By Mike Wise
Saturday, August 20, 2005
Patrick Ramsey embarked on another wild ride, another engaging yet flawed performance that has to make Joe Gibbs think.
Balls Ramsey threw that could have been tucked away. Balls he didn't throw that he wished he had. The softly thrown touchdown tucked in by James Thrash between two defenders. Two inexplicable interceptions in the red zone. Long bombs to new wideouts, short wobblers to the other team.
Nothing Six Flags could erect was as adventurous as Gibbs's starting quarterback last night.
To boot, Mark Brunell got two quarters of action, raising speculation that the coach may be evaluating the position more than he has let on. After all, he has a right to do so.
But you people, the ones who have an abundance of patience and tolerance for the homespun coach but none for his players, what's with you?
You create handmade placards that read, "In Gibbs We Trust," but siphon that trust away from the player who needs it most.
You whoop and holler for a defense already considered among the NFC's best. But you jeer a revamped offense that still has nearly a month to find its bearings.
Marcus Washington, good. Patrick Ramsey, evil.
You know who you are, the pathetic lot booing Ramsey in a 24-17 preseason loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, cheering him, booing him some more, shuffling out of FedEx Field thinking the job may now be Brunell's to lose.
You people. It wouldn't be so bad if the jeering did not begin on the team's second possession of its second preseason game. But that's where we are with this franchise.
No one is worried about Gregg Williams's defense giving up 52 points in two weeks, that an exposed rookie cornerback like Carlos Rogers has a long way to go to replace Fred Smoot. It's all about the offense.
Co-workers and season ticket holders gave Ramsey no credit for learning the subtleties of a slightly tweaked system, learning the nuances of an overhauled receiving corps. He hit five receivers, including two not on the team a year ago, for 190 yards on nine completions. Ramsey looked less robotic and more freewheeling, more natural and less skittish when the pocket broke down.
"One thing I observed after the picks," said David Patten, whom Ramsey hit with three passes for 109 yards, "he was still upbeat. He still took charge in the huddle. Bottom line, Patrick Ramsey is our starting quarterback. We believe in him. We trust in him. We hold him accountable."
You people, the same ones who booed Brunell less than a year ago, the same people who chanted "We want Ram-see!" until you finally got him, now you want Gibbs's proclaimed starter wearing a headset again? Either this is a Philly envy thing or you people are more fickle than Jude Law. Greater Washington, it turns out, is not made up of Monday morning quarterbacks; it comprises Friday night offensive coordinators.
Among the many misguided, ill-conceived thoughts surrounding Gibbs's football team: Ramsey better be good early. Or else.
The idea being, Brunell could take over in Week 2, Auburn rookie Jason Campbell in Week 8 and Ramsey again in Week 11. Great. By December, every Washington quarterback's psyche will be destroyed.
What symmetry that would be, the same chaotic, instant-gratification strategy that landed Washington a slew of big-name, small-time free agents and a litany of egocentric, overpaid coaches. Look, Ramsey may not be heading to the Pro Bowl this season. He may not be markedly better than his veteran backup and good friend, Brunell. But give the kid a shot, a real shot -- not a few meaningless preseason possessions and maybe the season opener. Let him be. For just two straight possessions.
Ramsey alternated between awesome and awful last night. He split Cincinnati defenders, showing touch and timing by finding Thrash on a pretty post route in the middle of the end zone for the game's first score. He connected on several long balls, moving his team downfield.
He missed a few other targets, had a few balls dropped on him and had two real miscues, forcing a pass into the end zone that he should have thrown away and severely overthrowing Santana Moss. Both passes were intercepted, and the boos came cascading down from the yellow and red seats as if the man had gone 2-4 in the regular season and Gibbs refused to replace him heading into the bye week.
Oh, wait. That was Brunell.
In his second-year bid to establish continuity, Gibbs does not need to be playing a shell game with his quarterbacks today. He needs a bona fide starter who can make plays, win games and take this once-proud organization somewhere other than home in early January.
For that reason alone, he needs to stick with Ramsey, give him almost as long a leash as Brunell had last season. For him to make any other move would be to show the same impetuousness that got this franchise in a heap of trouble in the first place. To make any other move would be to undermine the very confidence a 26-year-old NFL quarterback needs from his coach and his teammates.
"He can't worry about [the boos]. Fans don't make the decisions," Patten said. "Half of them come in the stadium because they can't be on the field."
Publicly, Gibbs has been steadfast in his support for Ramsey. But you wonder if there is a little piece of him that seems to like the public debate over whether Brunell is sharper and healthier than Ramsey, enough to unseat him a few weeks into the season.
Not that Gibbs does not want Ramsey to succeed. On the contrary. If Ramsey is golden, look what the old master has done with another role-playing quarterback. It's Mark Rypien, Doug Williams and Jay Schroeder all over again. But just the way Gibbs employs his language when speaking about Ramsey -- "We have every intention of Patrick starting the season for us," or "We want Patrick to be a quarterback that takes us to the playoffs" -- leaves wiggle room. That way, if Ramsey falters, Gibbs does not look like the bad guy.
There are much, much sharper and smarter football minds than this one that would argue against Ramsey. They say he's too mechanical, a system-type quarterback who was more a product of meticulous coaching than fourth-and-long creativity on asphalt or at the park. They say he does not have enough Indiana Jones in him, the feel and improvisation developed by Brett Favre and the real NFL thrill-seekers. They ask why, if he was such a Louisiana schoolboy prodigy, did he wind up at Tulane instead of LSU?
Who knows and who cares? Irrespective of how Brunell has looked, Ramsey is the best Joe Gibbs has at this moment. He deserves a fair and genuine chance, just like Brunell had a year ago. Or else.