Bloodied but Unbowed

Redskins wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, top, celebrates with Clinton Portis after one of Portis's two touchdowns.
Redskins wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, top, celebrates with Clinton Portis after one of Portis's two touchdowns. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 25, 2006

HOUSTON, Sept. 24 -- On the day of his redemption, Washington Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell bled. He stood on the sideline of Houston's Reliant Stadium, with blood pouring from a cut on his left elbow so severe that he emerged from the visitors' locker room with his arm heavily bandaged almost an hour after the team's 31-15 victory over the Texans.

It might have impressed his teammates more than the NFL record he set by completing 22 straight passes over the game's first three quarters. "Did you see him out there bleeding?" asked Randy Thomas, one of the offensive linemen charged with protecting him during games. "That's tough."

Of course, Brunell's success came against a team that has the worst-rated defense in the National Football League, one that has allowed 1,451 yards in just three games this season. Next week's opponent, Jacksonville, has allowed half that amount.

It was a fact the Redskins cheerily ignored on a day their quarterback was the story and the team got its first win of the season.

It had been a hard week for Brunell, who absorbed most of the criticism for Washington's offensive shortcomings in an 0-2 start. As the quarterback of a recalibrated offense, he was ripped on talk radio shows and in Internet chat rooms as washed up at age 36, too old and broken down to escape pass rushers and too weak of arm to properly run an offense that requires many quick and accurate passes.

But on Sunday he was uncannily sharp. His first throw, a tricky, high-risk flip to running back Clinton Portis, was perfectly placed in the middle of a throng of Houston players. Portis was able to turn the completion into a 74-yard gain that set up Washington's first score.

After that Brunell couldn't miss. And as the game went on and the completions started piling up, word began to trickle among the Redskins of the success Brunell was having.

Left tackle Chris Samuels said a man went up and down through the players shouting, "That's 11 of 11" and, "Now he's got 15 of 15."

Still, none of the players seemed aware of the history Brunell was making. When Thomas stopped to rest at one point, he glanced up at one of the giant scoreboards that hangs eight stories above the field and noticed it said Brunell was "21 of 21, 100 percent" and he said he wondered aloud, "Is that a darn record?"

At that point, Brunell had only tied the record for most consecutive completions in one game, previously set by Oakland Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon, who completed 21 straight passes against the Denver Broncos on Nov. 11, 2002. Brunell's next throw, a lob into the corner of the north end zone to wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, was too far and led Lloyd out of bounds. But the officials called a penalty against Houston's Thomas Johnson for knocking Brunell to the ground after the quarterback had let go of the ball, negating the play.

Given another chance at the record, Brunell made history with a six-yard pass to receiver Santana Moss with 1 minute 49 seconds left in the third quarter.

"Absolutely it was a tough week, last week for us," Brunell said when asked about the criticism he faced coupled with the 0-2 start. "We have a lot of guys with a lot of character."

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