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.
"You know the guy is going to take a shot downfield, and that makes you work even harder on what you do," Cooley said. "He worked through his progressions, and that's really impressive for a young guy."
Campbell was 2-for-3 for 29 yards on the Redskins' first scoring drive, which tied the score at 3-3 on Nick Novak's 45-yard field goal.
To start the second half, Campbell converted two third downs, a 14-yard pass to Antwaan Randle El and an 11-yard pass to Betts to keep the drive alive. James Thrash caught a 17-yard pass, and T.J. Duckett ran for 18 yards. Three snaps later, Campbell rolled to his left and, instead of throwing it away after initial target Mike Sellers was covered, threw against his body to Cooley for a 3-yard touchdown.
"He's a guy that makes plays," Cooley said. "On my touchdown, he made that play. I found a hole for him, and he did it with his feet and was able to make a good throw."
The defense didn't make the lead stand, though.
Tampa Bay put together a 14-play, 85-yard drive that consumed 8:35 to tie the score. After Mike Alstott was stopped twice from the 1-yard line, Gradkowski threw a quick slant to Joey Galloway. The pass deflected off Galloway right into the arms of tight end Anthony Becht for a touchdown.
The score remained tied into the fourth quarter, when the Bucs capitalized on the Redskins' only turnover. Betts caught a screen pass and fumbled after he was hit by safety Jermaine Phillips. Cornerback Juran Bolden recovered at the Redskins 40.
Three plays later, Gradkowski hit Galloway in stride for a 34-yard touchdown pass with 9:35 remaining. Cornerback Carlos Rogers was in man coverage and had no safety help in the middle of the field.
"I pressured on that play and they blocked our pressure," assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said. "When you look at that play, I probably could have helped Carlos out by playing more coverage. But I felt it was time to rattle the young quarterback. He did a good job making the play."
The Bucs added a 31-yard field goal by Matt Bryant with 3:50 remaining.
Gibbs was impressed with Campbell's drive in the two-minute offense, which he finished with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Todd Yoder.
"I thought Jason was really cool and handled himself well, and that's what we had seen from him in the preseason games," Gibbs said.
Now Gibbs' newest challenge is getting the rest of the team to play better, too.
"This league is topsy-turvy, and I think everybody is evenly matched and teams are knocking each other off," he said. "But we have to find a way to get ourselves jump-started and get back to Redskin football. It didn't happen today."