Brunell Has Odd Numbers

Although Mark Brunell, above, has completed only 40 percent of his attempts the last two weeks,
Although Mark Brunell, above, has completed only 40 percent of his attempts the last two weeks, "He's out there making more plays," Joe Gibbs said. (By Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)
By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 11, 2006

When Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs extols the play of quarterback Mark Brunell, he finds himself in an immediate quarrel with statistics, which show that, in the second half of last weekend's playoff game against Tampa Bay, Brunell completed four passes for eight yards, none in the fourth quarter. And in the regular season finale, a game the Redskins needed to win to advance to the playoffs, Brunell completed just 9 of 25 passes against Philadelphia.

But Gibbs maintains that other aspects of Brunell's performance, such as his patience and refusal to force passes often, have offset the statistical deficiencies and are a key reason Washington won both games.

"Sometimes what a quarterback does -- and it doesn't look pretty and people don't ever talk about this -- is that the best plays he makes are the ones that aren't there," Gibbs said. "I think that Mark's been exceptional at that, whether it's running like he did the other night, getting out of there, making some plays. I firmly believe, from a pass-protection standpoint, that we'd be taking many more sacks and chances with someone else in there."

Still, the numbers are glaring. The past two weeks, Brunell has completed only 40 percent of his passes and has a 41.8 passer rating. His performance has dropped dramatically since taking a Christmas Eve hit from New York Giants linebacker Nick Greisen, which sprained the quarterback's knee and knocked him out of a 35-20 victory.

Suddenly, one of the NFL's great comeback stories this season seems destined for an unhappy ending. After a disastrous 2004 season, Brunell had a passer rating of 98.7 and was throwing for an average of almost 250 yards a game as the Redskins won four of their first six games. In the last three, including the victory over the Giants, his passer rating was 58.8 and he averaged less than 100 yards passing.

"He's reverting to where he was a year ago," said a personnel director of a Redskins opponent who did not want to be identified. "We played them earlier and he looked really good this year. But watching the Tampa Bay game, he looked like the length of the season and the pounding has gotten to him. He doesn't look quick and he doesn't look decisive. It's got to be the wear and tear of a long season."

Brunell's favorite target, wide receiver Santana Moss, said he doesn't think Brunell is completely healthy but thinks the veteran still gives the Redskins the best chance to win.

"He looks funny to me," Moss said. "He's out there playing and that's all we care about. There're a lot of guys playing with a lot of things, and he's a guy who got it done all year. So I never question anything when I see that guy on the field because he's out there for us."

For the first time since being injured, Brunell admitted that his sprained right knee affected him against Philadelphia, and yet was adamant that, although he performed worse against Tampa Bay, the knee was not a factor.

"Mechanically [against Philadelphia], I was a little off," Brunell said. "I didn't get much work during the week and it bothered me on a couple of throws. Last week against Tampa, it felt great. It really did. It's not taped up. I always wear the brace, but the knee is fine."

Center Casey Rabach said the Redskins' coaching staff has tried to compensate for Brunell's injury by attempting to keep him more stationary.

"I think they changed a few things for him," Rabach said. "I don't think he was outside the pocket as much because of the knee. But it being another week after the fact, I think it bodes well for him."

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