- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 14, 2004

FedEx Field could be anything but home sweet home for the Washington Redskins today.

Not only has the club lost six of its past seven games at home, including three of four this season, but struggling quarterback Mark Brunell faces a potentially short-tempered crowd as the Redskins play host to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Two weeks ago in a loss to the Green Bay Packers, Brunell was booed intermittently starting with the Redskins’ first series. As the day progressed, fans began chanting for coach Joe Gibbs to insert young backup Patrick Ramsey.

Ironically, Brunell was enjoying one of his better games as a Redskin, completing 56.8 percent of his passes for 218 yards. Only in the Sept.27 loss to the Dallas Cowboys did he perform better.

Thus things could get interesting today if Brunell plays as he did last weekend at Detroit, when he hit just six of 17 throws for 58 yards.

“No, I don’t [think about it],” Brunell said this week. “If you think about it going in, then you probably have the wrong mind-set. You go in thinking positive, that this is the week where you get things going. There’s going to be incompletions. There’s going to be what appears to be a bad play or two. Regardless of what the fans do about that, you just go play. Keep going.”

This season undoubtedly has been the most difficult of Brunell’s career. He is completing just 51.1 percent of his passes (after carrying a career 60.3 clip into the year) and averaging just 5.2 yards an attempt (7.1 prior to 2004). Both 2004 statistics rank among the NFL’s worst.

Most observers figured Brunell’s play would improve as his first season with Gibbs progressed, but instead he has slumped even further. Only once in the past four games has he thrown for more than 100 yards (against Green Bay), and at Detroit Gibbs asked him to throw just two passes in the second half as Washington preserved a lead.

In fact, running back Clinton Portis, who hit Laveranues Coles on a 15-yard trick-play touchdown pass, threw for 7 more yards than Brunell did after halftime last week.

Overall, it was the first game in which the other 10 offensive players seemed to play fairly well while Brunell still struggled. But Gibbs strongly endorsed Brunell Monday, and teammates continue to stand behind the passer as he prepares to face a restless fan base.

“I’m supportive of Mark,” guard Randy Thomas said. “I’m supportive of anybody who’s out there fighting their [butt] off and trying to win.”

Of the potential for widespread boos today, Thomas added, “It’s kind of bad, man. If we were 6-2, he’d be the greatest man in the world. We’ve just got to go through the growing pains. This is our first year — everybody’s first year in this system.”

Quickly frustrated fans are a product of times, Brunell believes. Having spent 11 years in the NFL since leaving the University of Washington in 1993, Brunell has watched crowds grow increasingly quick-tempered. He pointed to the boos at Ford Field last weekend for quarterback Joey Harrington — who had sparked the Lions to a surprising 4-3 start.

“Granted, you don’t like hearing it,” Brunell said. “You hear it. It’s nothing you want to go through. But it’s part of the job. If you play long enough, at some point you’re going to get it. It’s common. [And] it happens more now than when I started playing.”

Of course, things might be fine today. Optimism stems from the increasingly solid play of Portis, who has become more patient in allowing blocks to develop. Over the past three games, he has a 171-yard outing, 147-yard outing and has averaged 4.5 yards a carry.

With Washington going up against the last-ranked run defense of Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, the Redskins’ 2002 defensive coordinator, Portis could run wild. Or Brunell could have a wide-open secondary to target as Cincinnati pushes extra players toward the line of scrimmage.

And if not? Expect the boo-birds to be chirping.

“Places like our stadium, where the fans are very vocal and very emotional, if you’re not playing well, you kind of understand what’s going to happen,” Gibbs said. “Our fans do play a part because they’re so into the game. They’re emotional. They care. That’s what we want.

“We’ve talked before — if you’re a quarterback, a coach, you’re going to take some heat if things are not going well. You’ve got to expect that.”

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