The Washington Redskins are winless, the quarterback lifeless and the faithful restless. Coach Joe Gibbs, however, showed no doubt about what to do with his struggling team and starting QB: Stick to the game plan.
Gibbs said yesterday that he would not bench starting quarterback Mark Brunell despite his dismal performance in a 27-10 loss to the archrival Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, in which the Redskins' offense failed to score a touchdown.
Gibbs, in fact, declined to single out his quarterback for criticism.
"Certainly, the quarterback is going to get more focus," Gibbs said at Redskin Park. "But he's just a part of it, and right now, we're not being productive."
The loss to the Cowboys was the second straight for the 0-2 Redskins, who entered the season with new stars on offense and expectations of a deep push into the playoffs. Those hopes, however, were dampened by back-to-back poor performances by the offense and Brunell.
The Redskins on Sunday were forced to punt on seven of their first full nine possessions, and another ended in an interception. The Redskins' offense couldn't run, pass, move the ball or score. The drive that resulted in a second-quarter field goal was aided by two big penalties on the Cowboys. The Redskins' lone touchdown was produced by the special teams on a 100-yard kickoff return by Rock Cartwright.
Brunell, meanwhile, looked every bit his 36 years, frequently underthrowing open receivers, compiling only 48 yards passing by halftime and finishing the game with a lowly 59.8 passer rating. Brunell ranks 14th in passer rating among the National Football Conference's 16 starting quarterbacks.
Gibbs, however, remains committed to Brunell, whom he acquired from the Jacksonville Jaguars in one of his first moves upon returning to the Redskins in 2004.
Gibbs doesn't have many good alternatives. Strong-armed backup Patrick Ramsey was traded in the offseason. Veteran quarterback Todd Collins hasn't started a game since 1997, and young Jason Campbell never has played a down in the National Football League.
Brunell isn't worried about the Redskins recovering from their rough start.
"We've got a lot of character in this locker room," Brunell said after Sunday's loss. "The next couple of days will be tough, but we'll keep fighting and bounce back."
The Redskins did just that last season, winning their final five regular season games to finish with a 10-6 record and end a five-year playoff drought. That achievement bolstered spirits at Redskin Park yesterday.
"It's still early," said running back Ladell Betts, who started both games in place of injured star Clinton Portis. "I'm confident that we can fix it. You guys saw us rattle off five straight wins last year."
Reserve end Renaldo Wynn, the senior member of the defense after five seasons in Washington, said the mood of the team is more disappointed than angry.
"We believe our record doesn't in any way portray the type of team we have," Wynn said. "We're definitely not where we thought we would be right now, so we're disappointed."
The Redskins expected to be more productive on offense under new associate head coach Al Saunders, who ran the most potent system in the league the past five years with the Kansas City Chiefs. New receivers Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El were added to a skill position group that includes Pro Bowl receiver Santana Moss, emerging tight end Chris Cooley and Portis, raising expectations higher still.
The results, however, have not been good: The Redskins reached the end zone only once in two games.
"It can't get any worse," Moss said. "It has to get better."
Added Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels: "We're definitely concerned. We're expected to score a lot of points, and it hasn't happened yet. There are some new things in the offense. We learned the scheme throughout the [offseason], so we really have no excuses."
Guard Randy Thomas said the Redskins, in a strange way, are right where they want to be.
"Last year, we had a lot of pressure on us," Thomas said of the Redskins' 5-6 record entering the final month of last season. "Our backs were against the wall. Now we have pressure again. We've got to respond. We can't go 0-3."