At 8:30 last night, the Redskins’ season hung in the balance. Last week’s scoreless preseason opener by the offensive starters and the sprained knees that have kept four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels and record-setting running back Clinton Portis out since July suddenly were mere footnotes.
Jason Campbell, the 25-year-old hope of coach Joe Gibbs and the Washington faithful, lay writhing on the grass at FedEx Field. Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel had knifed inside of Samuels’ replacement, rookie free agent Stephon Heyer, and taken a free shot at the defenseless quarterback’s left knee.
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“It was a scary moment,” Campbell said. “I was just hoping it wasn’t any kind of ACL or MCL tear.”
Campbell said the fact that his foot wasn’t firmly planted probably saved a major injury.
“I was thinking about all I had done leading up to this game and how you thought it was going to go down the drain,” he said.
The injury was reminiscent of a similar questionable hit on Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer by the Steelers‘ Kimo von Oelhoffen in the 2005 playoff opener that quashed the Bengals’ championship hopes, and helped propel the underdog Steelers to their first Super Bowl victory since the 1979 season.
But this play had the potential to end the Redskins’ season three weeks before it even begins on Sept. 9 against Miami. As Campbell thrashed around in agony, longtime Washingtonians and Gibbs had to flash back to the night that Joe Theismann had his leg snapped by blitzing New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor.
The good news for the Redskins is that the 6-foot-5, 233-pound Campbell was sturdy enough to walk off the field with some assistance, and that his knee is only badly bruised, meaning he shouldn’t be out too long, pending a re-evaluation today.
The bad news is that strongside linebacker Marcus Washington’s dislocated right elbow figures to keep arguably the team’s best defender out at least four weeks. Lemar Marshall, who lost his starting spot once London Fletcher signed in March, could be a regular again.
Like Taylor, who genuinely was distraught about injuring Theismann in 1985, Keisel apologized to the fallen quarterback as he left the field. However, that’s where the similarities end.
While Theismann had led the Redskins to two Super Bowls, he was looking every bit of his 36 years when he was hurt. He never played again, but his time under center was running out in any event. The loss of Theismann — who coincidentally called last night’s game for Comcast SportsNet — forced Gibbs to unveil unknown second-year backup Jay Schroeder, who not only rallied the Redskins past the Giants, but would set a team record with 4,109 passing yards the next season en route to an NFC Championship game appearance.
As long as Campbell is sidelined, Gibbs will have to choose between soon-to-be 37-year-old rag-armed Mark Brunell, whom the coach was forced to bench in two of the past three seasons, or Todd Collins, who’ll be 36 in November and who hasn’t started a game in a decade.
The coaches have so little faith in sixth-round draft choice Jordan Palmer, Carson’s younger brother as fate would have it, that the rookie hasn’t played a snap in the preseason, and might not even if Campbell misses the next two games against Baltimore and Jacksonville.
“You would hope the third or fourth quarterback would never play,” associate head coach-offense Al Saunders said before last night’s game. “A young player has to demonstrate that he has enough physical skill to play in this league a year or two down the road. We know that Jordan’s smart and has all the intangibles, but he has a long way to go with his mechanics.”
In any event, it’s a major break for the Redskins that their medical mechanics apparently won’t have to do a major repair job on their prized young quarterback’s left knee.
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