The world just wants to see the baby; nobody wants to hear about the labor pains.
That is the take that many have when it comes to Jason Campbell. They are not interested in the bumps and bruises, both mental and physical, that many young quarterbacks experience on the way to becoming solid, competent, NFL quarterbacks. They just want to see tight spirals over the outstretched fingers of cornerbacks nestle into the arms of receivers, clutch two-minute drives pulling Washington Redskins victories from the jaws of defeat and triple-digit quarterback ratings.
In 2007, we saw a mixed bag from Campbell, often in the same game. The back to back November contests in Dallas and at Tampa Bay were the prototypical Campbell games, the ones that defined his season. In both games he led furious comebacks from late deficits only to make fatal mistakes to spike potential winning drives.
In Texas Stadium, the Redskins fell behind 28-16 midway through the fourth quarter. Working without a huddle and taking snaps in the shotgun, Campbell completed 10 pass to account for all of the yardage in a 74-yard TD drive to get the Redskins within striking distance at 28-23. The defense did its job, forcing Dallas to go three and out, getting the ball back into Campbell's hot hand with 2:51 left.
In Tampa, a barrage of early turnovers had the Redskins down 19-3. A third-quarter touchdown pass, a 39-yarder to Chris Cooley, got the Redskins back into it. Early in the fourth quarter they got a step closer on a Shaun Suisham field goal. Again, the Washington defense stepped up, the Bucs went three and out, and Campbell took over with his team down by six with nine and a half minutes left to play.
From the Cowboy 40, passes of 11 yards to Keenan McCardell and 10 to Antwaan Randle El moved Campbell and the Redskins into the Red Zone at the Dallas 19 with 1:50 to go.
With plenty of time left at Raymond James Stadium, the Redskins were able to mix in the running of Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts along with Campbell's passes as they moved smartly from their own nine to a second and five at the Tampa Bay 32 with just under four minutes left.
One chance to move closer to the Dallas end zone went awry when Campbell misfired on a short pass to Portis. On second down, Campbell threw the ball right into the gut of Cowboy cornerback Terence Newman.
Veteran Bucs corner Ronde Barber played possum with Campbell, pretending not to see that the QB was going to toss a quick sideline pass to Moss. As soon as Campbell committed, Barber jumped in front and made the interception.
Again, the defense stonewalled Tony Romo and company giving the Redskins one last shot at a miracle from their own 30 with 34 seconds left. A couple of completions set up a Hail Mary from midfield, but the ball was batted away as time expired.
The final shot at Tampa Bay wasn't up against such long odds. Starting from the Washington seven with 3:05 left, Campbell completed seven straight passes to get to a first and ten at the Tampa Bay 16 with 31 seconds on the clock. On second down from there, though, Brian Kelly stepped up in front of Santana Moss in the end zone and picked off Campbell's pass to end the game.
Two November games against eventual NFC division winners. The Redskins aren't in either game at the end without some impressive heroics on the part of Jason Campbell. But if Campbell protects the ball better in critical moments, the Redskins have another couple of chances to pull out the game (all three of the picks came on second down plays).
These games were the final impression of Campbell that we carry into training camp. Sean Taylor was shot just hours after the Bucs game and he died a day later. The Buffalo game that followed is a blur created by shock, sadness, and disbelief. Four days later against the Bears he went out in the second quarter with a dislocated kneecap and didn't play again the rest of the year.
So that has us wondering—who is the real Jason Campbell? Or, more importantly, who will Jason Campbell become? Will he forever be the guy with the big arm who can make jaw-dropping plays in desperate situations only to fizzle when it comes to finishing off those drives? Or, will he learn to avoid the killer mistakes and be the hero week after week?
Time will tell us whether or not the labor pains are over or if they ever will go away.