- The Washington Times - Monday, November 15, 2004

Though Joe Gibbs never really said it explicitly, it had become obvious the Washington Redskins coach wasn’t going to make a switch at quarterback unless he felt like his team truly had hit rock bottom.

Yesterday afternoon, with the Redskins’ offense sputtering like never before and 87,786 fans pleading for a change, Gibbs finally accepted the reality of the situation.

Perhaps acknowledging it doesn’t get any lower than a 17-point first-half deficit to the Cincinnati Bengals, Gibbs at long last yanked veteran Mark Brunell in favor of backup Patrick Ramsey. Though the quarterback shakeup did little to prevent the Redskins from losing their fourth straight home game, this one by a 17-10 margin, it did dramatically alter the complexion of this season.

At 3-6, with Ramsey likely to start the next two weeks at powerhouses Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Washington now has officially begun building for the future.

“We know a lot about Mark now; we’ve seen him play, that’s good,” Gibbs said after Brunell completed one of eight passes for six yards and an interception. “We’ll probably sit down and think our way through it. But in all likelihood, I think it’s probably good to give Patrick a chance to see what he can do.”

Redskins fans had been clamoring for Gibbs to summon the 25-year-old Ramsey off the bench for weeks, and had the coach not finally pulled the trigger midway through the second quarter of yesterday’s game, there might have been a mutiny inside FedEx Field.

Given one last chance to ignite Washington’s stagnant offense, Brunell offered up his worst performance of the season. He threw high, he threw low, he threw into the hands of a Cincinnati defender and he threw only once into the hands of a Redskins receiver. Rod Gardner’s 6-yard hitch five minutes into the first quarter represented Brunell’s only completion of the game.

And after botching a handoff to Portis, then throwing well short of Gardner on the next play from scrimmage in the second quarter, Brunell — saddled with a 0.0 passer rating at that point — was given the pink slip.

“It was just kind of a gut feeling,” said Gibbs, who added he’ll probably name Ramsey his new starter today after reviewing game tapes. “I went over and talked to Mark, and I think he understood. It’s kind of my decision, and I felt like I needed to make it at that point and give Patrick a shot.”

Brunell, whom Gibbs hand-picked last winter to lead his team, trudged off the field to a chorus of boos, having now completed an NFL-low 49.8 percent of his passes for the season.

“Obviously, it’s really frustrating,” said Brunell, who had never been benched for performance reasons in his 11-year career. “You never want to be the guy to let the other guys down, and I feel that way. It’s tough. I haven’t had to face this before.”

When Ramsey trotted onto the field and into the Redskins’ offensive huddle, the crowd greeted him with a standing ovation. The cheers subsided somewhat when the third-year quarterback’s first drive went three-and-out, and even more so when Ramsey threw the first of his two interceptions.

But the few who remained until the end did see Ramsey engineer a couple of late scoring drives, one resulting in a 33-yard field goal from Ola Kimrin, the other capped by H-back Chris Cooley’s nifty 9-yard touchdown reception. Cooley’s catch brought the Redskins to within a touchdown with 2:22 to play, but they failed to recover the ensuing onside kick. And by the time Ramsey got the ball back, he could do nothing but heave up a desperation pass that was intercepted to seal the loss.

“I think my performance was average,” said Ramsey, who has been getting at most 10 percent of the snaps in practice all year. “I think there are some plays that I missed, and things that I would have liked to have done. If I would have played perfectly, I think we could have won. But I didn’t.”

Considering the 17-0 deficit he inherited, Ramsey faced a massive uphill battle simply to get Washington back in contention. The Bengals (4-5) dominated the game’s opening 22 minutes, marching right through the Redskins’ top-ranked defense on a pair of lengthy touchdown drives.

Carson Palmer, Cincinnati’s own quarterback of the future, looked like a seasoned veteran at times, completing 24 of 39 passes for 217 yards. His lone touchdown of the day — a 1-yard toss to tight end Tony Stewart — was briefly called back when referee Gerry Austin flagged eligible tackle Levi Jones for not declaring himself. The touchdown stood, though, after it was revealed Jones declared himself to line judge Carl Johnson.

Palmer set up one more score — Shayne Graham’s 41-yard field goal — by connecting with receiver Chad Johnson for 34 yards on third-and-13. His team up 17-0, last year’s No.1 overall draft pick didn’t need to produce any more offense the rest of the game.

“I think the boy did well,” Redskins cornerback Fred Smoot said. “He took what we gave him. He didn’t try to be a hero. … We can’t spot them 17. That’s too big a hole.”

Attention now shifts to the future, with Ramsey expected to take the reins of Gibbs’ offense for the season’s final seven weeks. Though he was not told definitively whether he’ll be under center next week against the Eagles, Ramsey realizes the spotlight is now shining on him.

“I desire to play,” he said. “But at the same time I’m not going to sit here and say I should play, because that’s [Gibbs’] decision. He’s the coach. He’s the leader of this team, and he’ll make that call.”

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