- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2007

PHILADELPHIA. — In Week 1, it was a coin flip — the one that gave the Redskins the ball at the start of overtime against Miami — that told you This Year Might Be Different. On such happenstance do entire seasons hinge (especially if it leads to a winning field goal).

Last night it was the comedy of errors at the end of the first half — the three 5-yard penalties that had the Redskins retreating from the Philadelphia 1 to the 16 — that suggested better times might be ahead for this Joe Gibbs team. What made it a comedy of errors rather than a tragedy of errors was what happened next: Jason Campbell drifted back and, with the Eagles closing in, fired a touchdown pass to Chris Cooley for a 10-6 lead in an eventual 20-12 victory.

Moments before, Gibbs had sent his field goal unit onto the field, fearful — just guessing here — that if his offense got pushed back any farther, it might have to pay a toll on the Delaware turnpike. But then the Eagles called time, Coach Joe regained his senses and Campbell and Co. went back in with 14 seconds left in the half.

Any team that can commit three penalties in the red zone — in the same series, no less — and come away with seven points is, well, living right. And that”s certainly the category the 2-0 Redskins fit into right now. How easily their record could be the reverse. How easily there could be panic in the streets of Ashburn. How easily it could be 2006 all over again.

It isn”t, though, and a major reason for that is that Mr. Campbell is coming along nicely — not putting up eye-popping numbers maybe but making his share of plays, both with his arm and his feet. (And in his defense, his passing stats last night — 16-for-29 for 209 yards and a TD, with one interception — would have looked a lot better had he not been victimized by several drops, the biggest by Cooley on a deep ball early in the game.

As for No. 17”s running, his 20-yard scramble to the Philly 18 just before halftime, setting up Cooley”s score, was absolutely huge. It was huge because (a) it gave the Redskins a lift going into the locker room, and (b) for the first time in ages, you found yourself thinking: The Redskins might actually have a quarterback who”s more dangerous when he tucks the ball under his arm than the Eagles do.

How many times did Randall Cunningham ruin the best-laid plans of Richie Petitbon with his rambling? And in the past nine years, how often has Donovan McNabb darted out of the pocket and broken the Redskins” hearts? But such heroics come at a price — in McNabb”s case a torn ACL last season that, coupled with the normal ravages of age, has turned him into more of a stay-at-home QB.

That”s not good news for the Eagles, because Donovan has never been the NFL“s purest passer, has never been the quarterback you”d pick to throw a ball through a tire with your life on the line. His ability, with his elusiveness, to turn a negative play into a positive one has always been what set him apart, what sent him to Pro Bowls, NFC title games and, in the 2004 season, the Super Bowl.

Eagles fans have every cause to be concerned about their QB because McNabb just ain”t getting it done. He hit less than 50 percent of his throws — and produced only one touchdown — in the opening week loss at Green Bay, and last night”s efforts (28-for-46 for 240 yards) were no more encouraging. Through three quarters, he had 103 passing yards on 26 attempts — an anemic 4-yard average. Jeff Garcia, come back.

Campbell, meanwhile, outplayed McNabb decisively — and gave the impression it was no fluke, that he could do it again the next time the clubs meet. Indeed, watching the proceedings, it was hard not to think of the Redskins as the ascending team and the Eagles, after a long and fruitful run, as the ones in decline.

After all, not only did the Kid Quarterback shine, the Washington defense outperformed the vaunted Philly D. Granted, the Eagles don”t have a wealth of weapons outside of Brian Westbrook, but anytime you can keep an offense out of the end zone for four quarters — on the road — you”ve had yourself a pretty good night.

So the Redskins are still unbeaten, the Eagles — who saw this coming? — are still winless and most of the early signs for the Snydermen are oh so good. I say “most” because they”ve already lost Jon Jansen for the year and now may be without Randy Thomas (torn triceps), their other starter on the right side of the offensive line, for a while. Still, when you”ve got a young QB on the rise all problems seem surmountable — even three consecutive 5-yard penalties in the red zone.

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