Third Quarter's the Charm
Redskins Stick With Campbell, And It Pays Off
Monday, October 5, 2009
As the booing of quarterback Jason Campbell intensified after each turnover and the Washington Redskins appeared inept on offense again Sunday afternoon, Coach Jim Zorn hurriedly searched his play sheets for something that might work during the first half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Zorn also questioned whether his game plan was flawed, sought the counsel of his assistants and thought about what he could do differently to help Campbell, he said later. But there was something the coach never considered: making a change at quarterback. Zorn stuck with Campbell despite his horrid performance before halftime, and Campbell rewarded his faith with two second-half touchdown passes to help the Redskins outlast the winless Buccaneers in a 16-13 victory at FedEx Field.
"I think the best thing that really happened today was us sticking with Jason," said top running back Clinton Portis, who overcame the pain of a calf injury to rush for a season-high 98 yards. "Behind four turnovers, I think today Jason really grew to being a leader of this team, sticking with it. It was a great feeling to see him continuously slinging the ball and come off the field without having an excuse after throwing an interception. Not, 'Oh, okay, I got it.' He came off the field, it was, 'Play over with. When we get the ball back, let's drive down the field.' I think for Jason to hold his head up after four turnovers, and everybody continued to fight, I think that was the best thing that happened today."
Facing increased speculation about his job security after last week's loss to the Detroit Lions, Zorn did not make a move toward backup quarterback Todd Collins despite Campbell's three-turnover half. Zorn kept working with Campbell while many in an announced crowd of 86,412 booed as the offense continued to struggle to get it together after the break.
Eventually, however, things improved for Campbell, who in the third quarter led Washington to 16 points, including a 17-yard touchdown pass to tight end Chris Cooley and a 59-yarder to top wide receiver Santana Moss. Campbell was intercepted for a third time (Buccaneers second-year cornerback Aqib Talib had all of them) in the fourth quarter, and Tampa Bay got the ball back for a final time at its 19-yard line with 1 minute 52 seconds remaining in the game.
But the Redskins' defense all but ended the game with a turnover in the final minute. Rookie defensive lineman Jeremy Jarmon forced a fumble, safety Chris Horton recovered the ball and then Campbell kneeled three times to run out the clock. The Redskins gave up only 229 net yards "and the defense played well in this game," said Pro Bowl defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who was credited with a quarterback hurry and a pass defended. "We were put in some tough positions, but we bow'd back, we bow'd our heads back, and kept fighting."
After a difficult week in Ashburn for Zorn, his staff and players, the Redskins (2-2) breathed a little easier following the victory over the Buccaneers (0-4). One difficult win won't silence the questions about Zorn's job status or the team's ongoing scoring problems -- speculation about whether owner Daniel Snyder might make a coaching change will continue almost regardless of how the team fares in its final 12 games -- but Sunday was about Zorn and Campbell. It seemed they would be linked for better or worse this season -- and it was both for them Sunday.
"I thought he was into the game," Zorn said in explaining why he did not turn toward Collins. "I'm looking in his eyes. If I'm kind of looking at these big orbs staring back at me not saying anything, but he was into it."
Albeit not effective.
In the game's first 30 minutes, Campbell had almost as many turnovers (three) as completions (five). In addition to losing a fumble on the first drive and throwing two interceptions in the half, Campbell never appeared comfortable in the pocket after being sacked on the second and third plays from scrimmage in the game. He had 60 yards passing and an 18.1 quarterback rating at halftime, which was better than his 5.6 rating at the end of the first quarter.
"My first two plays, I got hit and landed on my shoulder. It hurt for a while," Campbell said. "Then you start pressing, you start saying, 'Man, I got to get going.' But I never lost confidence. I never stopped being confident in what we were doing. It was just real, real frustrating."
Especially for Zorn. He has been roundly criticized by fans for the team's struggles on offense that began after last season's surprising 6-2 start. And with little working on offense again in the half, "it was really frustrating for us all," he said. "I start looking at the game plan wondering what else could go wrong that I was calling. It's really on me, I'm the play-caller here, and I felt very frustrated trying to get that sequence, I couldn't get it started. Super frustrating in the first half."