Jim Zorn called it a bit of a novelty, Ben Roethlisberger mentioned twice yesterday that it was indeed impressive without knowing any of the particulars, and some notable national chatterers have kind of anointed it the unofficial NFL stat of the year so far, but no one has yet even pretended to fully explain it.
That's probably because you can't fully explain it.
And yet there it is, the elephantine statistic in the room, the very room the wobbling Steelers will share with the Washington Redskins on the approaching Monday night.
Washington quarterback Jason Campbell has no interceptions.
And yes, it's effectively November.
It would be one thing to say Jason Campbell has 11 fewer interceptions than Brett Favre, who has the same number as newly benched San Francisco flipper J.T. O'Sullivan. But that's merely true. This is bizarre. Every quarterback with at least 30 attempts has thrown at least one pick, and every quarterback with at least 65 attempts has thrown at least two. Roethlisberger threw four last week.
But Campbell has flung it 230 times this fall without anyone wearing the opposing laundry catching it. Beyond that, he has whipped it 252 times in a row dating to last season without an interception. That beats the franchise record by a staggering 91 passes (Joe Theismann's 161 with no picks in 1983).
"He has tried to make good decisions and he's thrown the ball away in good spots," said Zorn, the first-year coach of the Redskins. "And the batted balls have fallen to the ground."
Tipped, batted, deflected and misdirected passes fluttering harmlessly to the earth are probably not the entire extent of Campbell's luck, but the story is that Campbell's luck is mostly the byproduct of his own stunning improvement from just a year ago.
"You look at the tapes from last year, and he's a totally different player," said Steelers defensive captain James Farrior before practice yesterday. "Hopefully, we can put some picks on his stats."
Yes that would be prudent. That is, if the Steelers are still doing that kind of thing. If they are, you wouldn't know it from this stat, which is the fun house mirror-image of Campbell's streak: One hundred and fifty-one consecutive passes have now penetrated the defense without one being intercepted. The Steelers' last pick came early in the third quarter Sept. 21 at Philadelphia, when Troy Polamalu victimized the never-dangerous Kevin Kolb.
Essentially, the Steelers have come up with only two takeaways of any stripe in their past four games, this after getting eight in the first three.
"It's been up and down like a roller coaster," said cornerback Ike Taylor.
While they wait for the up part again, the Steelers have to consider Campbell among the top quarterbacks they'll face this season, even if I failed to so much as mention his name in an August column about the thick roster of top passers on the Steelers' 2008 itinerary. No need to thank me.
"Jason Campbell has played as well as anybody has in the NFL at his position," Bill Cowher recently gushed, probably literally, to his CBS audience. "He's thrown for good numbers. He's got no turnovers. He's big, strong and able to move out of the pocket and make throws downfield. I'm very impressed with Jason Campbell's play. He's brought his team back when they've been down."
Against New Orleans, Campbell completed his last eight throws (and 24 of 36 for 321 yards) to pull out a 29-24 victory. That was a week after he looked so totally ordinary in a season-opening road loss to the New York Giants.
"He's real quick to learn, and I think it's a real compliment to him that even though he's had six or seven offensive coordinators around here since he's been here, including me, that he's always been willing to go back to square one," said Zorn, who was hired as such and almost instantly promoted to head coach before this season. "I do think that's helped him."
That might explain a comprehensive aptitude for analyzing defenses, but it still doesn't explain 252 passes in a row without a pick. Zorn played quarterback in this league for 11 seasons and can't remember anything like it happening to him.
"Not going eight games without an interception, no," he said. "I threw my share."
In all candor, probably more. Zorn threw 111 touchdown passes in the NFL, along with 141 interceptions. One in every 22 passes he threw went to the other guys.
For all his '08 artistry, Campbell's long overdue for a three-pick night, just as the Steelers' defenders are that much overdue to author one. But know this: Campbell needs 34 passes without an interception to match Bernie Kosar's record for most consecutive unintercepted passes to start a season (286 for Cleveland in 1991). If that happens Monday night, the Steelers will come home 5-3.
Gene Collier can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1283.