Second-String Comes Apart at the Ends
Friday, September 2, 2005
BALTIMORE, Sept. 1 -- By Washington's third drive of the preseason finale, Coach Joe Gibbs had removed all of his starters except for Chris Cooley. Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense, had a similar approach and, by late in the first quarter, only rookie cornerback Carlos Rogers and safety Ryan Clark were in the game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.
Both teams wanted to make sure that none of their key players suffered any major injuries and, save for rookie H-back Manuel White's fractured fibula, the Redskins were successful. But, as time expired, Gibbs suddenly chose a less conservative approach, sending in John Hall for a 46-yard field-goal attempt. The strategy worked temporarily, sending the game into overtime. But the Ravens went on to beat the Redskins, 26-20, scoring on a 66-yard touchdown pass from Derek Anderson to Randy Hymes at 12 minutes 39 seconds of overtime.
"You don't [like it] when you lose," said Gibbs, whose team was 1-3 in preseason. "The other part of it is I think we looked at a lot of guys. I think that was good. We kind of made up our mind, we were going to get our starting groups out of there pretty quick, which we did. And then we were going to have to play a lot of guys.
"There are some real critical decisions we're going to make in that group. So we played them a lot. And hopefully the film will tell us what we need to know so we make good decisions."
The only key Redskins to receive substantial minutes were players such as Rogers, cornerback Walter Harris and linebacker LaVar Arrington, hampered by injuries during preseason. And the quick hooks provided plenty of time for those trying to make a last impression before 19 players must be slashed from the roster to meet Saturday's NFL deadline.
Quarterback Patrick Ramsey threw only two passes, completing one, while playing in only the first two drives. Ramsey has improved in each exhibition and maintained his hold on the starting job over a resurgent Mark Brunell. The limited time helped Ramsey -- who was sacked twice -- halt his streak of at least one interception.
"You don't go in there and say, 'Hey we just want to get out of here without any injuries,' " Ramsey said. "You want to go out there and be effective and run our game plan. But at the same time it's difficult to get into a groove."
Ramsey -- who finished the preseason with two touchdowns and four interceptions -- will start the season opener Sept 11 against the Chicago Bears. But Brunell's strong preseason was a reminder that the 13th-year veteran is suddenly a viable option.
Brunell took over for Ramsey with less than four minutes left in the first quarter and completed 7 of 16 passes -- four of which were dropped by Antonio Brown. With about one minute left in the period, Brunell threw the game's first touchdown and his first score of the preseason. On third and eight from Baltimore's 22-yard line, Brunell pumped to buy enough time for wideout Jimmy Farris to get a step on cornerback Zach Norton on the right side. Brunell tossed a rainbow in the back of the end zone to Farris, who barely stayed in bounds while snagging the ball from Norton. The Redskins led 10-3 at the half.
"It was good to get one to Jimmy," said Brunell who had 103 passing yards, "particularly for a guy who works so hard. This last preseason game, it's an opportunity for guys who don't get a lot of playing time, to get in there and show what they can do."
Rookie Jason Campbell took over for Brunell, and his first pass was intercepted. But Campbell rebounded to throw a 37-yard touchdown to Farris late in the third quarter, increasing Washington's lead to 17-6. Farris -- who had appeared likely to be released -- finished with three catches and 63 yards.
The bulk of the game was used to help the coaching staff answer some questions before cuts: Will Gibbs choose a punter who has never kicked in the regular season (Andy Groom, 25) over a 16th-year veteran (Chris Mohr) ? Did Rock Cartwright, who rushed for 54 yards on 17 carries in the preseason do enough to force Washington to keep a fourth tailback? Who will be the fourth cornerback among Rufus Brown, Ade Jimoh and Garnell Wilds?
Groom and Mohr concluded a three-day competition to replace Tom Tupa, who was placed on the injured reserve list Wednesday with a back injury. Groom didn't make his first punt until about eight minutes were left in the third quarter. He finished with three punts for an average of 46 yards with a long of 49. Mohr had six punts for an average of 40.2 yards with a long of 43.
"That's going to be a big topic of discussion," Gibbs said.
The game also allowed several players to shake off some rust from missing most of the preseason with injuries: After participating in roughly 20 snaps last week during his 2005 debut, Arrington was still on the field into the third quarter with third-stringers such as defensive backs Siddeeq Shabazz and Brown and defensive lineman Aki Jones.
"I feel all right," said Arrington, who led the team with five solo tackles. "It's a good deal. I feel good enough to play my part on this team, whatever that may be. I figured they wanted to see how much I could play."
The Redskins are likely to hear from Gibbs about one facet of the game: penalties. With 15 penalties for 118 yards Thursday night, the Redskins had committed at least six penalties in each preseason game, and never fewer than their opponent.
"That concerns me a lot," Gibbs said. "When we don't play smart football, that really concerns you."