once there, Zorn had his authority further undermined, his job changed, a job Vinny Cerrato decided would no longer include calling plays.

Poor Z-man. Instead of a dignified termination and severance for time served, owner Daniel Snyder is apparently making him see this crumbling season to the end -- or at least to the Monday night game.

We always knew they would be tethered at the hip this season, the coach and the quarterback, their future in Washington inextricably linked. We just didn't think one would turn on the other six games in, while Todd Collins was warming up on the field and Sherman Lewis, who was calling bingo games in Detroit less than two weeks ago, was getting cozy with the headset in the booth.

Oh, well: one good benching deserves another.

With all due respect, Zorn probably had this coming. Really, when you manage six points against the worst defensive team in the league, an absolutely horrid Kansas City team, it's like Clint Eastwood's line in "Unforgiven," a Western that, like the Redskins, had no redeeming characters:

"We all got it comin', kid."

On Sunday, that finally meant Jason Campbell.

When the words tumbled out of Zorn's mouth at halftime -- "Todd Collins is starting the second half" -- several players said they shot glances toward Campbell. He could not hide his disappointment in the locker room, his teammates said. One of them used the word "distraught" to describe the look on the benched quarterback's face.

You don't have to be from the anti-Jason school or the told-you-the QB-isn't-the-issue camp to understand:

With no protection to speak of, with the memory of Snyder and Cerrato trying to dump the incumbent starter for the newest It Guy in the offseason, and now Zorn, so desperate to coach another Sunday, finally disappearing from his flank, Campbell now officially must try to scale the mountain alone.

And though Zorn appears to be back as coach again next Monday night against Philadelphia -- a much more shocking development than Campbell's benching to those who believed he was gone after the loss -- it still has no bearing for Campbell.

The last guy who believed in him grew faint of heart in the crucible of a game against cruddy Kansas City, a team so bad it had given up an average of 461 yards per game to opposing teams and had lost 28 of its last 30 games.

Some contract year this is shaping up to be, huh? A young, strong kid with a gun of a right arm was hoping to secure his future financially. Beyond his class and decency, I rooted for Campbell because I wanted him to make the Redskins regret conspicuously shopping him last April. Between flirtations with Mark Sanchez and Jay Cutler, the kid was hocked as if he were a tub of anti-aging cream on a 1 a.m. infomercial.

"Everyone always wants to point the finger at me, and that's why I always say you have to keep your head up, keep going, keep moving because you know what's going on," Campbell told The Post's Jason Reid hours after leaving FedEx Field. "But I know this: I am definitely at a critical point of my career. I want us to get turned around. That's really what I'm thinking about. But, yeah, I am at a critical part of my career where you just want the opportunity to try to be successful."

He will be a restricted free agent after the season, so the Redskins could theoretically match offers. But forget for a moment that Campbell has not done enough to make this team 4-2 instead of 2-4, which he would admit. And forget for a moment that there might be 10 better choices for the Redskins' long-term future at the position available in the offseason, which I don't honestly believe but am typing just so I can humor the misguided, anti-Jason faction.

Instead, look at it this way: Why would Campbell want to return? I know he admires and respects and has deep affection for his teammates, including people such as Casey Rabach, a stand-up veteran who was kind enough to walk and talk with him Sunday, to protect his teammate as he left the stadium. But why would he re-sign even if things did turn around? So you can have more abuse heaped on you by fans? So you can have more disloyalty shown to you by ownership? So you can give the finite number of years an elite athlete actually has to earn a living to a management that gives you inferior teammates to block for you?

I understand Campbell doesn't deserve undying loyalty after how poorly he played in the first half Sunday and over the easiest six-game schedule in NFL history. I'm just saying, from April until now, he deserved better.

From the beginning, the coach and the quarterback were going to either hurt or help each other. The day one of them bailed on the partnership is the day both of them suffered. Now they will each ask themselves the same unfortunate question:

How did that storied NFL franchise in the nation's capital become so much of an eyesore?

Oh, and also: Who's starting at quarterback against Philly? And will Sherman Lewis take Jim Zorn's parking space by then

wisem@washpost.com

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