- The Washington Times - Monday, October 5, 2009

The play - a simple, if daring, play-action pass down the sideline to receiver Santana Moss - was something the Washington Redskins had been sitting on for two weeks. Coach Jim Zorn had installed it in practice and was waiting for the right time to use it. When he finally made the call, the Redskins’ season was in a tenuous state.

Empty orange seats ringed the top rows of FedEx Field on Sunday, the first home game since the Detroit Lions beat the Redskins for their first win in 19 games. When fans streamed out of the Morgan Boulevard Metro stop, a local radio station was waiting with homemade headgear - paper grocery bags, printed with the slogan, “Love the team, hate the owner!”

And when the Redskins came off the field at halftime, down 10-0 after 30 minutes of football that doubled as a sampler platter of everything an embattled football team can do to make its situation worse, they did so under a deafening downpour of boos.

But late in the third quarter, Zorn finally called that play-action pass, which quarterback Jason Campbell drilled for a decisive 59-yard touchdown to Moss in the Redskins’ 16-13 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And Washington bench-pressed a crushing load of frustration, at least for one day.

“It only counts as one win, but that’s what we needed,” said running back Clinton Portis, who galloped around the field with his helmet in his hand after the Redskins sealed the win with a late fumble recovery. “It was great to come back in the second half after being booed and give the fans something to cheer about. Today we won again, but I don’t think anybody’s down after we barely won today.”

It’s not that much of a stretch to say Campbell’s touchdown to Moss saved the Redskins’ season, if not the jobs of their coach and quarterback. After the loss to the Lions, Zorn’s name had jumped even higher on the proverbial hot-seat list, while Campbell, despite a passer rating of 92.5 through three games, had absorbed a heavy dose of criticism.

Most observers had predicted the Redskins to finish last in a tough NFC East, despite the fact they spent many millions on Pro Bowl defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. But a 1-2 start, punctuated with the loss to the Lions, added an extra dose of hysteria before Sunday’s game.

The Redskins did nothing to relieve any of it in the first half on Sunday.

On their first series, Campbell was sacked and fumbled on Washington’s 10-yard line. Two plays later, Buccaneers quarterback Josh Johnson threw his first NFL pass for a touchdown, an 8-yard strike to Antonio Bryant, who had beaten Carlos Rogers on an out route.

By the end of the first half, Campbell had thrown two interceptions and been sacked twice. Johnson’s scrambling was giving the Redskins’ defense fits. Punter Hunter Smith was out of the game with a groin injury, leaving kicker Shaun Suisham to pull double duty. And Tampa Bay had a 10-0 lead, which could have been more had Mike Nugent not missed two field goals.

All that, combined with a litany of protection breakdowns on the offensive line and a mental mistake by punt returner Antwaan Randle-El, had the crowd of 86,412 seething.

Zorn acknowledged he was questioning a game plan that had produced only 110 yards by the end of the half. And yet, Campbell said, any sense of panic never reached the players.

“You don’t get frustrated. You don’t start arguing with each other. That’s not the way you do it,” he said. “Everyone was calm. Everyone was patient. It was, ‘Do your own job, and we win this game.’ ”

They did, thanks to two third-quarter touchdowns in the span of two minutes, Nugent’s two missed field goals in the first half and a defense that gave up just 85 yards in the second half.

There was little about it that gave the impression the Redskins (2-2) were anything close to fixed. But with games the next two weeks against the Carolina Panthers (0-3) and the Kansas City Chiefs (0-4), the schedule gives them some relief before a Monday night showdown Oct. 26 with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Most importantly for Zorn, Campbell and oft-criticized executive VP for football operations Vinny Cerrato, it was a reprieve from the gauntlet.

“[It was] extremely hard [to stay positive],” Zorn said. “I was encouraged by our players, number one. And I was encouraged by our assistant coaches, number two. There was nothing going on that resembled giving up, that resembled anything negative. I was taking a few deep breaths. … I was trying to rely on some of those plays that we know, that we can be aggressive with.”

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