- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2005

Leadership comes in different forms. Some players use their own intensity to pump up their teammates. Others lead quietly with their ceaseless dedication to victory.

And there’s Washington quarterback Mark Brunell. Publicly more reserved than predecessors like Joe Theismann and Billy Kilmer, Brunell is a different man on the field.

“Mark’s one of the funniest guys in the huddle,” Redskins receiver Santana Moss said. “I never played with a guy [before] who’s making jokes in the middle of the game. You’re looking around like, ‘C’mon!’ You’re laughing. That’s letting you know you’ve got a guy who’s having fun with this game.

“Mark knows that we’re prepared and going out there and making those plays for him. I guess we’re giving him that confidence in the huddle.”

That confidence was shaken by last week’s disastrous 36-0 loss to the New York Giants, a defeat in which the previously productive Redskins offense compiled more turnovers and penalties (nine) than first downs (seven).

The offense badly needs leadership heading into Sunday’s showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles, the four-time defending NFC East champions.

Coach Joe Gibbs, upon his return to the Redskins in 2004, traded for the veteran Brunell for just such a reason. He said the 35-year-old quarterback is just the guy for the job Sunday.

“Mark’s a born leader,” Gibbs said. “He has a lot of confidence. He has been there, done that. He’s been in really tough situations. All of those reasons instill confidence in those around him.

“None of us are going to be able to talk a team into believing in something. The quarterback — I don’t care about personality or anything else — comes down to production. Can you play?”

Brunell played so poorly last season he was benched in Week 9, and his career appeared to be over.

This season, however, produced an amazing renaissance — before last week’s debacle, that is.

Brunell threw his first touchdown pass in his first start of the season, an electrifying hookup with Moss with 3:46 left in a stirring comeback win over the Dallas Cowboys. And he led the Redskins to a 52-17 demolition of the San Francisco 49ers on Oct.23.

In his five starts before the loss to the Giants, Brunell completed 91 of 153 passes for 1,250 yards, 12 touchdowns and one interception. Brunell was the top-ranked passer in the NFC before that defeat.

Brunell had never played better, not even during his three Pro Bowl seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“The way Mark plays inspires other guys, the way he takes some tough shots and still makes those throws,” said Ray Brown, an offensive lineman who, remarkably, is playing in his 20th season. “Guys feed off of that.”

On Sunday in New York, however, Brunell passed for just 65 yards and was replaced by Patrick Ramsey late in the third quarter.

Brunell needs to show that last week was just a bump in the road, not the opening of a canyon that will send the Redskins offense tumbling back to the oblivion of last season.

Moss said Brunell didn’t change as the offense crumbled, staying calm and not panicking.

“If Mark had been uptight, it probably would have been worse,” he said.

Said Brunell: “You’re not thinking about cracking jokes when you’re just trying to complete a pass. [But] we try to keep it light. This is a game. I have the best job in the world. I get to go out with 10 other guys and test myself against a defense. I’m going to make sure we have fun doing it. I guess that’s [leadership] to a degree. Whatever your team needs, hopefully as a quarterback, you can meet.”

Quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave, who worked with Brunell in Jacksonville, said he’s “very steady and focused. That’s why he’s had the success he’s had over the years.”

Typically, Brunell wasn’t fazed by the blowout, especially since it came on the heels of five consecutive strong performances.

“We’ve done some very good things,” Brunell said. “We’ve scored points. We’ve moved the ball. We’ve had big plays. We’re a good team that had a real bad day. We’re not going to start worrying about ‘what if?’ and ‘If we don’t do this, then what?’

“You can’t play like that. The hard part is that you can’t do anything about it until Sunday night.”

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