NFL: Redskins 17, Panthers 13
By Jospeh White
LANDOVER, Md. — Seeking his first win as an NFL starting quarterback, Jason Campbell faced a vital third down with his team trailing late in the fourth quarter.
Through his helmet transmitter, he heard coach Joe Gibbs call the formation.
Then silence. The transmitter went dead. Campbell had to call the play himself, based on the players sent onto the field.
“We could tell that there was something wrong,” right tackle Jon Jansen said. “But he picked up and just took us out there and we ran the play, and it was big.”
The play went for 66 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Chris Cooley caught the pass over the middle near midfield, escaped two tacklers and ran down the sideline for the winning score in the Washington Redskins’ 17-13 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
“I didn’t hear the play that was called,” Campbell said. “I just tried to call one of the plays that we worked on all week that would give us an opportunity to make a first down. Fortunately, God was with me when I made that call, and Cooley did a great job of running after the catch.”
The victory broke a two-game losing streak for the Redskins (4-7) and made Campbell a winner in his second start, following Mark Brunell’s benching. The Redskins responded well to Gibbs’ call to return to his principles of running the ball and stopping the run, but it took the big play to Cooley on a third-and-8 with 4:26 remaining to beat the Panthers (6-5) in a game dominated by defense.
“I felt like today it was kind of our style of football,” Gibbs said. “And it was good to get back to that.”
For 31/2 quarters, the best highlights were two blocked punts and an incredible fourth-quarter catch by Carolina’s Steve Smith at the back of the end zone. Ladell Betts, the Redskins featured running back now that Clinton Portis is out for the year, finished with 104 yards on 24 carries. Campbell threw an interception on the previous drive and had only 52 yards passing when he hit Cooley for the made-up touchdown. He finished 11-for-23 for 118 yards with two touchdowns.
“I’ve never seen him uncomfortable,” Gibbs said. “It’s an amazing thing about him. He’s got that laid-back personality, and from the day he got here. He’s never looked like he was feeling pressure or anything.”
The Redskins defense, ranked last in the NFC entering the game, also had its first good game. The Panthers were held to 264 total yards, and the much maligned secondary limited Smith to 34 yards on five catches. Safety Sean Taylor made a tackle on fourth down to stop Carolina’s next-to-last drive, and he intercepted Jake Delhomme in the end zone on the Panthers’ last possession.
“It’s just a steppingstone,” Taylor said.
Smith gave the Panthers a 13-10 lead with 7:55 to play when he reached high for the ball at the back of the end zone and managed to have both feet hit the ground inches from the white line for an 8-yard touchdown.
The Panthers defense would usually take over from there. Carolina entered having allowed 10 points in two games since its week off, and the Redskins’ only touchdown through three quarters Sunday was set up by a blocked punt by rookie Rocky McIntosh.
But Cooley caught the big pass ahead of Chris Gamble and then broke away from Mike Minter. The loss knocked the Panthers out of first place in the NFC South.
“This one stinks — especially when I didn’t make that tackle,” Minter said. “He beat his guy — 100 percent of the time you have to make that tackle.”
No one will mistake either team for an offensive juggernaut anytime soon, and the reputations were kept safe in a first half that included nine punts, no touchdowns and only 91 combined yards passing. The punting duel left the Redskins with good field position for much of the half, but they had to settle for two field goal attempts by Nick Novak. He missed from 37 yards, then converted from 42.
The first blocked punt came near the end of the half. Adam Seward got a hand on Derrick Frost’s attempt, setting up a 51-yard field goal by John Kasay that gave Carolina a 6-3 lead.
Notes: Carolina rookie RB DeAngelo Williams started for DeShaun Foster (elbow) and ran for 63 yards on 17 carries. … Delhomme (23-for-38 for 168 yards) passed Steve Beuerlein as the Panthers’ career leader in completions and yards. He has 1,055 completions for 12,854 yards. … Redskins S Vernon Fox, starting for Troy Vincent (hamstring), got his first interception since 2002. … Novak is 5-for-10 in field goal attempts. … The Panthers are 1-7 against the Redskins, 0-5 in Washington.