By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 29, 2005
Quarterback Patrick Ramsey could have used the free time to ponder his future. He has had plenty of it, spending nearly all of the season on the bench watching veteran Mark Brunell lead the Washington Redskins to the cusp of their first playoff appearance since 1999. At 26 and with four years of experience, Ramsey yearns to be a starting quarterback again, and realizes his best chance to regain that status might come elsewhere.
But in the final week of the regular season, Ramsey instead is focusing on a more pressing matter: Sunday's game in Philadelphia, with a win clinching at least the final NFC wild-card spot. Ramsey took all of the snaps at yesterday's practice -- Washington's first of the week -- with Brunell rehabbing his strained right knee, and, while the team remains optimistic that Brunell (listed as probable yesterday) will start against the Eagles, it is far from certain.
Ramsey could get his second start of the season -- and first since being yanked 19 minutes into Week 1 -- with an opportunity to make his biggest contribution yet for this organization, as well as audition for NFL teams that could be in the market for passers this winter.
The high stakes of that proposition -- for Ramsey and for the team -- have prevented Ramsey from being distracted by his uncertain predicament, he says.
"I think, because it is probably tied together, it's easy not to think about [the offseason], and just focus on this week," Ramsey said. "Really, for that reason, it's very easy to focus on this week and go out there and prepare to play and see what happens."
Ramsey, selected in the first round of the 2002 draft, replaced Brunell after Washington's opening drive of the second half Saturday, hitting Santana Moss on a 72-yard touchdown strike and marshalling another scoring drive in a 35-20 victory over the New York Giants. His performance was vital, and particularly impressive given the fact he had not appeared in a game in any capacity in eight weeks, with Ramsey avoiding his propensity to force plays or make mistakes. Watching Brunell protect the football and choose to throw it away when nothing is open downfield has helped curb that tendency, Ramsey said, and eliminating turnovers against the Eagles will be imperative regardless of who is the quarterback.
Brunell said he is unsure if he will be limited to just a walk-through today as well, while Coach Joe Gibbs has emphasized that Brunell's experience makes it easier to play despite missing practice. Ramsey could take all of the practice snaps this week and resume his customary spot on the sideline Sunday.
"It was fun to get out there and play [Saturday]," Ramsey said. "I enjoyed it. I was glad to get an opportunity to help our team this year at a meaningful time, but at the same time you hope for Mark -- he's gotten us to this point -- so you hope he's able to play."
Brunell said he will push himself more than normal considering how important this game is, and has praised the efforts of the club's trainers for getting him to this point. "The more time I can get rehabbing this thing, the better off I'll be," Brunell said. "Really, all I can say is each day it's progressing and feeling better, so we'll see." Brunell was able to toss some passes in warmups yesterday and jog lightly.
"He thinks he can go, and we'll try to work towards that," Gibbs said. "Today, I felt it was best for everybody, and for him, that he watches everything."
Should Brunell be unable to start Sunday, he expects Ramsey, his friend and hunting partner, to succeed. "Patrick will do fine," Brunell said. Gibbs expressed confidence in Ramsey as well. "I thought he looked really good [Saturday], and he was poised and we really appreciated his effort there and the way he played. He gives us a real good feeling because he had to step in at a crucial situation and, hey, the guy hadn't played in a long time and he gets a chance to go in and help the football team, and he did it."
Brunell was benched for Ramsey midway through last season, but rewarded Gibbs's faith in him with a greatly improved 2005. Brunell is the third-rated passer in the NFC and has a 22-to-9 touchdown-to-interception margin. Under his guidance, the team is sixth in the NFL in third-down conversion percentage. Ramsey, meantime, said he has no lingering emotions over his speedy demotion ("I've gotten over it," he said), and believes his ups and downs here have made him stronger. He has fluctuated from backup to starter often under two coaching staffs, and never had a rising career track.
"I hope to play here as long as I can," said Ramsey, who credits Brunell for making him less uptight on the field and off. "So I don't try to focus on what's gone badly, but just rather go forward and try to learn from what's happened."
Ramsey's future will surely be addressed at his exit interview when this season ends, and Gibbs anticipates having to make some tough choices. Quarterback Jason Campbell, taken in the first round in April, is waiting in the wings, and the Redskins gave up their 2006 first-round pick to acquire him. Ramsey is not at a point in his development where remaining a backup excites him, and Gibbs has always favored proven veterans, with Brunell's strong play doing nothing to alter that fact.
Ramsey never allowed his personal plight to affect the team, however, never criticized the coaches or management and supported Brunell throughout. No matter where he is playing next season, those characteristics will work in his favor. The passing of time, and the Redskins' playoff charge, have made his situation easier to cope with.
"Playing the backup position, I still really had to focus in on what we were doing and knowing our game plan," Ramsey said. "And if I was worried about all of the things that had happened, I think it could have really been a detriment to my development and to my career, probably."