TAMPA, Fla. — Joe Gibbs was so impressed with his young quarterback’s composure, so pleased with his ability to slide out of trouble and so satisfied with his patience that the Washington Redskins’ transition to Jason Campbell wasn’t near the top of his list of worries after another road loss marred by more defensive breakdowns.
“I’m probably more concerned about the other things on our team because I feel like Jason is going to play well,” Gibbs said.
And play well Campbell did in his NFL debut yesterday at Raymond James Stadium, the lone bright spot in a 20-17 defeat by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The loss was the fifth in six games for the Redskins (3-7).
Campbell finished 19-for-34 for 196 yards and two touchdowns, appearing comfortable in the pocket, in control of the huddle and his nerves and willing to take chances in the passing game.
“It’s a work in progress for us,” he said. “Our future is bright for a lot of players here, and we want to accomplish a lot of things. But it’s going to take time. It might not look like it, but I guarantee we’re headed in the right direction.”
That might be true for Campbell. His strong debut, however, wasn’t enough because he got no production from his team’s running game (a season-low 64 yards) or his team’s rush defense (the Bucs gained a season-best 181 yards).
Leading 10-3 after Campbell’s first touchdown pass, a 3-yard toss to Chris Cooley, the Redskins allowed 17 unanswered points before Campbell directed a hurry-up scoring drive against the Bucs’ prevent defense in the final minutes. With 32 seconds remaining, the Redskins were unable to recover the onside kick.
“We have certain principles that we live by, and when we abide by them we win football games,” Gibbs said. “We have to run it, and we have to stop the run. When we get back to that, we’ll start winning games.”
It was as close as Gibbs has come all season to criticizing his defense publicly, but he has obviously seen too many missed tackles, too many lost battles in the trenches and too many long drives to suit his tastes. And getting a better than expected game from his kid quarterback only made the defensive effort more galling.
“We stressed the importance of third down and tackling, and we started off well,” linebacker Lemar Marshall said. “But we didn’t continue to play like that and didn’t make enough plays.”
A Tampa Bay team that ranked second worst in the league in rushing (81.2 yards a game) ran Carnell Williams 27 times for 122 yards. As a result, rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski was able to throw high-percentage passes, completing 14 of 21 for 178 yards and two touchdowns.
Both quarterbacks started slowly. Gradkowski used all three of his timeouts in the first 19 minutes, and Campbell opened 0-for-3, including a well-thrown bomb on the opening snap that receiver Brandon Lloyd should have caught.
Campbell’s first completion was a 14-yard pass to Ladell Betts in the left flat.
“Once I got into the flow of the game, everything came more naturally for me,” Campbell said.
The short passes that were so common with benched starter Mark Brunell at quarterback were noticeably absent with Campbell in the lineup.