Mark Brunell turned, what, 36 Sunday? The circles under his eyes yesterday made him look 66. There was also a wrap around his left calf that, presumably, will keep him from doing any dropkicking this weekend against the Texans. All in all, not a pretty sight.
Neither, for that matter, was the Redskins' performance in Dallas, a stumblin', bumblin' 27-10 loss that dropped them to 0-2 and had them all but looking for an organ donor. But rather than bash Brunell -- my favorite tackling dummy -- for the umpteenth time, I'm going to declare a moratorium on such activities and cast a wider net. Why? Because I've decided that a much bigger issue than No. 8's eternal struggles is the impaired vision of the coaching staff that keeps sending him out on the field. Why do these offensive oracles remain convinced, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, that this creaky quarterback can take the Redskins where they want to go?
The last time Joe Gibbs was this loyal, stubborn and astigmatic -- I choose the latter condition because the cornea is misshapen like a football -- Joe Theismann wound up getting his leg broken. This was in 1985, when Theismann, like Brunell, was 36 and in obvious decline. Coach Joe refused to bench him, though ... until that fateful Monday night when Lawrence Taylor and Co. ganged up on Joe T. and ended his career. The Redskins, 5-5 at the time, proceeded to win 19 of their next 24 with Jay Schroeder at QB; 14 months later, they were in the NFC title game.
It was hard not to think of Theismann as you watched Brunell get bounced around by the Cowboys. Six times he was sacked -- and it would have been more if he hadn't dodged doom on several plays and ditched the ball. He spent much of the evening picking himself up off the turf -- or being helped up by sympathetic linemen.
When he did have an opportunity to throw, though, the results were very hit-or-miss -- too hit-or-miss for the 21st century. This, moreover, isn't exactly a new development. Brunell has started the season pretty much the way he ended last season. The second half of 2005, you may recall, featured a 14-for-32 effort against Oakland; a 122-yard, three-interception afternoon at Arizona; a 9-for-25 outing at Philadelphia; and a 41-yard abomination at Tampa Bay.
And yet, despite these rather strong hints that No. 8 might be nearing the end, the Redskins traded his only viable competition, Patrick Ramsey, to the Jets in the offseason. Yesterday, Gibbs talked about football being "so unpredictable," but some things are actually quite foreseeable -- such as the continued deterioration of Brunell's abilities.
Brunell is what he is right now: an old, limited quarterback, neither his arm nor his legs as lively as they used to be. But since the only other options are newcomer Todd Collins, a career backup, and neophyte Jason Campbell, last year's first-round pick, the Redskins have little choice but to stick with Brunell -- unless they're ready to give up on the season, that is.
It's almost as if Coach Joe Ais Brunell's personal bodyguard. In yesterday's postmortem, Gibbs singled out "Mark, in particular" for "being knocked around, having a number of sacks, and [still] putting together a drive at the end of the game [that petered out at the Cowboys 13]." And yet, when asked about Brunell's killer interception at the Dallas 1 with the Redskins trailing 17-10 late in the third quarter, Gibbs said simply, "We made a bad decision in the red area."
Repeat after me, class:
He led a great drive.
We threw an interception.
Part of the problem may be all the success Gibbs had in his first term with good-but-not-great quarterbacks (Theismann, Doug Williams, Mark Rypien, etc.). The philosophy then was: If you can surround the QB with enough Riggos, Hogs and Art Monks, you can win with just about anybody under center. And that's certainly the approach the Redskins have taken with Brunell, bringing in Clinton Portis, Santana Moss, Antwaan Randle El, Brandon Lloyd, David Patten and even a new offensive guru, Al Saunders.
But it isn't working. It didn't work in 2004, when Brunell lost his job to Ramsey halfway through. It barely worked last season, thanks largely to Gregg Williams' defense. And it's holding the Redskins back again this year. Not that Coach Joe plans to do anything about it. Indeed, the thought of switching quarterbacks in Dallas -- as the game went from bad to worse -- never crossed his mind, it seems.
"As long as he was healthy," he said, "we couldn't do that."
Couldn't or wouldn't?