When Patrick Ramsey trudged off the field after a poorly thrown pass was intercepted against the Carolina Panthers on Saturday, Mark Brunell was the first person to approach him on the sideline.

Brunell, wearing a burgundy baseball cap as the backup quarterback, put his left arm around Ramsey's shoulder and whispered into his ear.

"I knew when he threw it that he lost the grip a little bit," Brunell said of the pass intended for wide receiver Santana Moss on the first drive of Washington's preseason opener. "I told him it was a great decision, and not to worry about it. Early on, many times the balls are a little slick. If he had a good grip, it would have been a completion for at least 40 yards."

Brunell is Ramsey's close friend -- they are roommates on the road -- yet also covets his buddy's job.

After an unspectacular outing in last week's 28-10 loss to the Panthers, Ramsey will start again tonight against the Cincinnati Bengals at FedEx Field. Brunell will be Ramsey's biggest supporter on the sideline -- and biggest threat to reclaim the starting job.

Brunell and Ramsey insist it's not difficult to avoid the tension of the situation.

"I know to many it seems awkward wanting the same job," said Brunell, whom Ramsey replaced as the starter in the 10th game last season. "But honestly it's not. When he's on the field, we've got the same goals. I'm not competing against Patrick. I'm competing against whatever defense is out there, and he's doing the same.

"We've got a very good working relationship. But at the same time, we've got a pretty good friendship that goes beyond anything that we do here at Redskins Park."

On the five drives with Ramsey at quarterback against the Panthers, Washington failed to score. Ramsey finished 8 for 12 with a 49.7 passer rating. Brunell sparkled, albeit against mostly reserves. He guided Washington to its two scores and finished 11 for 19 for 121 yards.

"I'm well aware of the fact that [Brunell] wants to play," Ramsey said. "And as great of a guy as he is and as great of a friend as he is, I hate that he's not getting to. But at the same time I want to play and do a good job here. That's something that doesn't come between us. And I think that's just the measure of our friendship."

Their relationship has grown significantly since an awkward start last offseason. After Gibbs returned from an 11-year hiatus in January 2004, he brought in Brunell with a seven-year, $43 million contract, spurring Ramsey to explore a trade through his agent.

Now, Brunell, 34, and Ramsey, 26, are together regularly, even when the position groups go their separate ways after practice. "I don't think I've ever been at Redskins Park or anywhere and they're not together," H-back Chris Cooley said. "They're definitely best friends on the team. I think they help each other out a ton."

After Wednesday's session, Brunell and Ramsey were joking with each other while walking off the field. When a reporter asked Ramsey for an interview about the relationship, Brunell interjected, "I want him to fail so badly so I can get his job." The two laughed heartily, and several minutes later Ramsey plopped into the ice tub next to Brunell.

"That's the special thing about it, really, is that it is a genuine deal," Ramsey said. "It's not us putting on a show. We really spend time together on days off. We share the same interests and beliefs. I think that's what brings us together."

Both for instance have strong Christian faiths -- they attend Bible study together -- and often hunt deer together. "He's a much better shot than I am," Brunell said, grinning. "Actually, I've learned a lot from him."

When Ramsey initially found out the Redskins were targeting a quarterback in April's draft -- Jason Campbell was taken with the 25th overall pick -- he left messages on Brunell's voicemail asking for his take. Brunell can empathize with the scrutiny Ramsey is undergoing as the starter. Last year, Brunell endured criticism while finishing with a career-low 49.8 percent completion percentage.

Arm strength was considered one of Brunell's weaknesses, but at least one of his wide receivers from last season said otherwise.

"Mark has a hose. He has a strong arm. It's totally bogus. People are looking for excuses because he's older," said Rod Gardner, who played with Brunell last season before he was traded to Carolina last month.

Brunell added this week: "My arm isn't any different. I have a strong arm. I don't have the strongest arm. But it certainly isn't what it was described as last year."

Gibbs believes the friendship between Ramsey and Brunell has been strong partly because Ramsey didn't hold any animosity after losing the job last preseason.

"They've been in both roles," Gibbs said. "I gotta tell you, for me [the close relationship] is kind of rare. I know before in quarterback situations because it's so intense, it's hard to take a position" where the backup supports the starter.

"We started out last year, and Patrick to his credit was super supportive of Mark. And when it turned out in the middle of the year, and it was Patrick starting, Mark played every bit the supporting role."

Patrick Ramsey, front, took over for Mark Brunell as the Redskins' starting quarterback in the team's 10th game last season. However, the two are roommates on the road and go deer hunting together."We really spend time together on days off. We share the same interests and beliefs," Patrick Ramsey, left, said of his relationship with Mark Brunell.