By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 7, 2009
For Jason Campbell, even his best wasn't good enough.
The quarterback posted career-best passing numbers, but the end result was the same. For the third straight week, the Redskins' offense, considered lifeless and lacking direction not long ago, built a fourth-quarter lead but was forced to watch the opposing team celebrate after the game. Despite the frequency and familiarity with such disappointment, Sunday's 33-30 loss to the unbeaten New Orleans Saints felt different.
"This one stung the most," Campbell said.
The team's continued improvement on offense was once again negated by the final score. This time, Campbell and wide receiver Devin Thomas both turned in career games. But there was little reason to celebrate after the Saints overcame a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter and picked up their 12th win of the season with a field goal in overtime.
"It is a four-quarter game and you have to come out to fight until the clock goes all zeros," Campbell said. "The last couple of weeks have been tough losses. You can see we can be a really good football team."
Campbell finished the game 30 for 42 passing for a career-best 367 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. His passing yards were 19 more than his previous career high (against Dallas in November 2007) and his three touchdowns tied his career best (he also had three against Philadelphia in November 2007).
As the season has stretched into its final month, the Redskins' offense has pressed on without Pro Bowlers Clinton Portis, Chris Cooley and Chris Samuels. Though they've lost their past three outings by a combined seven points, they've posted undeniable improvements against playoff-caliber teams.
Heading into the game at Dallas on Nov. 22, the Redskins were averaging 308 total yards of offense. The past three games, they've averaged 361, including 455 on Sunday against the Saints, whose defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, was Washington's assistant coach in charge of defense from 2004 through 2007. The Redskins averaged 200 yards passing in their first nine games and have averaged 278 in the past three.
In addition, Washington entered Sunday's game averaging 15.45 points per outing, worse than all but three other NFL teams. Against the Saints, they posted 30 points for the first time in Jim Zorn's 28 games as head coach. Their 455 net yards matches their best performance under Zorn; they totaled the same amount in last year's win over the Saints.
"To come out on the short end of the stick is definitely frustrating," Campbell said. "If you look at it, saying, if we could've got all those games, we're 6-6 and our season's totally different right now, and you're fighting for a playoff spot. But we're 3-9."
Translation: The offensive improvements have had little to no effect on the win-loss column.
"Three weeks where you're up in the fourth quarter and lose all three of them -- that's tough," center Casey Rabach said. "I've never been a part of anything like that. That one's beyond me. . . . I don't think the best team won today. We had some bad breaks, some bizarre things happen today. This one hurts."
On Sunday, nine receivers made catches; none more than Thomas, the second-year wide receiver who had only 15 catches in 16 games his rookie season. Against the Saints, he had 100 yards and two touchdowns on seven catches -- all career highs. He caught every pass, in fact, that Campbell threw his way.
"I take this whole season as something for my future," said Thomas, who took over the starting flanker position in Week 6. "It's been a tough two years for me. This season has been up and down, but mainly down. But you got to take the positives with the negatives. The positive thing you can say is we keep fighting every game, despite the injuries or what people say. And we're going to continue to do that. I think that's the makeup of our team."
Even as the Redskins have placed three offensive linemen on injured reserve, Campbell has benefited from improved pass protection. Sacked 29 times in the team's first nine games, he's been sacked just twice in the past three -- and not once Sunday against the Saints' blitz-happy defense.
To help Campbell, the offensive game plans have called for more three-step drops and short passing routes, limiting the time he has to spend in the pocket and stare down hungry rushers.
"It wasn't just about me," Campbell said. "It was a total group effort because you see guys catching short passes and going deep, you see guys continuing their routes downfield. The protection the offensive line gave today -- along with the receivers -- you couldn't ask for anything more."
The Saints were credited with only three quarterback hits Sunday. Campbell took advantage of the time afforded him.
Campbell is ranked 30th in the NFL with an average pass length of barely seven yards. Among Campbell's deep throws on Sunday: a 44-yard completion to Antwaan Randle El, a 40-yarder to Thomas and a 38-yard completion to Santana Moss.
"I thought today he really extended himself down the field with his vision," said Zorn. "He saw receivers that were wide open. In the past, he's missed a couple of those things. But he was right on."
Sunday marked just the fourth time in Campbell's career -- and the first this season -- that he's attempted 40 passes and just the third time he's completed at least 30. Despite the numbers, the Redskins will enter next week's game at Oakland having lost seven of their past eight, including their past three in heartbreaking fashion.
"That's the toughest thing out of all of it, especially the last three weeks," Campbell said. "We feel like we have performed to a level to win all three of those games. On that day, we've felt like we beat the teams we played against. For everything to be overshadowed three weeks in a row by a loss is definitely frustrating."