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Confidence game

Skins' Campbell gains more than a win against Eagles

Posted: Tuesday September 18, 2007 12:35PM; Updated: Tuesday September 18, 2007 12:35PM
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Though his statistics have been modest, Jason Campbell has led the Redskins to a pair of wins over Miami and Philly this year.
Though his statistics have been modest, Jason Campbell has led the Redskins to a pair of wins over Miami and Philly this year.

It occurs to me that we saw the makings of a pretty good quarterback story Monday night in Philadelphia, but it wasn't necessarily the one we were focused on at the start of the evening.

Even with all eyes trained on Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb in his first game back in Philadelphia since last November's knee surgery, it was impossible not to notice that Washington's young quarterback, Jason Campbell, took the most significant step of his still-nascent career.

Making just his ninth career start, and his first beneath the Monday Night Football spotlight, the 2005 first-round pick from Auburn wasn't spectacular. But he played with enough poise and generated enough production to more than get the job done in the Redskins' 20-12 upset win, serving notice that he has begun to outgrow his question-mark status.

On Monday night, all the questions seemed more fitting aimed in McNabb's direction, as the Eagles offense continued to flounder and Philly dropped to 0-2 for the first time since '03. As for Campbell and the 2-0 Redskins, they look like they're starting to figure out who they are and where they fit in the NFL stratosphere.

There's no telling how much confidence Campbell gained from recording not only his first NFC East win as a starter, but also a divisional road win against a team that had beaten Washington nine of the last 11 times they'd played, dating to '01. But I know how much confidence Campbell seemed in possession of during training camp this summer, when he told me just what he thought of the question marks attached to his name.

"I feel like I can be a great quarterback in the NFL,'' he said at Redskins Park. "I know how I can be, and I know what I can do. I trust myself and I believe in myself. I feel like I can compete at a high level. People just have to understand that in this day and age, you've got to give guys time to grow.''

You could almost see Campbell growing by the series against the Eagles. It's probably too early for defining moments in the third-year pro's career, but that 16-yard touchdown pass that he threw to tight end Chris Cooley with nine seconds remaining in the first half, giving the Redskins a 10-6 lead they would never relinquish, is the leader in the clubhouse.

On that pivotal 73-yard touchdown drive, which seemed to drain the Eagles of their will to win on this night, Campbell helped account for all but four of the yards, scrambling for a key 20-yard gain and completing five of seven passes for 62 yards.

Campbell had his mistakes of youth as well, badly overthrowing a wide-open Santana Moss on what could have been a game-clinching fourth-quarter touchdown, but his 16-of-29, 209-yard performance included just one interception to go along with his one scoring pass.

Given that Washington is again playing defense with gusto (25 points allowed in two games), and head coach Joe Gibbs intends to ride his running game long and hard this season, Campbell's steady showing is the third component of what is shaping up as a formula the Redskins can win with this season.

"I feel like we can do something special,'' Campbell said in camp. "Guys are really working together and trying to get this thing turned around. It's just a different vibe here than it has been in my first two years. It has really been night and day from last year to this year.''

It's too early to bury the Eagles in the NFC East, or to declare the Redskins a playoff-bound team in '07. But I left Washington's training camp believing that Campbell wouldn't be the piece of the puzzle that held the Redskins back this season, and through two weeks, he has done nothing but prove that he's part of the answer, not the problem in D.C.

"I've been really impressed with him, because I've seen where he started and I certainly see where he'll end up,'' said Redskins backup (and former starting) quarterback Mark Brunell of Campbell. "He has the ability to be one of the special ones in this league. He's in the process of making this team his own, and becoming who he is.''

Monday night in Philadelphia, while everyone was focused on McNabb's past and present, we couldn't help but get a glimpse of the future in Washington.

• I understand Atlanta's need to shake up their equation at quarterback, so if they sign Byron Leftwich after working him out on Monday it's more than a defensible move. But if the problem is that Joey Harrington is holding the ball too long and taking too many sacks -- 13 through two games -- Leftwich's history doesn't suggest he'd be an obvious upgrade on that front.

Leftwich has been sacked 76 times in 46 career starts, and ankle and knee problems in recent years have made him even less mobile than he was when he entered the league as the No. 7 overall pick in 2003 out of Marshall. His lack of being able to avoid the rush or exit the pocket at times was one of the reasons Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio cast his team's future at quarterback with David Garrard last month.

• He can call himself William James as opposed to his former name (Will Peterson), but even with his second-quarter interception, the Eagles cornerback had a rough night playing against Washington in the place of injured starter Lito Sheppard. The Redskins were obviously looking in his direction as much as possible, and James should never have been asked to try and cover Moss one-on-one. That's a mismatch.

• McNabb looked sharp in training camp and in his first preseason game for the Eagles, but right now I must admit it's hard not to harken back to Daunte Culpepper in Miami early last season when you watch No. 5 moving around in the pocket. McNabb clearly doesn't have the explosiveness that was previously part of his game, and until that returns, teams can better defend his passing because they don't have to focus as much attention on the threat of him running.

• That's not the last big game-saving hit that Redskins rookie safety LaRon Landry will be dishing out in this league. His perfectly timed leveling of Eagles receiver Kevin Curtis on that fourth-and-6 from the Washington 9 put the wraps on the Redskins' upset with 1:05 remaining.

And Landry's presence seems to have inspired fellow Redskins safety Sean Taylor to re-elevate his game back to the levels he displayed in his impact 2004 rookie season.

• It must almost be time for fall, because Morten Andersen, 47, has signed again with the Falcons, 25 years after making his NFL debut in 1982. Think about this: Andersen was ancient by NFL standards (at 38) when he kicked Atlanta into the Super Bowl following the 1998 season with that double-overtime field goal in the NFC title game at Minnesota. And that was almost nine years and three teams ago. Andersen is actually seven months older than first-year Falcons coach Bobby Petrino, and no fewer than 12 NFL head coaches were born later than Andersen's Aug. 19, 1960, birthday.

• After two weeks, all those folks who doubted that Randy Moss could fit into the program in New England aren't looking too prescient. Same goes with the group that said Moss's skills were in obvious decline. Moss already has three touchdown catches -- the same number he totaled last season in Oakland -- and he's tied for the NFL lead in receptions with 17, while trailing only Cincy's Chad Johnson in reception yardage (304 to 288).

Moss told us long ago that he plays when he wants to play, and as I've said since late April, he wants to play in New England. That makes all the difference.

• The Chargers led the league in first-half scoring last season with 13.9 points in the opening two quarters. But they have yet to score a point in the first half this season, being blanked by both Chicago and New England.

Somewhere, Marty Schottenheimer is chuckling.