Correction to This Article
An article in the Oct. 23 Sports section incorrectly indicated that the Washington Redskins gave the Jacksonville Jaguars a second-round draft pick for quarterback Mark Brunell. The Redskins gave up a third-round pick.

The Brunell Of Old Emerges

Mark Brunell
Mark Brunell's resurgence combined with better offensive line play and improved receivers has helped the Redskins offense pile up the yards. (Toni L. Sandys - The Washington Post)

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By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 23, 2005

An instant after Mark Brunell had launched a pass toward Santana Moss, who was racing toward the end zone on the final play of last Sunday's game against Kansas City, almost all eyes in Arrowhead Stadium followed the flight of the ball until safety Sammy Knight dived and tipped it incomplete to preserve the Chiefs' 28-21 victory over the Washington Redskins. What most sitting in the stands or watching on television did not see was Brunell taking one last hit from Chiefs defensive end Jared Allen, then slowly getting up and trying to clear his head as the game ended.

Brunell never mentioned Allen's parting shot after the game, at least not until he was prompted. Even then, he declined to characterize it as a penalty, saying only that he'd have to look at the videotape. A few days later, after he had seen the play on tape, he still did not want to say anything publicly. After 13 years as an NFL quarterback, Brunell, 35, knows it wouldn't do any good to complain because it would not change the play.

Perhaps that's one reason Brunell said this past week that he did not watch a lot of tape from the 2004 season, when many around the league, and perhaps even some teammates, had to wonder if Brunell could still play at the highest level.

"I tried to watch as little of that as possible," he said. "It depressed me. But I know the situation last year, and that will stay last year. Somehow, my weak arm has turned into a strong arm. I just feel good right now."

As the Redskins (3-2) prepare to face the San Francisco 49ers (1-4) today at FedEx Field, what's not to feel good about? A year after calf and hamstring problems limited his mobility, affected his ability to throw with velocity or accuracy and prevented him from slipping out of the pocket, Brunell has emerged as the quarterback and team leader Coach Joe Gibbs envisioned two years ago when he signed him to a seven-year, $43 million contract.

Critics around the league wondered why the price was so high for a player with sore knees and a bad elbow seemingly on the downside of his career. The cost also included the Redskins giving up a second-round draft choice to the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team that had essentially given up on Brunell after he missed the last 13 games of the 2003 season with an elbow injury. He struggled as the starter in the Redskins' first nine games, and Gibbs finally turned the job over to Patrick Ramsey.

Last October after one of the Redskins' midseason losses, one AFC general manager said of Brunell: "Two years ago, he started down, and then he hurt his elbow last year and didn't play again. Now there's nothing left in the tank."

Last week, after watching tape of Brunell's performance against the Chiefs and several other Washington games, the same general manager said: "A year ago, I thought he was dead, buried and gone. I was wrong. A lot of us were wrong. The big difference obviously is that he appears to be healthy. Last year, he did not. His arm is better than a year ago. His mobility, his accuracy, his velocity are back.

"He always had all the other things, the poise in the pocket, the ability to get rid of the ball under pressure. That doesn't go away. But this guy has obviously had a rebirth. As long as he stays healthy and he can retain his mobility, there's no reason he can't continue this and keep doing it for another few years."

Brunell insisted last week that he took no magic potions in the offseason, that he did not feel it necessary to rededicate himself to the game but simply studied film, worked out and ran as diligently as he always has and regained his health after not playing in the final seven games of the 2004 season.

His resurgence comes at an age when many top quarterbacks start to decline. The average age of retirement is 37.1 years among the 15 modern era quarterbacks in the Pro Football Hall of Fame since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. Sonny Jurgensen, Len Dawson and Johnny Unitas stayed until they were 40. Joe Namath stopped at 34; Bob Griese and Terry Bradshaw were done at 35.

Several mobile quarterbacks with similar styles to Brunell -- Fran Tarkenton, Steve Young, Joe Montana and John Elway -- all ended their careers at 38. Roger Staubach stopped at 37. But most of those quarterbacks also put up outstanding seasons after turning 35.


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