Jason Campbell figured his second NFL game would be a tough challenge. The Carolina Panthers, already one of the toughest defenses in the league, had NFL game tape to watch of the second-year quarterback.
The more the Panthers watched, the more they would pick up his tendencies.
Campbell turned in an uneven performance against the Panthers. He completed 11-of-23 passes for 118 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception and a QB rating of 74.2. Coaches were encouraged at how Campbell responded to adversity in the second half.
With the Redskins trailing 13-10 in the fourth quarter, Campbell threw an ill-advised deep pass that was intercepted by the Panthers' Richard Marshall.
The Redskins' offense got another opportunity, however, and Campbell came back on the very next drive to lead the offense on a 4-play, 80-yard touchdown drive.
The key play was Campbell's perfect throw across the middle to tight end Chris Cooley, who was running a crossing pattern.
Cooley caught the pass in stride and broke two tackles on the way to a 66-yard touchdown catch and run. The score, on a 3rd-and-play, turned out to be the game-winning points.
"That [pass] showed me a lot," head coach Joe Gibbs said. "Some of those plays, he steps up in the pocket and since he's so big, he can see things and make plays. What he gives us is athleticism."
Added Carolina Panthers head coach John Fox: "It was a good throw and catch on a play that was well protected. It was probably the play of the game."
Cooley was actually the second read on the play. Campbell was supposed to look for an outside receiver first.
It turned out that Campbell called the play in the huddle. His helmet transmitter to Coach Gibbs on the sidelines had malfunctioned, so Campbell took the initiative.
"Coach was trying to get the play in, and it went out for some reason," Campbell said. "I just called one of the plays we've been working on all week," Campbell said. "I heard the formation--I just couldn't hear the play. It was Cooley one-on-one in the middle of the field and he ran a great route.
"It was a great catch and run. I didn't know [Cooley] was that fast."
Added Santana Moss: "He didn't crack, he just said he can't hear so he called the play. We know every play out there, so he just called one of them."
It was Campbell's second touchdown throw of the game. Late in the third quarter, Campbell connected on a 4-yard TD pass to Antwaan Randle El.
On 3rd-and-goal, Campbell scrambled left and found Randle El open at the goal line. Randle El grabbed the pass one yard in the end zone for a touchdown, giving the Redskins a 10-6 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Campbell had his full arsenal of receivers available for the game. Santana Moss, slowed by a hamstring injury last week versus Tampa Bay, caught three passes for 12 yards.
"Santana is the type of guy who is real explosive and can do whatever he wants when he gets the ball in his hands," he said. "He is a guy who has exceptional speed and does things most people cannot do. Just having his presence back in the huddle helped."
Gibbs continues to marvel at how calm and collected Campbell is in the huddle and on the sidelines.
"I've never seen him uncomfortable," Gibbs said. "He's never flustered. He never looks like he's feeling pressure. Maybe that's just the way he looks on the outside, but that's how he is on the sidelines."
The Redskins entered Sunday's game looking to get back to Gibbs's "principles" of running the football. Associate head coach-offense Al Saunders called a relatively conservative game plan. Campbell was asked to manage the game, and he did just enough to earn his first NFL win.
"It means a lot," he said. "It gives you a lot of confidence."