Need something to feel good about, Redskins fans? Still smarting from the inexplicable 19-17 loss to the previously pathetic Rams? Starting to wonder whether those four straight Washington victories - the last two on the Cowboys’ and Eagles’ own turf - were just figments of your imagination?
OK, here you go: Instead of dwelling on the negative in Sunday’s game - of which there was plenty - I’d like to direct your attention to an increasingly encouraging theme in this Redskins season. I’m talking about Jason Campbell’s play at the end of first halves and at the end of games. It’s been nothing short of sensational. And there are few measures of a quarterback that are more significant, more revealing of the Inner QB and his ability to lead.
As Jim Zorn put it Monday, “It really helps define a quarterback and his career - not getting stopped, keeping his concentration level up, not looking at the score and saying, ‘Omigosh, we’ve got to hurry up.’ ”
Consider the Rams game (if you can bear to). Just before halftime, Campbell drove the offense to the St. Louis 16, largely on the strength of a 28-yard toss to Chris Cooley on first-and-20. Only the flukiest of plays - a batted pass that was caught by guard Pete Kendall and then fumbled - kept the Redskins from scoring.
Then, late in the fourth quarter, with St. Louis leading 16-10, Campbell directed a 73-yard march for the go-ahead touchdown. His biggest contribution: a dart to Antwaan Randle El for 29 yards on third-and-14 at the St. Louis 31.
The play was actually designed for Santana Moss, Zorn said, but the defense, playing the percentages, took him out of the equation. Unfazed, Campbell located Randle El breaking across the middle and hit him in stride so he could run away from defender Jason Craft.
It was just another example, the coach said, of “what Jason has done really well … just staying with the play” - rather than doing something impulsive/counterproductive.
We saw the same sort of cold-bloodedness the previous two weeks. In Philadelphia, Campbell led the Redskins to a field goal in the last 55 seconds of the first half, completing five passes for virtually all the yardage, and helped kill the final 7:18 of the game by, among other things, scrambling 15 yards on third-and-9.
Against the Cowboys, Campbell guided the Redskins to field goals on their last possession of both halves (not counting the kneeldowns that ended each). To recap: That’s 6-for-6 for Jason in these situations in the past three weeks.
And here’s another feel-good stat: The Redskins’ streak of five games without an offensive turnover - the longest in NFL history to start a season - might be over, but Campbell’s streak of six games without an interception remains intact. That’s two games more than the previous club record, shared by Brad Johnson (‘99), Mark Rypien (‘90) and Sonny Jurgensen (‘70). (And only Johnson did it in the first four weeks.)
Near as I can determine, the league mark for most games at the beginning of a season without an INT is nine by Milt Plum of the 1960 Browns. (I mention that only because, well, how often do you get to work Milt Plum into a column?)
I’m starting to think that getting hurt late last year - and being able to watch Todd Collins play quarterback - might have been the best thing that ever happened to Campbell. Why? Because what he saw Collins do, as much as anything, in those four season-ending victories is not throw interceptions. An offense, be it Al Saunders’ or Jim Zorn’s, can be pretty effective if its quarterback can refrain from giving the ball away.
It looks like Campbell might be that kind of quarterback - one who can “drive the car,” as football types like to say, and not let his ego or anxiety get in the way of winning. Indeed, you get the sense Jason doesn’t get rattled by much anymore, even The Unexpected.
Something unexpected, in fact, popped up Sunday. In the dying minutes of the first half, as Campbell was trying to hustle the offense downfield, his coach radioed in one running play … and then another.
“I was trying to run down the clock,” Zorn said, “because I didn’t want to leave the other team with enough time to score. We’ve done that this season [e.g. against the Cowboys, who then drove for a field goal].”