Play well, you get to keep playing.
Since he lost the starting quaterback job in Buffalo 10 years ago, Todd Collins knew that would be his motto if he were given another chance to play.
Produce, you get to stay.
Ever since he was pigeonholed as a second- and third-string player — a good guy to have around but not somebody to start 16 games — that's what Collins has told himself during offseason workouts, practices and preseason games.
The last three weeks, Collins has shown that proper preparation prevents poor performance. The years of studying like a starter have paid off and helped the Washington Redskins go from 5-7 to 8-7 and in position to clinch the final NFC playoff spot with a win over Dallas on Sunday.
Collins is 45-for-74 for 644 yards, almost assuring that he would get the postseason assignment even if Jason Campbell's dislocated kneecap is completely healed.
Collins has four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 107.0 passer rating, making re-signing him a priority for the Redskins this offseason.
"It's hard to imagine somebody playing that good with that little of an opportunity the last 10 years," coach Joe Gibbs said.
Collins becomes an unrestricted free agent after the season. He signed a two-year, $2.5 million contract in March 2006.
The quarterback free agent class is underwhelming: Chicago's Rex Grossman, Jacksonville's Quinn Gray, Miami's Cleo Lemon and Oakland's Daunte Culpepper and Josh McCown. At least six teams — Minnesota, Carolina, Chicago, Baltimore, Atlanta and Miami — could be in the market for a change at quarterback.
The best Collins could hope for is a chance to compete for a starting position.
"That would be important, and I would have to consider that," he said. "At this point of my career, I wouldn't want to go into a situation that wasn't set up properly. I know how important it is to have a coaching staff and offensive coordinator that creates a structure for your quarterback and puts him in a position to succeed. Sometimes, you might have talent and an incredible arm but if things aren't set up properly, it's difficult to succeed in this league."
Mark Brunell's salary cap number is in excess of $6.5 million in 2008, and his departure would free up money for Collins.
"He's earned himself some money the last few weeks," Gibbs said.
Collins was stellar coming off the bench against Chicago (15-for-20, 224 yards and two touchdowns) and as a starter at Minnesota (22-for-29, 254 yards, two touchdowns). Even in the win over the Giants (8-for-25, 160 yards), he had completions of 36, 30 and 34 yards.
Examining his 160 snaps, some conclusions can be drawn:
• He is more than adequate when teams blitz. Opponents have sent pressure on 32 drop-backs. Collins has been sacked just twice on those plays, which shows a willingness to take a hit after throwing or throwing the ball away. He is 17-for-29 for 272 yards and two touchdowns when teams send more than four defenders. He was 6-for-10 for 97 yards and a touchdown when Minnesota blitzed.
• He knows who his playmakers are. Santana Moss has been Collins' intended target 17 times and Chris Cooley has been the target 15 times. In the last three games, Moss and Cooley have combined for 18 catches and two touchdowns.
• He puts his receivers in position to gain yards after the catch with short throws. Forty-eight of Collins' 74 attempts have traveled 10 yards or less. But among the completions are gains of 54, 30, 19, 19 and 16 yards.
• He is accurate downfield. In passes that travel 11 or more yards downfield, Collins is 15-for-24 for 330 yards, including six completions in nine attempts 21 or more yards downfield.
Collins is showing that flashing during the preseason can translate into starring in December.
"I talk about the preseason and I've had some good games," he said. "I know everybody rolls their eyes and says, 'The preseason doesn't count.' I know it doesn't count, but I did some good things with my opportunities. I took confidence in that, knowing I could do some things within the framework of this offense."
Said quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor: "Everyone here would tell you that it's evident Todd is special in how he prepares. ... At the same time, you never know about a guy until he goes out and plays and that's at any position."
Lazor emphasizes different things with Collins than he would with Jason Campbell, including elements of the game plan that evolved over the last two months when Collins' practice reps were limited.
"He has great recall," Lazor said. "He can tell you on some of the plays when they actually ran it in a game and why they ran it and what happened. Because he studies so much every week and burns it into his mind, he's able to do that."
If he's able to lead the Redskins to another win, Collins will get to start in the postseason for the first time.
"I'm enjoying this week to week," he said. "I don't know how long it will last. If we don't beat Dallas, there's a chance we might go home so I'm trying to savor the moment and play for each game."