Football fans nationwide will be tuned in when the Washington Redskins take on the New York Jets this Saturday night at the Meadowlands, after the game was picked up by the NFL Network. That’s because Brett Favre will be making his debut, playing for a team other than the Green Bay Packers for the first time since the other George Bush was in office.
And while most fans will be watching to see how “Brett the Jet” fits in, I can’t help but think there’s a contingency of Redskins fans who wish Favre would have somehow ended up in D.C. Why? Because the district, more than anywhere else in America, loves a quarterback controversy. Whether we’re talking about Sonny versus Billy or even Brad Johnson versus Jeff George, this town simply cannot get enough of the QB drama.
When Jason Campbell went down with a dislocated his kneecap against the Chicago Bears last year, the coaching staff was forced to dust off “The Tasty Drink” Todd Collins, who hadn’t thrown a meaningful pass in a decade. The guy who had been brought into town to essentially be an extra coach on the field to teach Campbell and Mark Brunell Al Saunders’ vaunted 700-page playbook was asked to step in and lead a 5-7 team that was all but dead.
And then, seemingly out of nowhere, the 36-year-old Collins found backup tight end Todd Yoder for a huge touchdown pass in that Bears game and never looks back. The team closed the season with a four-game winning streak when anything less would have sent them home for the holidays, and miraculously carried the ‘Skins into the playoffs. The team got sent home a week later after the offensive line failed to arrive in Seattle, but that was more than enough for some Redskins fans to call for an open competition between Campbell and Collins for the starting job this season.
Thankfully, The Danny, Vinny Cerrato and the newly hired Jim Zorn didn’t listen. They said the minute Campbell was healthy, he would again be the starter. If Collins was to come back to D.C., it would be as a backup.
When I asked Campbell earlier this month what he thought about some fans calling for a QB competition, he didn’t hesitate to speak his mind.
“I didn’t feel like I did anything to lose it,” Campbell said. “You’re talking about a young guy – I’m going into my fourth year. I didn’t feel like I did anything to lose my starting job last year. We started out the season real strong, you know. We lost to the Giants at the end of the game and we go to Green Bay, played a great game and lost a heartbreaker. Like I said, we lost a lot of heartbreakers – in Dallas and in Tampa. All those games, we were in. We were right there. I don’t think it’s fair for people to say that. We got everyone healthy back on defense and offense and Todd did a great job keeping the team going into the playoffs.”
Here’s where it gets funny. Those same fans who called for Campbell’s head during the offseason have changed their tune. Campbell has been lights out for most of training camp and the preseason (prompting Peter King of Sports Illustrated to say Campbell turned in one of the best training camp performances King has seen in more than 20 years covering the NFL). During the ‘Skins first two preseason games, J.C. has completed 80 percent of his passes with one touchdown and no interceptions and has a sparkling 125.6 passer rating. Even more encouraging, Jason isn’t holding the ball as much (Campbell had 12 fumbles a year ago). No one is calling for him to lose the job anymore.
“The thing that I really was impressed with Jason last night [was that] he had two pocket scrambles,” said Zorn after the Buffalo game. “He was in the pocket, scrambled in the pocket and bought time, then drilled the ball very accurately. Those are things I’m looking for. We’ve been drilling those things. He made a couple of plays that were big-league plays that way.”
And Collins? Well, he’s not functioning at the same level without Saunders calling the shots. What was once automatic now seems slow and clunky. Instead of closing his eyes and knowing where the receiver should be, Collins now seems tentative delivering the ball. Collins struggles have given the same group of fans an unprecedented opportunity – the chance to call for a backup quarterback controversy. The same fans who anointed Collins the future would now like him to hold the clipboard while The Savoir … er … Colt Brennan waits in the wings behind Campbell. Thankfully, the Redskins front office continues to stick to the plan and ignore the uninformed masses. Can you imagine the circus in town if Favre had ended up in the maroon and black?