By Nunyo Demasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 12, 2005
The sellout crowd of 90,138 applauded late in the second quarter when quarterback Patrick Ramsey was able to leave the field under his own power, among several trainers, after a vicious hit left him dazed. But fans roared when backup Mark Brunell -- last year's whipping boy -- jogged onto the field as Ramsey's neck was being examined on the sideline.
Although Brunell guided three scoring drives in Washington's revamped offense, the team followed the same script from last year, including uncertainty at starting quarterback, during a defensive battle with the Chicago Bears. The only twist was that Washington's defense forced two turnovers -- a weakness last season -- leading to a 9-7 victory over the Bears at FedEx Field to open the season.
"For us it was just hard-fought," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "We fought hard all day and kept slugging. That's about all you can say from our side. I was proud of our guys, because they had great heart like that."
Wide receiver Santana Moss, who finished with four catches for 96 yards, added, "When it comes down to getting that 'W,' any way you can do it, that's all that matters."
On a pleasantly sunny afternoon, the excitement was palpable from the opening kickoff of Gibbs's second season after an 11-year hiatus. But with almost nothing to applaud from an offense that committed three turnovers, spectators got into the act during Washington's pivotal defensive stops. Kyle Orton -- the first Bears rookie quarterback to start on opening day since 1954 -- was eventually confounded by Washington's blitz-heavy defense, helped by the crowd noise.
Spectators were loudest midway through the fourth quarter when the Bears drove to the Washington 34-yard line with a prime chance to take the lead. But after tailback Thomas Jones was halted for a three-yard loss, the Bears were called for three consecutive false starts. At one point, Orton covered his ears with his hands, attempting to block out the noise.
"That was FedEx Field the way I sure remember it," Gibbs said. "We needed everything we could get today to win this game.' "
Said linebacker LaVar Arrington: "It was loud on the field. That always creates opportunities for a defense when the crowd is loud like that."
Although Ramsey has a neck strain, the fourth-year veteran said that he was healthy enough to return in the third quarter. But Gibbs stuck with Brunell, bringing intrigue to who will be named the starting quarterback for next Monday night's road game against the Dallas Cowboys. "We'll have to see how all this shakes out," Gibbs said.
Gibbs said that he had reservations about putting Ramsey back in the game because of his health and was pleased with Brunell's play.
Ramsey threw an interception on his second pass of the game, and his other two drives ended with fumbles, including his that was recovered by Chicago. Ramsey finished 6 of 11 for 105 yards with two sacks and a 49.4 passer rating.
"That was coach's call," Ramsey said. "I was obviously dinged. I tried to come off the field and I was a little woozy."
Brunell completed 8 of 14 passes with one sack and no turnovers. "You don't expect your starter to go down," Brunell said. "He got hit really hard, and I'm impressed that he got up."
With about 11 minutes left in the second quarter, the Redskins had a third and goal from the Chicago 16-yard line. Linebacker Lance Briggs blitzed from the left side, using his right arm to hit Ramsey near the base of his neck and slamming the quarterback to the ground for a sack that Redskins coaches felt was an illegal hit.
After Washington's defense forced a three-and-out, Brunell entered the game with the offense. Ramsey -- white towel on his left shoulder -- stood near Gibbs on the sideline. On third and 10 from the Washington 35, Brunell's pass to Moss was intercepted by cornerback Nathan Vasher at the Chicago 27 before being returned to the Washington 18. But safety Mike Green was called for pass interference, giving the ball to Washington on the Chicago 29-yard line. John Hall booted a 40-yard field goal with less than eight minutes left in the period to open the scoring, and spectators cheered as if it were a touchdown.
After a 6-10 record with an offense that was considered out of date, Gibbs unveiled changes, highlighted by the shotgun. The new looks included four-receiver sets -- which weren't employed until late last season -- and 6-foot-2, 232-pound safety Sean Taylor was the big receiver missing on the roster for fade routes in the red zone.
Washington's offense started sluggishly, particularly the running game, which has incorporated more perimeter plays tailored toward Clinton Portis. In the first quarter, Portis mustered only 11 yards on seven carries against Chicago's talented defensive line. But Washington's offensive line wore down its counterpart, and Portis finished with 121 yards on 21 carries. Portis's best run was a 41-yard dash on the final play of the third quarter.
"It was a battle of attrition," said right tackle Jon Jansen, "and we won that battle."
Chicago's only score -- a one-yard run by tailback Thomas Jones for a 7-6 lead -- came after Antonio Brown fumbled the kickoff to open the third quarter. (Taylor was forced to run the length of the field after belatedly getting out of the tunnel, and barely got in on Chicago's first play.)
Hall's 19-yard field goal gave Washington a 9-7 lead with about three minutes left in the third quarter. Orton completed three straight passes to lead Chicago to the Washington 22-yard line. But on first down, Orton's pass over the middle was tipped high by linebacker Warrick Holdman. Linebacker Lemar Marshall snagged the ball at the Washington 6-yard line to end Chicago's prime chance of taking the lead.
The Bears' final possession came with 1 minute 43 seconds left. On second and 10 from the Chicago 20-yard line, defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin collapsed the pocket before stripping Orton and landing on the ball. As the crowd went into a tizzy, Griffin held the ball high over his head before being interrupted by teammates, who joined in celebration.
"I'm proud of the guys," Arrington said. "Everybody played so hard. We fought through it even though Pat went down."