By Rick Maese
Monday, November 30, 2009
PHILADELPHIA -- His voice pained and his gait slowed, quarterback Jason Campbell slowly stepped to the lectern and tried to differentiate between the physical wounds and the emotional ones.
"It's definitely frustrating in a lot of ways," Campbell said after the Redskins' latest loss, a 27-24 heartbreaker to the Eagles. "Just the way we lose."
They lose painfully and ache in just about every way possible.
On the team's last offensive play of the game -- a fourth-and-one incompletion on the Redskins' final desperation drive -- Campbell was wrapped up by Philadelphia's Juqua Parker, then spun around and slammed to the ground. Campbell said he crashed onto his head, blacked out for a second, lost his breath and felt only numbness in his left arm.
"Physically, I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who's hurting on this team," he said later.
Still, even as the roster's nicks and bruises add up, the Redskins' offense has posted improvements in recent weeks. The final scoreboard doesn't always reflect the unit's progress, but Campbell has found perhaps more success moving the ball minus several key offensive weapons than he did early in the season.
In Sunday's loss, the Redskins converted at least 45 percent of their third-down attempts for the fourth straight game. They compiled at least 300 yards of offense for the fifth straight game and have posted their top two scoring performances of the season in two of their past three outings.
Though coaches praise the players for improved execution, with consultant Sherman Lewis calling the plays -- which he's done since management stripped Coach Jim Zorn of those duties after Week 6 -- the offense has shown modest signs of life. On Sunday, the Redskins were three of four converting inside the 20-yard line and put together two 80-yard drives.
"I feel it. I feel we're all playing together as a team," said tight end Fred Davis, who had four catches for 43 yards and a touchdown. "The defense been playing together the whole year. I feel like when we play with the defense, it works out even better for us because we're helping them out."
Though the individual stats don't exactly make fantasy football owners drool, Davis is among a trio of second-year players who are beginning to impact games. The Redskins drafted Davis and wide receivers Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly all in the second round of the 2008 NFL draft. None impressed as rookies, but on Sunday the three combined for 139 yards on 10 receptions -- the most combined yards and second-most catches the trio has posted.
"I think they're more comfortable with what's going on in the offense," said Campbell, who finished completed 22 of 37 passes for 231 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He also ran for the team's first touchdown of the day. "Not just going to the line every time and thinking about what they have to do. I think they know what to do. A lot of their physical abilities are starting to come out."
The team's running game didn't fare as well Sunday. Starting for the first time since 2003, running back Rock Cartwright finished with 38 yards on 10 carries, while Quinton Ganther chipped in 32 on five carries. With Ladell Betts on injured reserve and Clinton Portis missing a third game since suffering a concussion on Nov. 8, Cartwright was the team's third starting running back in four weeks. He said he was comfortable with his unit's consistency out of the backfield Sunday.
"All three of us would've loved to have played more, but we just got to in there and try to do the best we can do when our number is called," Cartwright said. "I think we can always do better, including myself, so we just have to look at the tape and figure out how we're going to do that."
Portis is expected to visit with specialists at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center again this week and could miss next week's game against New Orleans. Tight end Chris Cooley will also have his lower leg and ankle reevaluated this week and will likely learn whether he'll be able to return at all this season. Still, without those two -- and with three offensive linemen already on injured reserve -- the remnants of the offense have made strides.
"It's starting to show promise. We still have a long way to go," said Thomas, who had a team-high 46 yards on four receptions Sunday. "I think when guys get healthy again, that'll be the best thing for us. The front five is hurting up there. When guys can get back and relieve certain guys, that'll help out a lot."
Cutting down on mistakes would also make a big difference.
Six of the Redskins' seven penalties on Sunday were committed by the offense, and almost all of them proved costly. Although the Redskins managed to convert eight third downs on the day, each of those penalties forced the offense into second- or third-and-long situations and led to either a punt or a turnover just a couple of plays later.
In the first quarter, rookie right guard Edwin Williams, making the first start of his career, was called for a false start, which resulted in a third and 10. The next quarter, Mike Sellers was called for offensive holding on second down, which forced the Redskins to throw twice in a row. Campbell was intercepted on the third-down pass play.
On their next drive, left tackle Levi Jones was whistled for a false start on first down, and two plays later, on third and eight, Campbell was again picked off. In the third quarter, wide receiver Santana Moss's false start set up a second and 15, and Williams's second false start of the day forced Washington into a third and 11.
Though the line in front of him struggled much of the day in pass protection, Campbell was sacked only once. He did suffer at least five bruising hits from the Philadelphia defensive ends.
He was still feeling the effects of the last one after the game. Even as the offense makes baby steps forward, the pain -- emotionally and physically -- is becoming tougher to bear. Standing at the lectern, Campbell said he felt "kind of worn down."
"But at the same time, I make no excuses," he said. "I'll get right back up next week and continue to keep fighting."