In one snapshot, it represented everything Jim Zorn has been preaching to Jason Campbell since the spring day they first put their noses into the new coach’s West Coast offense.
Recognize a new coverage and make the needed protection change.
Don’t stare down the first receiver and throw to him even if he’s covered.
Waste little movement dodging a pass rusher so the play isn’t disrupted.
And the last part: make the throw.
Before Santana Moss caught the pass in stride for a 67-yard touchdown that gave the Washington Redskins a 29-24 win over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday at steamy FedEx Field, the aforementioned actions made the play happen.
For the first time all game, the Saints cheated a safety near the line of scrimmage. Seeing that, Campbell switched the protection, moving the formation from I to split backs, and in the front of his mind figured Moss - and not Antwaan Randle El - would be the target because of man coverage.
The Saints instead blitzed a linebacker, and when a miscommunication up front sprung defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy free, fullback Mike Sellers chipped him enough to allow Campbell to slide to his left. And then, without having to reset his feet or entire body, he unleashed a throw that traveled 59 yards in the air before Moss grabbed it in stride at the 15 to give Zorn his first NFL victory.
A week after Zorn called a conservative game plan, as if to show how much he didn’t want the game in his quarterback’s hands, Campbell threw 36 passes, completing 24 for 321 yards.
“We talked during the week, and I said, ‘Coach, trust me,’ and he said, ‘I have to trust you more,’” Campbell said. “We believe in what we can do and what we can do together.”
Said Zorn: “Those are the things we’re trying to teach Jason at the line of scrimmage, and he took a big step forward today in several areas.”
Campbell’s longest career completion gave the Redskins the lead, rookie Chris Horton’s second interception with 2:59 remaining preserved it and Campbell’s 8-yard bullet to Moss on fourth-and-2 after the two-minute warning sealed it, helping Washington avoid a chaotic week that would have resulted from an 0-2 start.
Instead, the Redskins will roll into Sunday’s game against Arizona at FedEx Field knowing their offense can move down the field, knowing their defense can create takeaways and knowing their rookie coach has confidence in their talents.
“I don’t know how to act, but I’m very excited,” Zorn said. “I wish I could enjoy it as much as I had to endure last week’s loss for four, five days. I won’t be able to, but it doesn’t matter because this is great.”
Zorn pointed to plenty of great individual performances that added up to the rally: Horton, starting for ill Reed Doughty, recorded three takeaways; Moss posted 164 receiving yards (the second-highest total of his career); the defense held New Orleans to 55 yards rushing; Campbell had his third 300-yard passing game; Chris Cooley had five receptions for 72 yards; and Clinton Portis plowed his way to 96 yards and two touchdowns.
“It was focus and staying together,” Portis said. “As a team, we knew that we were better than [last week].”
The Redskins’ offense had its most prolific game in two years, outgaining New Orleans 455-250.
“The thing I’m most excited about is that our players believe we can move the ball the way we did,” Zorn said.
The Redskins needed all of that offense after their special teams failed them late in the third quarter, when Reggie Bush returned a line-drive punt 55 yards for a touchdown to give New Orleans a 25-14 lead. Portis’ 8-yard score with 5:59 remaining cut the lead, setting up the Campbell-to-Moss heroics.
Washington needed a comeback because it squandered multiple first-half opportunities.
The first drive stalled at the New Orleans 30 before Shaun Suisham missed a 49-yard field goal. The second stopped at the New Orleans 4 as Suisham hit from 22 yards. The third stalled at the New Orleans 19, and Suisham made a 36-yarder. The fourth stopped at the New Orleans 12 before a bad hold by Brooks forced Suisham to hook a 30-yard attempt. The fifth drive stalled at the New Orleans 17 as Suisham connected from 35 yards.
The Redskins outgained New Orleans 203-112 but trailed 10-9 because of a 1-yard touchdown run by Pierre Thomas and, as time expired, a 49-yard field goal by Martin Gramatica capping a 59-yard drive that took only 64 seconds.
“Even though we weren’t scoring touchdowns, we were still confident about what we were able to do,” Cooley said. “That carried into the second half.”
But not before the deficit grew to 17-9 when a busted coverage left Robert Meachem open for a 19-yard scoring reception.
The Redskins answered with a 10-play, 83-yard drive capped by Portis’ 9-yard run that saw him burrow through a gaggle of players behind lead blocker Sellers. Zorn opted to go for the tying two-point conversion, but Campbell’s pass failed.
The Saints extended the advantage to two scores on Bush’s punt return with two seconds left in the third quarter.
On the Redskins’ first touchdown drive of the fourth quarter, Campbell went 5-for-5 for 83 yards on the drive, including a 23-yard completion to Cooley on second-and-22 from the Washington 6.
On the second touchdown drive, Campbell went long for Moss after he beat Tracy Porter on a quick out-and-in move that got the rookie cornerback turned around.
Three plays later, Demetric Evans tipped a pass by Drew Brees, and Horton intercepted. Soon after his fourth-and-2 call paid off, Zorn began accepting congratulatory greetings from staff and players.
“We’re growing, and it’s always great to get the first win for a new coach,” Sellers said. “Now we can start climbing the hill.”