By Nunyo Demasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Coach Joe Gibbs named Mark Brunell the Washington Redskins' starting quarterback over Patrick Ramsey yesterday, one day after leaving the decision up in the air following a 9-7 victory over the Chicago Bears in the season opener. Ramsey reportedly requested a trade after being informed by Gibbs of the decision.
Gibbs announced the move at the start of his weekly news conference at Redskins Park: Brunell will start Monday night against the Cowboys in Dallas and for the foreseeable future.
"This is something that is extremely hard," Gibbs said. "You don't like doing this. I don't. Sometimes you don't chart the circumstances or what happens. It just happens. Certainly it wasn't the plan I had going in, but sometimes plans change, and I think you do the best you can in dealing with it."
Ramsey -- whom Gibbs named the starter for this season 10 months ago -- strained his neck when he was sacked in the second quarter Sunday. Trainers cleared Ramsey to play by halftime, but Gibbs stuck with Brunell.
Gibbs delayed his news conference by a half hour yesterday to inform Ramsey when the quarterback returned to the Redskins Park after leaving in the morning.
ESPN reported in a telecast last night that Ramsey requested a trade at the meeting. But neither Gibbs nor Ramsey -- whose contract expires after the 2006 season -- could be reached for comment last night. And Ramsey's agent, Jimmy Sexton, didn't return a call. Gibbs said at his news conference that he expects Ramsey, 26, to be the backup quarterback.
Gibbs said that he told Brunell -- who will turn 35 Saturday -- about the switch during a telephone conversation after the quarterback had left the training facility.
Before the switch, Ramsey said that he would express to Gibbs his desire to remain the starter. When Ramsey was asked whether he was upset that it was even an issue, he responded: "There's nothing to be upset about. Nothing's changed right now and we'll see."
Gibbs said that Ramsey did not concur with the decision. "This is something Patrick doesn't agree with. He's a very competitive guy," Gibbs said. "I understand that. But it's something we're going to have to work through."
On a scheduled interview on Comcast SportsNet last night, Ramsey said, "As Coach said, I don't agree with the decision, but the decision has been made."
In the spring of 2004, Ramsey requested a trade after the Redskins signed Brunell to a seven-year, $43 million contract. He was not traded, and eventually won the starting job.
The NFL's trading deadline is Oct. 18. According to a Redskins source, trading a quarterback is unlikely at this point, since teams use the offseason -- particularly training camp -- to settle their quarterback situations. Beyond that, Ramsey's five-year, $5.7 million contract makes him tradable within salary-cap rules.
Brunell, a close friend of Ramsey's, said yesterday morning that he believed he should start.
"I would be lying to you if I told you I didn't care," he said. "I really want to start. I really would like to play and be a part of this. But that's ultimately up to Coach Gibbs.
"On the friendship side, whether I start or he starts, it doesn't affect our friendship one bit. We've gone back and forth and kind of been going through this thing for over a year now so we're kind of used to it."
Said Ramsey: "I wish the best for Mark. He's been nothing but great to me and for me since he came here."
The move became a possibility after Ramsey was sacked on a blitz from the left side by linebacker Lance Briggs on third and goal from the Chicago 16-yard line. Briggs appeared to wrap his right arm around the base of Ramsey's neck before slamming him to the ground.
The change is uncharacteristic for Gibbs, who has a reputation for loyalty to quarterbacks. Last year, Gibbs didn't bench Brunell until the 10th game of the season, although for much of the year he was statistically the NFL's worst quarterback. But perhaps the best example of Gibbs's loyalty occurred in 1985 when Joe Theismann sputtered as a starter. Gibbs stuck with Theismann, who had thrown eight touchdowns with 16 interceptions and a 59.6 passer rating in a 5-5 start. Theismann suffered a career-ending leg injury in Week 11, forcing Jay Schroeder in at quarterback. The Redskins finished 10-6 but missed the playoffs.
"I know this is something that I'm saying to every fan out there and every person that thinks the world of the Redskins and pulls for them," Gibbs said yesterday. "I know a lot of people will disagree with this, and I understand that. For me personally, I felt like it was a decision I had to make."
On Sunday, neither quarterback could lift an offense that has been revamped since finishing 30th in the NFL last season. The offense generated 323 yards overall, including 164 rushing yards behind tailback Clinton Portis. But Washington committed three turnovers that killed promising drives while struggling inside the Bears 20-yard line.
Although Ramsey was declared the starter late last season, an unofficial quarterback competition appeared to occur during training camp. Ramsey's performance was uneven -- with two touchdowns and four interceptions for a 65.6 rating -- while Brunell had no turnovers and an 85.8 rating (mostly against reserves). During the preseason, Brunell attempted more passes (completing 34 of 58) than Ramsey (30 of 51). Ramsey's best quality was completing deep passes -- something Gibbs wanted to improved significantly following last year. But Ramsey showed a penchant to commit turnovers at critical times.
Before the move was made yesterday, teammates were diplomatic about the quarterback issue. Portis, perhaps the most outspoken player, declined comment. But almost all said that if Brunell became the quarterback, the transition wouldn't be difficult.
Ramsey was the starting quarterback in the final five games last season when the offense averaged 20.4 points, more than six points higher than the first five games. But there was sentiment in the organization that Brunell didn't get a chance to play in Gibbs's updated offense.
"From Mark's standpoint, when he was playing last year we weren't as good certainly as we are now," Gibbs said. "I think we're better now. And hopefully that will prove out to be the case."