By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 14, 2005
CHARLOTTE, Aug. 13 -- The ball lingered hopelessly in the air as the Washington Redskins' brass watched from the sidelines and press box, holding its collective breath. Patrick Ramsey's first long pass of the 2005 preseason -- the quarterback's first chance to look the part of the confident starter; the offense's first opportunity to erase memories of last year's ineptitude -- went horribly awry.
Wide receiver Santana Moss, one of the smallish speedsters brought in to electrify a stagnant passing game, streaked beyond Carolina cornerback Chris Gamble, and might have scored had the ball ever reached him. Instead, Gamble stepped in front of Moss, and grabbed the under-thrown pass. As a result, the first-team offense appeared hauntingly like Version 2004, reduced to screen passes and 10-yard routes in Saturday's 28-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. The big play eluded them yet again, Ramsey was unspectacular, and the starters did not score despite playing almost all of the first half.
"We've obviously got a long ways to go," Coach Joe Gibbs said.
Gibbs, always guarded in the preseason, kept his approach simple, but made no secret of his desire to get the ball deep, keeping his starting quarterback, offensive linemen and receivers in the game for essentially two quarters -- much longer than the norm for the preseason opener -- to that end. The objectives were elementary -- move the ball, get in a rhythm, utilize the newfound speed on the outside -- but went unfulfilled, as an offense that ranked 30th among NFL teams last year again struggled.
Gibbs utilized three-receiver sets with regularity -- a departure from this time a year ago -- and Ramsey went long for Moss on his third attempt of the game, but his 35-yard pass fell short. "It came out of my hand terribly," Ramsey said, "and floated up there. We'd have been lucky not to get it picked off." Moss said: "I felt like I had a step on him, but I think the ball just slipped out of Pat's hand."
After that, Ramsey alertly located secondary receivers as the Panthers blitzed freely, and running backs Ladell Betts and Rock Cartwright thrived on the resulting screens, but twice Ramsey misfired on third-and-long sideline passes to David Patten, the other new starting receiver. Ramsey finished 8 of 12 for 77 yards (a 49.7 passer rating), lacked flair and did not complete a pass of more than 16 yards even with Carolina's second-string defense playing the second quarter.
"We've got to be able to stick it in there and score some points," Ramsey said.
Moss and Patten combined for two catches and 14 yards, star running back Clinton Portis carried only once to avoid injury, and Gibbs gave the offensive line, bolstered by the return of right tackle Jon Jansen (who missed all of last season) and the addition of starting center Casey Rabach, abundant time to gel; they protected well but Washington averaged just 2.9 yards per carry in the opening half. By the time the offensive starters gave way, the Panthers led, 14-0.
Veteran passer Mark Brunell, booed at FedEx Field until Ramsey finally replaced him in midseason, did what Ramsey could not Saturday -- get the Redskins on the scoreboard. His first pass was a 24-yard bullet over the middle to Cartwright with 37 seconds left in the first half, leading to John Hall's 43-yard field goal. While Ramsey has been named the starter, there are no guarantees, and Brunell played as if he sensed that.
"He was very competitive when he got in there," Gibbs said of Brunell. "He made some plays."
"It felt good to be out there again," Brunell said. "The offense, for the most part, did some good things."
This preseason is in its infancy, and Brunell was facing rookies and unknowns, but he was spry and crisp on completions of 12 and 15 yards on his second drive, ending after kicker Jeff Chandler missed from 42 yards. Late in the third quarter, Brunell found Antonio Brown, a return specialist bidding for snaps at receiver, for 21 yards; rookie runner Nehemiah Broughton sustained that possession with his hands and feet, then rumbled one yard to make it 14-10. Brunell (11 for 19 for 121 yards; 76.9 rating) left at the end of the third quarter, and rookie Jason Campbell, the 25th overall pick of April's draft, made his preseason debut; his first drive stalled instantly with a fumbled handoff, another was doomed by a fumble in the end zone and the game ended on an interception.
Carolina led right from the start, following Ramsey's interception. The Panthers sliced through Washington's injury-depleted defense, and Rod Gardner used his 6-foot-2 frame to leap over cornerback Ade Jimoh for a 21-yard touchdown reception. The Redskins drafted Gardner 15th overall in 2001, but traded him Carolina for a sixth-round pick recently after he and the team agreed to part ways.
Chris Weinke, Carolina's back-up quarterback, entered in the second quarter and covered 64 yards on six plays to double the lead, and the Panthers -- or players wearing Carolina uniforms for now, anyway -- put the game away in the final minutes, finally scoring from a yard out after a bizarre series of penalties and mishaps.