By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said he is encouraged by the progress quarterback Mark Brunell has made since spraining his right knee last Saturday, and believes Brunell could return for Sunday's game at Philadelphia, one in which a victory would ensure Washington's first playoff berth since 1999. Brunell likely will be held out of practice early in the week, but could still play Sunday, Gibbs said, with backup Patrick Ramsey the alternative.
An MRI exam taken yesterday revealed no structural problems, only a sprained medial collateral ligament, director of sports medicine Bubba Tyer said, and the swelling was minimal. Gibbs and Tyer said they were surprised the injury was not more serious, and Brunell called his status "day-to-day." Brunell underwent reconstructive surgery on his right knee in 1991, and said he is well versed in the routine of returning from knee sprains. Brunell might be limited to walkthroughs tomorrow and Thursday rather than full practices, Gibbs said, a process the team has adopted in past weeks with Brunell, 35, hampered by injury.
"There's a lot to be enthused about," Tyer said. "We saw him [Sunday] and [yesterday] started working with him, and his MRI showed he just had some superficial fibers of the MCL stretched, and all the other ligaments of his knee and his meniscus looked good. We'll just take it day-to-day and see how he does. I think he's got a good chance of getting ready for the game."
Brunell, who wears a knee brace when he plays, was knocked out of Saturday's 35-20 victory over the New York Giants on the first drive of the second half, when linebacker Nick Greisen lunged at his knee on a sack. Brunell was having another effective outing against the Giants, and his play has dramatically improved since his recovery from various injuries after coming to Washington last season. He tried to get loose on the sideline Saturday, but was in too much pain to continue and did not want to risk further injury. Brunell was moving better at Redskins Park yesterday than in the locker room Saturday at FedEx Field.
"It's just a sprain, nothing really serious," said Brunell, who has played through calf, groin and hand injuries this season. "It's kind of what we thought going in. Every day I anticipate it getting better and better, but I'm certainly not going to make any predictions."
Gibbs said Brunell can still function well Sunday even if he sits out most drills this week: "He's smart and he's been around a bunch and he kind of understands the game plan and the way we go about it. We have walkthroughs at lunchtime and it lets him walk through the whole game plan and he gets to call all the audibles and everything he needs to do. If I had to guess right now, and you can't hold me to it, but I would guess that he'll take some time off early in the week and hopefully we'll be able to work him in towards the end of the week."
Brunell ranks third in the NFC with an 87.8 passer rating, completing 59 percent of his passes for 2,909 yards with 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions. His mobility is a key for Washington's offense -- Ramsey, 26, is more of a traditional drop-back passer -- and his scrambling ability has helped sustain key drives all season. A win Sunday would clinch at least the final wild-card spot for the Redskins (9-6) -- they could still win the division and finish as high as the third seed in the NFC depending on the outcome of other games. Brunell is driven to play if at all possible.
"We've worked really hard and put ourselves in a position where we can get in the playoffs," Brunell said. "And obviously this game is critical."
The players are off until tomorrow, with only those needing medical treatment at Redskins Park yesterday, so Ramsey, the team's 2002 first-round pick, was unavailable to comment. He had thrown only 18 passes this season before Saturday -- and had not appeared in a game in eight weeks -- but completed 5 of 7 passes against the Giants, including a 72-yard touchdown to Santana Moss, the longest completion of Ramsey's career. Ramsey took over for Brunell midway through the 2004 season and started Week 1 against Chicago, but was yanked after a turnover-filled first quarter -- interceptions remain the primary concern with him -- and had not played regularly since, handling his demotion without incident.
"I can't say enough about him, his attitude, the kind of character and everything he's shown throughout the whole year," Gibbs said of Ramsey. "He's been outstanding. He's always been there supporting things."
Ramsey has started 24 games in his career, and has a 75.0 passer rating over four NFL seasons, completing 56 percent of his passes with 34 touchdowns and 29 interceptions. Executives around the league have said they expect Ramsey to be moved in the offseason -- most likely through a trade -- with him looking to regain a starting position and few opportunities seemingly available here with 2005 first-round pick Jason Campbell the third quarterback. The Redskins did view Ramsey as necessary insurance at quarterback this season, however, since it is rare for a starter to make it through an NFL season unscathed.
"We know they're both going to do a great job and Patrick did a great job of coming in and being professional all year," right tackle Jon Jansen said. "He knew sooner or later we were going to need him, and call on him, and he was ready to step in when we did."
Gibbs said the organization has adopted a must-win mentality for Sunday's game, and he expects the Eagles to play hard even with their playoff hopes long ago dashed. Washington could still make the postseason should Dallas lose to St. Louis on Sunday night, but Gibbs discounted that notion. "We take [a Dallas victory] as a given," he said, meaning a loss at Philadelphia would end the Redskins' season.
"For us to have a chance to be in the playoffs, we have to win this game," Gibbs said.