- The Washington Times - Monday, November 15, 2004

During the offseason, Marvin Lewis faced the same million-dollar question Joe Gibbs did: Should he go with an established veteran at quarterback (in his case Jon Kitna), or should he hand the offense over to the Young Guy (Carson Palmer) and put up with his growing pains?

It’s a choice every NFL coach has to make, the choice between Today and Tomorrow, the Present and the Future. Lewis, in his second season with the Bengals, decided the club would be best served if he played Palmer, the top pick in the 2003 draft, and sat Kitna, one of the better passers in the AFC a year ago. It was time, Marvin figured, to begin laying the most important part of the foundation. Palmer had had a year to learn at Kitna’s elbow, which is more than many rookie QBs get; he needed to get on the field and start putting that education to use.

In Washington, Gibbs went in the other direction, chose Door No.2. He secured, at great expense, the services of Mark Brunell … and put Patrick Ramsey’s development on hold. The direction of the franchise was clear: Win now with the Vet and win later, hopefully, with the Kid.

This is known as trying to have it both ways.

The wisdom of Lewis’ decision — and the shortsightedness of Gibbs’ — was on display yesterday at FedEx Field. Brunell once again played wretchedly before being replaced — finally! — by Ramsey late in the first half. Palmer, meanwhile, continued to make steady progress, completing 18 of 21 passes during one stretch as Cincinnati scratched out a 17-10 victory.

So what, in the final analysis, do we have here? We have a team on the rise, the Bengals, preparing to make a late-season playoff push — with a second-year quarterback who’s rapidly growing into his position. And we have a team that doesn’t know which end is up, the Redskins, looking at another double-digit-loss season — with a third-year quarterback who isn’t any farther along, unfortunately, than Cincinnati’s second-year quarterback.

Whose future do you like better?

Sometimes when you try to have your cake and eat it, too, you end up choking on one of the candles. That’s kind of what’s happened to Gibbs. His handpicked quarterback is a Certified Disaster, and the QB-in-training is half a season behind where he should be. Had Coach Joe been willing to live with Ramsey’s ups and downs — as Lewis has been doing with Palmer — Patrick might have looked as comfortable and in control as Carson did yesterday. (Ramsey certainly couldn’t have played any worse the past eight games than Brunell has; it’s almost statistically impossible.)

Granted, Ramsey didn’t exactly light it up yesterday; he wasn’t able to get much going until the fourth quarter, and that was against a prevent defense. But such a performance was hardly surprising. He’s been a forgotten man, after all, since training camp; 90 percent of the practice reps have gone to Brunell. Gibbs — out of tunnel vision, blind loyalty, sheer stubbornness (choose one) — did little to prepare his young quarterback for the inevitable transition. Everything before the Cincinnati game was geared toward No.8, toward Today.

Well, Tomorrow has arrived.

Not very pretty, is it?

At least it has gotten here, though — at long last. To me, yesterday was the real beginning of Gibbs’ Second Term, not Sept.12, the date of the Redskins’ opener against the Bucs. Why? Because he’s playing the right quarterback now, the best quarterback. Whether Ramsey is the quarterback remains to be seen, but he’s definitely an improvement over the QB who’s been out there.

(Memo to Coach Joe: Fans might be capricious, but they’re not blind. When they chant “Ram-sey! Ram-sey!” it’s not just because they have an itch that needs to be scratched. It’s because they know in their hearts that This Year’s Quarterback isn’t nearly as good as Last Year’s Quarterback (Ramsey) — they’ve seen it with their own eyes. The only reason they didn’t complain sooner, I suspect, was out of respect for their Hall of Fame coach.)

“It’s easy to replace the quarterback,” Ray Brown said. True enough — just as it’s easier to fire the coach than to fire the team. “But more than anything,” Brown went on, “it’s going to take the people around the quarterback [raising their level of play]. We’ve got to protect the quarterback better, we’ve got to win on third down, we’ve got to have longer drives so we can keep [our] defense off the field.”

Having Ramsey in the lineup might give the “D” a lift, though. For the first time all season yesterday, Gregg Williams’ unit seemed dispirited, lacking its usual energy at the start of the game. The result was disastrous — a 17-0 halftime hole that proved too deep for the Redskins to climb out of.

If Ramsey can put some points on the board early, though — something Brunell rarely did — it might keep the defense revved up for four quarters. Without that, the club has little chance of winning.

“This is probably a good time to give Patrick a chance and see what he can do,” Gibbs conceded. Actually, lots of times this season would have been a good time to give Patrick a chance and see what he can do. But better late than never.

I think.

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