Quarterbacks Mark Brunell and Patrick Ramsey began dissecting their sloppy performances on the bus ride out of the Meadowlands on Sunday afternoon and continued the exchange on the charter back to Dulles that evening. There was much to digest in the aftermath of the Washington Redskins' 20-14 loss to the New York Giants that featured four interceptions and seven turnovers, and both passers were willing to accept a fair share of the blame.
"Actually, pretty much all we did was talk about what took place," Ramsey said. "And I think he and I just kind of felt like we kind of gave the game away. We had so many turnovers and so many mistakes and yet we were still in the game even at the end."
Washington's offense has slumped through its first two games under Coach Joe Gibbs regardless of the quarterback and it remains to be seen who will be behind center for Monday night's game at FedEx Field against rival Dallas. Brunell left Sunday's loss early in the third quarter because of a strained left hamstring and said yesterday he is unsure if he will be able to face the Cowboys. Gibbs said a return by Brunell so soon might be optimistic, and Ramsey will get additional practice time with the first team this week in preparation for a possible start.
The Redskins, ranked 22nd in the NFL in passing offense and 27th in points per game, have maintained no offensive flow, something players said yesterday is attributable at least in part to their adjustment to a new offensive system and coaching staff. They started both games well, scoring a touchdown on the opening drive of a 16-10 victory over Tampa Bay and in the loss to the Giants, then faltered with penalties, turnovers and poor decisions.
The quarterbacks are not alone in their struggles, with the offensive line and running back Clinton Portis also regressing in Week 2, but their mistakes have been glaring.
"Mentally, you can't play like that," Gibbs said. "You can't make those kinds of mistakes. We're so inconsistent over there. We'll make real good plays and come right back and throw the ball someplace where you just can't throw it."
Twenty-five times this season the Redskins have had a drive originate in the second, third or fourth quarter, and, save for wide receiver Rod Gardner's diving catch on a 51-yard pass from Ramsey on Sunday, there have been few offensive highlights in those six quarters of play. Of the 25 drives, 10 have resulted in a punt, eight have ended with a turnover, one ended when Washington could not convert a fourth down, one concluded when regulation time expired and one died with Brunell taking a knee to close the first half of the opening game.
Washington has produced just one touchdown in those drives -- Ramsey found Portis in the end zone Sunday -- and two field goals. Place kicker John Hall also missed a field goal to end the first half at Giants Stadium. The opposing defense has outscored the Redskins offense 14-13 over those 25 drives.
"You try to keep the same focus and same intensity throughout the game, but we've been hit and miss," Brunell said. "We had two good first quarters and [Sunday] we had a poor second quarter and the week before a poor third quarter, and that's when you become a good offensive football team and we're not there yet. When we can put four quarters together we've got a chance."
Brunell, 34, has not had a big passing game in the regular season or preseason since being signed to a seven-year, $43 million contract over the winter. He has completed only one pass of more than 20 yards -- since training camp Brunell has had difficulty getting the ball to receivers on longer passes -- and his fumble in the opening game gave the Buccaneers a touchdown. Brunell's fumble on Sunday set up New York's first touchdown and he forced a pass later in the second quarter that was easily intercepted and converted into a field goal.
"There's no reason for us not to be hitting on all cylinders right now," Brunell said, "but because we're all pretty new in this offense, yeah, there might be some moments where we struggle. But that's certainly no excuse at all if you turn the ball over seven times. That has nothing to do with learning a new system; that has to do with being smart with the football, making good decisions, holding on to it. So the mistakes that we made [Sunday] that cost us that game had nothing to do with a team learning a system. That couldn't be further from the truth."
Brunell said his hamstring felt better after treatment yesterday but he does not know how many snaps he will take in practice. Brunell's ability to practice will dictate whether he plays Monday night, Gibbs said.
Ramsey, whom Brunell beat out in the preseason to win the starting job, expects an increased load at practice this week. Ramsey was even more mistake prone than Brunell in a relief role Sunday, throwing three interceptions, all of them he admitted were ill-advised. He has not appeared comfortable in Gibbs's offensive system.
"It's an adjustment to this offense and to this mind-set," Ramsey said, "and it's something I have to do."
Ramsey, 25, is trying to focus on the positives from his first appearance of the season, including his long connection with Gardner, rather than on the errant throws that derailed Washington's hopes of a comeback. "I feel like minus a couple of plays I had a decent day," Ramsey said. "Those were big plays -- don't think I'm trying to underestimate that -- but at the same time I think it's something I can do and will be able to do in the future."
With the Redskins unable to generate much of a passing offense, defenses will likely continue to stack players at the line of scrimmage in an effort to contain Portis. Since breaking a 64-yard touchdown run on his first touch as a Redskin, Portis has carried 48 times for 153 yards, averaging 3.2 yards per carry, with no touchdowns and two fumbles.
"You've got to rush the football and sustain drives," Gibbs said. "What kills you is penalties and turnovers, obviously. You can't put your defense in that position. . . . You can't let them crowd the line of scrimmage. You've got to be able to do everything up here; if not, and you can't run the football, they're going to crowd you all the time."
Gibbs hopes that his offense will soon begin to mimic the success of a revamped defense, which is ranked No. 1 in the NFL. It has kept Washington in both games when the offense sputtered and gave the ball away, but linebacker LaVar Arrington, the anchor of the defensive unit, said no rift has developed between the defense and offense.
"It's natural [for the offense] to lag," Arrington said. "The only thing I would say is we're going to hold the slack; we're going to hold the fort down until they catch up. Just don't let [the opposing defense] put any points on the board. That's all we ask; other than that, we're good. We win as a team and we lose as a team."