Mark Brunell got his first inkling that he would be named the Redskins' starting quarterback when Patrick Ramsey was not put back in the game at the start of the third quarter of Sunday's 9-7 victory over the Chicago Bears. Despite straining his neck, Ramsey seemed healthy enough to re-enter the game after playing catch with Brunell on the sideline. But Coach Joe Gibbs had decided to bench Ramsey after only three drives, giving Brunell back the job he lost last season.
"At halftime, Patrick was ready to play," Brunell said. "His neck was bothering him a little bit. But he felt good about going in. And when they didn't make the switch, it could have gone either way, but there wasn't any real surprise."
Brunell arrived at Redskins Park yesterday morning to lift weights and study film of the Dallas Cowboys, who Washington will face at Texas Stadium on Monday night. "I'm looking forward to it," said Brunell, who was accompanied by his wife, Stacy, and their four children. "It's a great opportunity to get back in there. Last year obviously was real difficult. To get another opportunity to get back in there is big. It's time to get things going."
Ramsey was conspicuously absent from the Redskins' training facility. Even though yesterday was a day off for players, Ramsey had said he planned to be at Redskins Park, although he said it before Monday's announcement that Brunell would start. A team source said Ramsey called the Redskins yesterday morning to tell coaches he would not be coming in.
No one was home yesterday afternoon and evening at Ramsey's house in Purcellville, about 20 miles from Redskins Park in Ashburn. Ramsey did not return a message left on his cell phone and his agent, Jimmy Sexton, could not be reached for comment.
Ramsey's future with the Redskins remained unclear. ESPN reported Monday night that Ramsey had requested a trade after being informed of Gibbs's decision in a face-to-face meeting Monday afternoon. But that report could not be confirmed.
Brunell, who is a close friend of Ramsey's, said he was skeptical that Ramsey had asked for a trade. "I think Patrick is a team guy," said Brunell, adding that he had tried to call Ramsey yesterday but was unable to reach him. "That would surprise me if he was really interested in wanting to be traded."
According to team sources, however, Ramsey's reaction to Gibbs's decision has been similar to his reaction when the Redskins signed Brunell to a seven-year, $43 million contract in March 2004. When Brunell signed, Ramsey remained silent publicly, but Sexton met with Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and Gibbs to request a trade.
Ramsey withdrew his request after a meeting with Gibbs at which the coach assured him that there would be an open competition for the starting job. Brunell beat out Ramsey that summer and started the first nine games last season before he was benched. Ramsey started the final seven games.
Several Redskins players yesterday declined to be expansive about the quarterback change. Some said the team would remain united despite the switch.
"I don't know why [Gibbs] changed," said defensive end Phillip Daniels. "Who knows? Mark did have a pretty good preseason. But I don't see there being a fallout. It's not going to divide the locker room.
"We have trust in both quarterbacks. We just go with coach's decision. Coach Gibbs knows what's best for this team, and we just deal with it. We can't let that be a distraction for this team."
Defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin added: "Gibbs made a decision. We have to stick with it and try to win games. Change happens."
Players said that the adjustment to a new quarterback would be minimal because of the team's offseason practices.
Receiver Santana Moss pointed out that the Redskins played with both of them in what they call organized team activities. Referring to Brunell, Moss said: "We know how he pretty much throws. He's a lefty. We know how his balls have a different spin."
Gibbs has said repeatedly that Brunell was hampered last year by a strained hamstring, which he suffered during a loss to the New York Giants in the second game of the season. But Brunell' s best performance last season occurred in the next game, a loss to the Dallas Cowboys, when he was still slowed by the strain. In that game, Brunell completed 25 of 43 passes for 325 yards while throwing two touchdown passes and no interceptions. Brunell said yesterday that the injury was not a factor to his play last season, and that he didn't undergo any rehabilitation.
Brunell, who turns 35 on Saturday, dismissed the notion that his arm is stronger than last year. Brunell said that the biggest reason for optimism this season is the revamped offense.
"It's night and day," Brunell said. "We've got different personnel. Our system's changed. And we've got a lot of talent.
"There's some things that have changed. There's some things that have stayed the same. But I think we're a better offense. We have a year under our belt with this system."
Brunell said that the toughest part of being the backup during the regular season is running so few plays practicing with the first team offense. "Those plays that we have in our game plan, you don't practice those," he said. "The starter gets the reps here. You may get one or two a day, but you're doing things that you just did not practice."
Washington's receivers said that Brunell's most impressive quality has been his confidence despite last season's struggles.
"You can look at him," Moss said, "and get that sense that he practices every day like he's the guy that's going to lead this team one day."
Staff writer Jason LaCanfora contributed to this report.