Monday, August 16, 2004

Four interceptions and a combined 28.2 rating by the Washington Redskins quarterbacks Saturday night had coach Joe Gibbs “definitely concerned” yesterday as he reviewed tape at Redskin Park.

“I don’t think we’re doing smart things,” Gibbs said as he took a late-afternoon break. “I think we’re making some glaring errors. You don’t throw the ball where we threw it and win football games. … I don’t think we were smart or made good decisions, and we turned the ball over. You turn the ball over, you lose.”

The offensive struggles defined the 23-20 overtime loss to the Carolina Panthers at FedEx Field. The coach must decide between quarterbacks Mark Brunell and Patrick Ramsey, who aren’t doing much to distinguish themselves in the scrutinized race to start the Sept.12 opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Ramsey looked especially rough against the Panthers, completing just four of 11 passes in his first start for 62 yards with one interception, a sack and two mishandled snaps. His poor outing, combined with a 61-yard touchdown pass from Brunell to Darnerien McCants, appeared to give Brunell a slight edge in the battle.

However, Brunell’s effort came against Panthers reserves and included just 6-for-15 passing with one interception and a sack. Tim Hasselbeck, who sparkled Aug.9 in the Hall of Fame Game, had two picks in the late going Saturday.

Gibbs spread blame around, refusing to single out Ramsey even though the 2002 first-round pick looked shaky in the pocket and threw soft, looping passes in a game in which he could have made a statement.

“All three quarterbacks, we didn’t play smart,” Gibbs said. “That would be my generalization. And they know their job is to move the ball and get points and make good decisions. I think that’s what we’ll point out on the film, use it as a teaching and learning experience. Hopefully we’ll step up.”

Ramsey wasn’t available yesterday but said late Saturday, “Obviously I feel like I could have done 100 percent better. I’m not real pleased with my performance, but I’ll get better.”

Wide receiver Laveranues Coles is among those who believe Ramsey, last year’s unquestioned starter, is pressing given his limited opportunities to play and perceived long odds to beat out Brunell, who signed a seven-year, $43million contract in the offseason.

“I wouldn’t say he looks uncomfortable,” Coles said. “But I imagine he’s feeling a little pressure out there. He’s vying for a spot. It makes it tougher to come in and relax.”

Other key areas of concern include the running game (only six NFL teams that have played a preseason game are averaging fewer than Washington’s 3.3 yards a rush) and penalties (the Redskins have been flagged 20 times, though their opponents have 26 infractions).

The struggles have come despite an intense offseason of work by Gibbs and his staff. However, because it’s the preseason and because the Redskins admittedly are showing little of the schemes they will use for real games, the club remains generally calm.

“Preseason’s very difficult to gauge anything,” Brunell said. “You’re going against the first-[string] guys, and then a quarter later you’re going against the third-team guys. It’s really hard to measure. And you really don’t know — all those questions aren’t answered — until that season begins and you really find out how good you are.”

Observers, of course, need look back only to 2002 for tangible evidence of how meaningless preseason success can be. That year Redskins coach Steve Spurrier opened with a 38-7 win in Osaka, Japan, and went on to set a club record for scoring (164 points) in going 4-1.

But that team went just 7-9 in the regular season, including 0-6 in NFC East play. Gibbs, whose 1991 Super Bowl team went 1-3 in the preseason, yesterday indicated that “definitely concerned” doesn’t mean ready to panic.

“For me, it’s week to week how far the team comes,” Gibbs said. “For this [game], I feel like we really backed away from doing some of the smart things. … But it’s a learning experience. These guys are smart. They’re going after it hard. They want to win.”

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