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Michael Wilbon

The Quarterbacks Give It Away

By Michael Wilbon
Monday, September 20, 2004; Page D01

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J -- When Mark Brunell left the game with a strained left hamstring, there was no particular reason to suspect that the quarterback play would get any worse for the Redskins. Brunell, for the second week, was completely underwhelming. Against the Giants he lost a fumble, threw an interception and in general looked like a guy who once might have been a really good quarterback. But before Patrick Ramsey was finished with his relief appearance, which included three interceptions and three sacks, Brunell, in retrospect, started to look downright impressive.

This is not a quarterback controversy, but it could be a quarterback deficiency.


Patrick Ramsey threw two of his three interceptions after the Redskins had cut their deficit to 20-14 late in the game. (Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)


 Game Day: Giants 20, Redskins 14 
 Gibbs
The New York Giants force seven turnovers to hand Joe Gibbs his first loss in his second stint with the Redskins.
Wilbon: The Redskins appear to have a quarterback deficiency.
Jenkins: Aura only goes so far in winning football games.
Clinton Portis has two uncharacteristic fumbles.
Kurt Warner makes a Giant statement against the Redskins.
Notebook: Mark Brunell is day-to-day with a left hamstring injury.
Play of the Game: Giants return Portis's fumble for a 16-yard TD.
News Graphic: Portis's rushing totals respectable after two games.
Best & Worst

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_____ Audio _____
Portis talks about his two critical fumbles against the Giants.
Giants wideout Amani Toomer on Washington's turnovers.
Giants safety Brent Alexander on his two interceptions.

_____ The Seven Deadly Sins _____
1. Fumble by Mark Brunell
13:20 left in the second quarter
Result: Giants touchdown
2. Fumble by Clinton Portis
6:45 left in the second quarter
Result: Giants touchdown
3. Interception by Brunell
5:48 left in the second quarter
Result: Giants field goal
4. Fumble by Portis
10:11 left in the third quarter
Result: Giants missed field goal
5. Interception by Patrick Ramsey
1:29 left in the third quarter
Result: Giants punt
6. Interception thrown by Ramsey
10:18 left in the fourth quarter
Result: Giants punt
7. Interception by Ramsey
6:28 left in the fourth quarter
Result: Giants punt

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Okay, it would be stupid to make grand declarations about just about anything after only two games. Brunell, who will get his hamstring injury checked out more fully on Monday, is veteran enough to find his game by midseason. And Ramsey, who was judged by scouts and peers to have a big enough arm and heart, may find his comfort level as a backup and substitute in Joe Gibbs's offensive system. Perhaps both will begin to happen next week or the week after. Plenty of guys start slow, bloom late.

But as it looks right now, the morning after Sept. 19, 2004 -- the day of four interceptions and a fumble from the most important position on the field -- the Washington Redskins don't appear to have a quarterback that fans should be overly excited about.

Last week, Brunell's rather ordinary performance was mainly passed over in the week-long feel-good analysis following Clinton Portis's running and the defense's heavy hitting in the Redskins' victory over Tampa Bay. Brunell completed 13 of 24 passes for 125 yards and nothing longer than 27 yards in that game. And there was his fumble that led to Tampa's only touchdown. But, hey, it was Week 1, Brunell's reintroduction to starting at quarterback, his first game under Gibbs. The Redskins won. You don't want to be too picky.

But he wasn't any better in the loss at Giants Stadium: 10 of 18, 92 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 1 fumble that led directly to a New York touchdown, no pass completion longer than 16 yards. He doesn't move with anything close to the zip that once made it legitimate to compare him to Steve Young. His passes don't have the pop they had when he was leading the Jacksonville Jaguars to two AFC championship games in the late 1990s. At his best in these last two games, Brunell has been functional. He still handles the ball beautifully, which makes play-fakes especially effective. But there's no "wow" in his game. So far he's been just a guy, which is exactly why the Jaguars handed the ball to Byron Leftwich last season and waved goodbye to Brunell.

And Ramsey, in his 2004 debut, wasn't even that ordinary. He was dreadful. When Gibbs used the word "ill-advised" in his postgame news conference, he was speaking in general terms, but it was impossible to not think first and foremost of Ramsey's three interceptions, which were killers.

Gibbs tried to absorb much of the blame himself, because that's what Gibbs does. "It's spread around. Everybody made mistakes. We all made 'em," is what he said.

Yes, but the quarterbacks made the big ones, and Ramsey made the biggest ones. A couple of his picks were so bad you needed to see the replay to try to figure out who in the world he was throwing to. Once, with Portis running at full speed in the flat, when a dump-off might have gained huge yardage, Ramsey fired downfield to a wide-open Giants defender. Nobody's that colorblind.

Once the Redskins got to within 20-14 with 12 minutes to play and in position to steal a road game against a division opponent coming off a terrible week of examination from inside and out, Ramsey threw two of his three interceptions. And he didn't look any different struggling under Gibbs than he did struggling under Steve Spurrier, which is to say Ramsey held the ball too long and tried to force the ball downfield. He demonstrated the characteristics that made Gibbs go looking for a veteran quarterback in the first place.

As bad as Portis was Sunday (two fumbles, 69 yards rushing), a less-than-average day from the quarterbacks would have enabled the Redskins to win here, compliments of the defense. But a worst-possible-scenario day wasted another day of good defense and, worse yet, let a reeling division rival off the hook.

The loss to the Eagles last week, and a week of Coach Tom Coughlin's arrogance being dissected in the New York press (not to mention the Giants' locker room), meant the Giants were teetering. "We needed this lift," wide receiver Amani Toomer said. "Everybody was looking around last week saying, 'What's going on here?' "

Little did the Giants know that the Redskins were coming bearing gifts. Asked if he'd ever been the beneficiary of a seven-turnover game, the Giants' Michael Strahan said: "No. No. I never have. It's good to be on the right side of seven turnovers." Then, thinking of how narrow the margin of victory was, Strahan added, "Then again, when you get seven turnovers and you're still not blowing the other team out you definitely have a lot of work to do."

Well, imagine then how much work the Redskins have to do, specifically the quarterbacks who are responsible for two of the three touchdowns allowed this season. "Offensively," Gibbs said, "we need to take a long, hard look at ourselves."

One wonders what he and his assistants will see, and if the men playing the position have the wherewithal to make the necessary corrections before another grand giveaway.


© 2004 The Washington Post Company