By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
The chants began in the second half Sunday and spread throughout FedEx Field as the Washington Redskins limped to another defeat. The cries of "Ja-son Camp-bell" accompanied many of starting quarterback Mark Brunell's incomplete passes in a 25-22 loss to Tennessee.
But Coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday that Brunell will remain the starter Sunday at Indianapolis, further delaying the regular season debut of the 24-year-old Campbell. Should the Redskins lose to the undefeated Colts, they would enter the bye week with the slimmest of playoff hopes and have plenty of time to go with a new passer at midseason. But Gibbs maintains there is no timetable for Campbell to play.
"I'm not afraid to change anything, and I don't think I would hesitate to change anything," Gibbs said. "Whatever is best for our football team. But certainly right now, changing Mark, I don't think that's the answer."
Two years ago, with Brunell in a funk, FedEx Field pleaded for backup Patrick Ramsey to assume the starting duties, and in November 2004 that transition, however brief, took place. Now, with the Redskins 2-4 and coming off one of the more humbling losses in recent history to the previously winless Titans, pressure is mounting for Gibbs to bench Brunell, 36.
With the offense largely inconsistent the last three seasons save for a six-game run late in 2005, Brunell has been under fire for much of his time in Washington. He has been beset by injuries -- a toenail was ripped off in Sunday's loss, but he said it is not a major hindrance -- and his fortunes have matched those of the offense.
Gibbs shocked many around the NFL when he dealt three draft picks, including a first-rounder, to Denver before the 2005 draft, and used the 25th overall pick on Campbell despite having two veteran quarterbacks on the roster. Gibbs has repeatedly said Campbell is progressing and has stated that he believes he could win games immediately if need be, yet Campbell has been inactive for all 22 games of his career. Few quarterbacks with so much invested in them would sit for two seasons, however, and although Gibbs said he understands the fans' frustrations, he believes Brunell gives the team the best chance to win immediately.
"Jason's working extremely hard," Gibbs said. "We've got a lot invested in him and we think that someday he's going to be the future. None of that has changed and the situation hasn't changed."
Brunell's second half Sunday prompted the calls for change. He completed just 5 of 16 passes in the final 30 minutes for 77 yards and an interception. He started the half with three straight incomplete passes and finished the game by failing to connect on his final six attempts. The Redskins' final drive began at their 16 with 66 seconds to play and the team needing to get into field goal range for a chance to tie the score. Brunell began the possession by hoisting a wishful pass toward Santana Moss in heavy coverage, and it was easily picked off.
"It's just frustrating, because all the way up to the end we had our chances," Brunell said. "We had about a minute left and we didn't have any timeouts, but enough time certainly to get in field goal range. But that's a foolish throw. I just put it up there and they got the interception and that was it. It was a tough day."
Gibbs pointed to Brunell's first half -- 11 of 14 passes completed for 103 yards and a touchdown -- as an indication of his worth. "When you play the way we did in the first half, it shows what we're capable of," Gibbs said. "We're just not sustaining it."
The fans were not in such a forgiving mood, but that is nothing new to Brunell. Jeering was common during 2004, and Brunell, in his 14th season, says he generally tries to ignore the distractions. "It's never something you want to hear," Brunell said. "Our defense, they got a taste of it [Sunday] and our offense did and I certainly did, and it's not a lot of fun. But you block it out and try to go win the game. That's all you can do."
Said Moss: "If you're going to be with us, be with us. Don't cheer one minute for the person, then boo him as soon as he has a couple of miscues or you feel like something's not going his way."
On the season, Brunell ranks 12th in the NFL in passer rating (86.9) and has thrown for five touchdowns and three interceptions through six games. The Redskins rank 20th in passing yards per game and 15th in points per game. Brunell said he was unsure if he would take all the snaps at tomorrow's practice -- he sat out practices recently with a cut left elbow -- but played down the toe injury. Although it prevented him from planting as he would like for a series during the game, he said he adjusted.
"I'd love to give you an excuse and tell you that's why we struggled, but that's not the case," Brunell said. "It bothered me a little bit, but everybody's got something like that."