David Carr, the top pick in the 2002 draft, has taken every snap but one for the expansion Houston Texans while Patrick Ramsey, the final pick in the first round, has been just one face in Coach Steve Spurrier's quarterback carousel. But in yesterday's matchup between the rookies, Ramsey acted like the more-seasoned quarterback, exploiting career games by tailbacks Ladell Betts and Kenny Watson while guiding the Redskins to a 26-10 victory at FedEx Field.
Despite being in their first season in the NFL, the Texans have the 13th-ranked defense after filling the unit with veterans. "Houston's not one of the top teams," Coach Steve Spurrier said, "but their defense is ranked pretty high."
But after Ramsey completed 23 of 35 passes for 213 yards last week against the Philadelphia Eagles' stingy secondary, the Tulane product had no problem generating points against the Texans. In Ramsey's fourth start, he completed 14 of 32 passes with two touchdowns and zero interceptions.
"He did some good things in there," Spurrier said, "and avoided some bad plays."
That could not be said of Carr. With less than two minutes left, while what remained of the crowd began looking to next week by chanting, "We want Dallas," Carr was left merely hoping to avoid setting the record for being sacked more times in one season than any other NFL quarterback.
But on a fourth-and-five play, as Carr scanned the field for a receiver, defensive end Bruce Smith twisted free from a blocker and fell on Carr with his back for an awkward sack. It was the 73rd time Carr had been sacked, breaking the mark held by the Philadelphia Eagles' Randall Cunningham in 1986.
"I was trying to break some NFL records when I came into the league," said Carr, selected out of Fresno State, "but . . . not that one."
Harried and harassed throughout the game, Carr completed only 12 of 31 passes to finish with a chilly quarterback rating of 36.0.
Ramsey's performance was buttressed by the running of Betts and Watson, who are expected to share the duties next season in place of Stephen Davis. On 20 carries each, Betts amassed a career-high 116 yards while Watson tied his career high with 110. Ramsey relied heavily on the tailbacks in converting seven of 17 third downs (41 percent). Conversely, Texans tailback Jonathan Wells rushed for 33 yards on 15 carries for an average of 2.2 yards.
"Those guys did such a great job," Ramsey said of Betts and Watson, "that we couldn't do anything but hand it to them,"
Carr and Ramsey, both 23, have similar smarts, toughness and strong arms. But their differences yesterday were illustrated watching Carr dance around the pocket as if it were full of hot coals while Ramsey threw as if it were practice, when defenders aren't allowed to hit the quarterback. "It took a lot of weight off of me," said Ramsey, who wasn't sacked, "that I didn't have to worry about getting hit."
Texans Coach Dom Capers said, "Many times, [Carr] didn't have a chance for things to develop up the field."
Carr is guiding an offense that includes six rookie starters whereas Ramsey did not start alongside a rookie. Carr held the edge over Ramsey in experience after being named a starter during training camp. But Tony Boselli, an all-pro caliber left tackle, never recovered from a shoulder injury. And two other starting tackles went out with injuries this season, leaving Carr vulnerable to pressure and punishment.
(Smith would almost certainly hold the NFL's all-time record in sacks if the defensive end faced the Texans every week. Smith finished with two sacks yesterday, leaving him four short of Reggie White's mark.)
Carr and Ramsey became friendly during the 2002 Senior Bowl, the annual showcase for NFL prospects in Mobile, Ala. But the quarterbacks hadn't spoken again until yesterday, when Ramsey expressed empathy to Carr during warmups for suffering physical punishment.
"I told him I know he hears it a lot; he probably gets tired of hearing it," said Ramsey, who threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Rock Cartwright and a 13-yard score to Derrius Thompson. Ramsey said he told Carr, "I just wanted you to know, I'm just glad to see that you're safe and healthy, and that you're learning."
Ramsey was sacked 13 times in his first two starts, both losses, before being relegated to the bench until last Sunday against the Eagles, when Ramsey displayed a quicker release in throwing two touchdown passes with no interceptions. (Before that game, the Eagles had allowed only 14 touchdowns in 13 games.)
"He's playing with a lot of confidence," said quarterback Danny Wuerffel, whose shoulder injury led to Ramsey's start last week. "He's being real smart with the ball. The biggest thing for him is that he's learned when and when not to throw the ball away."
When Ramsey prepared for the Texans last week, the quarterback said, the matchup against the rookie chosen 31 spots higher was an afterthought.
Reserve quarterback Shane Matthews concurred that Ramsey was too consumed with the game plan against the Texans. But once the game ended and Ramsey was the last rookie standing, he didn't totally dismiss the story line.
"Maybe postgame," Ramsey said, about reflecting on the matchup. "Before, all I'm focusing on is Houston."