PITTSBURGH, Nov. 28 -- Redskins quarterback Patrick Ramsey stood in the visitor's locker room at a stall next to his predecessor, Mark Brunell, in the bowels of Heinz Field. Ramsey changed into a navy mock turtleneck, navy jacket and matching slacks before being surrounded by reporters to discuss the latest tepid performance by Washington's offense. Ramsey nodded his head at several queries, calmly and politely answering them for several minutes.
After the Redskins lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 16-7, on Sunday because of continued struggles on offense, Ramsey's responses sounded eerily similar to those of Brunell earlier this season: The Redskins didn't execute enough, whether on an overthrown pass, dropped ball or missed assignment, against the NFL's top-ranked defense. Washington had a few plays that were oh-so-close to becoming long gains. The Redskins fell behind 13-0, allowing Pittsburgh to emphasize pass defense as Washington tried to play catch-up.
Pittsburgh linebacker Joey Porter pressures Patrick Ramsey during the fourth quarter. Ramsey finished with 138 yards passing (19-of-34) and a touchdown but was sacked five times.
(Jonathan Newton - The Washington Post)
"It's the same old story," said Ramsey, who was 19 of 34 for 138 yards with a touchdown and an interception and was sacked five times. "I'm almost tired of telling you guys the same thing about us being inconsistent and just not being able to move the ball like we want to. We stayed with them but we stayed with everybody for the most part.
"That's encouraging, but it's not encouraging when you've done it all year long, and we haven't been able to convert and pull through and win."
Washington's offense showed some signs of improvement. Ramsey, whose strong arm is the biggest difference between him and Brunell, was allowed to throw the ball downfield more. However, the results weren't much different than when the Redskins lost 28-6 to the Philadelphia Eagles last week in Ramsey's first start after taking over for Brunell.
Ramsey's longest completion was for 20 yards. His best moment came on a two-yard touchdown pass to H-back Chris Cooley in the third quarter.
The Redskins remain the only team in the NFL that hasn't scored at least 20 points in a game this season. The Redskins' season high is 18 points in a loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 27, the third week of the season.
Brunell was statistically the worst starting quarterback in the NFL before being replaced by Ramsey two weeks ago in the second quarter of Washington's 17-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Before the move, fans at FedEx Field chanted Ramsey's name, urging Coach Joe Gibbs to play him. But when Ramsey was named the team's starting quarterback before last week's game, he insisted that the change didn't mean the offense would magically improve.
"You can't say you bring Mark out and you bring me in and then all of a sudden things are going to be better," Ramsey reiterated Sunday. "It's a team game. If one guy missed a block or doesn't do his job it hinders us offensively."
Indeed, the Redskins' offense has issues that go beyond the starting quarterback. Clinton Portis, who entered the season as Gibbs's featured back, carried the ball six times for 17 yards Sunday, the second-lowest output of his career. The Redskins converted just 2 of 13 third-down attempts, dropping to a 27.2 percent third-down conversion rate this season. Against the Eagles last week, the Redskins played conservatively to counter Philadelphia's aggressive defense and give Ramsey confidence. In that game, he was 21 of 34 for 162 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception.
On Sunday, Gibbs largely abandoned the running game, allowing Ramsey to throw the ball.
The Redskins' receivers said the main difference between Ramsey and Brunell is that Ramsey takes more chances and has the arm to zing the ball into small openings. "He'll try to throw the ball a little bit more in tighter spaces," Cooley said.
Ramsey faced a stiff challenge against Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense -- three defensive linemen and four linebackers -- which leads the league in sacks.
Washington's offense didn't get on track until the third quarter, on a 13-play, 79-yard drive that featured a mix of Ladell Betts rushes and Laveranues Coles catches. On fourth and two from the Pittsburgh 2-yard line, Ramsey zipped a pass into the middle of the end zone that Cooley snagged to cut the Steelers' lead to 13-7 with 3 minutes 23 seconds left in the third quarter.
"Pittsburgh is the best in the league and I thought he did real well," Brunell said of Ramsey. "He competed hard, made some real nice throws and I was really impressed with him."
Gibbs wanted to wait to review film on Monday before giving an expansive evaluation of the performance. But Gibbs praised Ramsey for his toughness, a quality that Ramsey was known for in his first two NFL seasons.
"My general feeling was he competed," Gibbs said. "I think he's a tough guy, which is what he's showing. It was kind of all of us today -- not getting more points than what we did."
With the season lost -- the Redskins are 3-8 -- Ramsey is essentially auditioning to be Gibbs's quarterback next season. However, Ramsey insists that he doesn't approach games with that in mind.
"I don't in any way look at it like that," Ramsey said. "I look at it as going out there and competing and trying to help win games. The rest takes care of itself. You're putting yourself in a bad situation if you look at it any other way."