Each time the FedEx Field fans chanted his name, Patrick Ramsey wanted to lift his bulky coat even farther over his shoulders on the sideline and pull his head deeper inside his helmet. As the crowd booed starting quarterback Mark Brunell off the field in Sunday's 17-10 loss to Cincinnati and screamed for Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs to insert the backup, a sense of unease washed over Ramsey.
"It's a tough situation," Ramsey said of the crowd reaction. "I think we have great fans and they desire for us to be successful and win, and I think if they realized how badly -- how much of a detriment -- that is to our team, I don't think they would do it if they really understood the morale that it set for our team, for our offense, on the sidelines."
Ramsey, taken with the final pick of the first round in 2002, never wanted his opportunity to play to come like this, at the expense of Brunell, a well-liked veteran who has become a close friend and frequent hunting partner. Ramsey, 25, had spent the better part of three months supporting Brunell, 34, through a rough first half as the starting quarterback, never complaining about the demotion. Now, after playing the second half of the loss to the Bengals, Ramsey will be given the chance to reclaim his status as the team's quarterback of the future, beginning Sunday in Philadelphia.
Ramsey's initial task -- facing an 8-1 opponent in one of the more hostile environments in the NFL in only his 17th career start -- will not be easy, but he has yet to take the field under comfortable circumstances this season. His first appearance came when Brunell suffered a hamstring injury in Week 2 with the Redskins (3-6) trailing 20-7 at Giants Stadium midway through the third quarter. In his second appearance, Ramsey entered Sunday's game with the Redskins trailing 17-0 midway through the second quarter. In both instances he had taken almost no snaps with the offense in practice and faced bleak odds of a comeback, having to gamble downfield with his throws to attempt to get the Redskins back in the game.
Beginning today, when the Redskins resume practice, Ramsey will take virtually every snap and, for the first time since preseason, will spend the bulk of his time working with the first-team offense in drills. He will run the playbook in preparation for the Eagles, while Brunell runs the other team's plays for the scout team against Washington's defense. For a change, Ramsey will take the field with the score even.
"The primary and most significant difference for me will be the fact that I'll get to run our plays against a defense throughout the week," Ramsey said. "And hopefully that will allow me to play better."
The roles of the quarterbacks have reversed, with Brunell, who was signed to a seven-year, $43 million deal in the offseason, asking coaches to treat Ramsey, still in his rookie contract (five years, $5.7 million) exactly as Ramsey had treated him -- with compassion and respect. Gibbs met with Brunell to make the quarterback change official Monday afternoon, and came away believing the former starter would step up to help with Ramsey's development.
"The whole time that Mark was starting Patrick was so supportive," Gibbs said. "I think I said this two weeks ago in a [staff] meeting in there, some of the comments and everything that Patrick said about supporting Mark, goes beyond [what is expected]. . . . Patrick really supported Mark and Mark told me at the end of the meeting, 'Hey, I'm going to try to help Patrick any way I can.' That's two real first-class people."
Those close to Ramsey say they never worried that losing his job would prompt unrest on the team. Ramsey performed well last season in 11 starts under former coach Steve Spurrier before hurting his foot, but knew that success in that pass-happy system did not automatically guarantee the same thing in Gibbs's more structured offense. Proof of that came in the preseason, when Brunell was not particularly effective but still outperformed Ramsey to win the job.
"I didn't play well enough in the preseason, I think, to warrant a start or that much playing time early," Ramsey said. "I was very disappointed with the way I played in the preseason, so it was tough, but at the same time I knew I deserved to not be in the game."
Even with the offense faltering on a weekly basis and Brunell ranking last in most key quarterback categories, Ramsey praised the starter consistently and urged fans and the media to be patient. He offered suggestions whenever he could and never questioned Gibbs's loyalty to Brunell.
"Patrick is a smart kid," said injured right tackle Jon Jansen, one of his best friends on the team. "He knows his shot was going to come and right now it seems to be here. He knows that all he has to do is do his job and he can't control the coach's decision on whether he puts him in there or not. He can't control outside factors, he can only control that when he gets in there that he does the job, and I think he's ready to do it and I think he will do it."
Ramsey has completed 49 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and five interceptions this season. Those numbers are far from gaudy but he often has been under duress because of the offensive line -- Ramsey was sacked 30 times last season.
Ramsey came into this season with a 76.5 passer rating with 23 touchdowns and 17 interceptions and won over his teammates last season for his willingness to withstand pain and his fearlessness in the face of a constant blitz (Gibbs espouses protecting the quarterback; Spurrier did not). While his NFL history is not deep, Ramsey has been praised around the league for his arm strength and may get no better chance to show he can lead this team through adversity.
"I don't have any doubt that Patrick can succeed up there," said Chris Scelfo, Ramsey's coach at Tulane. "I don't coach in the National Football League, but I do know that two traits that Patrick has will go a long way in the NFL, and that's dependability and accountability. I don't think that's as prevalent today as it once was, and those two traits can carry you a long way."