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Redskins need better Brunell

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Mark Brunell did the veteran thing yesterday at Redskin Park when he first was asked about the Washington Redskins' lack of offense -- 120 yards -- in their NFC wild-card win over Tampa Bay.

He laughed it off.

"That wasn't unfortunate. We won the game. What are you talking about?" he said. "That's all we needed."

Moments later, Brunell did anything but shrug it off.

"We need to be better than we were last week," he said.

Translation: Starting with the quarterback, the Redskins' offense can ill afford another stinker Saturday when it plays at Seattle in the divisional playoffs.

"I would completely agree that we didn't get into a rhythm [against Tampa Bay]," said Brunell, who threw for only 41 yards. "We had some moments, but it was a crazy game. To have that lack of production on our side of the ball and to get the win is very rare."

That the passing game is such an issue illustrates the roller-coaster nature of playing quarterback in the NFL. A month ago after a 35-7 win over Dallas, Brunell was humming along with 20 touchdowns, eight interceptions, a 58.9 completion percentage and an 86.9 passer rating.

Since then Brunell's performance has, depending on the point of view, either leveled off or plummeted. He is a combined 23-for-51 (45.1 percent) for 294 yards, three touchdowns, three interceptions and a 58.8 passer rating in the past three games.

Brunell admitted yesterday for the first time that his sprained right knee -- sustained Dec. 24 against the Giants -- bothered him Jan. 1 against Philadelphia. He was 9-for-25 for 141 yards, and 95 of those yards came on two completions. He was 7-for-15 last week.

"Mechanically, I was a little off [against Philadelphia], and I didn't do much work in practice, and it bothered me on a couple throws," he said.

Now healthy, Brunell took a bright-side, big-picture view of the offense, preferring to highlight the 11 wins, six games with 24 or more points and record-setting seasons by Clinton Portis and Santana Moss.

"We can look at these last two weeks, but we tend to look at the whole season," Brunell said. "We should have every reason to believe and have confidence because we're a good football team on offense and have scored some points the last half of the season.

"It would be easy to think about last week and the week before, but we're going into this game realizing that we have the talent and ability to play well offensively and have a good day."

The good days were common throughout the season for Brunell, chiefly the miracle finish in Dallas, consecutive 300-yard games against Denver and Kansas City and the second Cowboys game.

During the first four games of the Redskins' current winning streak, the offense had 10 three-and-outs; it has 11 in the past two games. Last week was the first time this season the Redskins did not have one play that gained at least 20 yards.

"We continue to do the same things every week," offensive coordinator Don Breaux said. "We work to try and get the best plan we can based on who we play and our personnel. And then we go from there. ... Normally when you struggle, it's not one thing."

One of those things isn't Brunell, according to his coach/biggest fan.

"To me, in the last two games, he's made plays," Joe Gibbs said. "Sometimes, it doesn't look pretty. The best play, sometimes, is the one that's not there. He's helped us win football games the last two weeks. Sometimes, it doesn't look very good in the stats, and I understand that. He certainly wants to be more productive, and I know we need to be more productive.

"But, to me, he's doing pretty much what he's been doing all year."

Now it's up to Brunell to do it that much better, especially against a Seattle team that led the NFL with 28.3 points a game.

"Ball control and not turning it over are at the top of our list," he said. "If you don't [do those two things], they'll take advantage and score points. We need points, but it'll be tough."