- The Washington Times - Monday, November 15, 2004

The end came for Mark Brunell with a typically ugly pass, a ball thrown off his back foot and behind receiver Rod Gardner.

The boos cascaded down on the Washington Redskins’ starting quarterback, who exited the game at FedEx Field with 6 yards passing, one completion, one interception and a 0.0 rating in yesterday’s 17-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

“Obviously, it’s really frustrating,” said the 34-year-old Brunell, a three-time Pro Bowl participant. “You never want to be the guy to let the other guys down. It’s tough. It’s tough. I haven’t had to face this before.”

Indeed, Brunell posted a 67-55 record and led the Jacksonville Jaguars to two AFC Championship games as their starter from October 1995 until he was hurt in the third game of last season.

With backup Patrick Ramsey on hand and such veterans as Jeff Garcia, Kurt Warner, Brian Griese and Trent Dilfer also available, Redskins coach Joe Gibbs opted to give Brunell a seven-year, $43million contract — including an $8.3million signing bonus — in March.

But the marriage of Brunell and Gibbs’ offensive scheme never was harmonious.

Brunell passed for just 125 yards in the opening victory over Tampa Bay and gave way to Ramsey after he strained a hamstring the following week in a loss at the New York Giants.

Brunell returned to put up excellent numbers against Dallas, but he did most of his damage when the outcome wasn’t in doubt and the Cowboys were playing a looser defense.

After 192 yards in another loss at Cleveland, Brunell failed to reach 100 in three of his next four games. Gibbs shackled him in the second half of last week’s victory at Detroit, calling just two pass plays.

Although Brunell came into yesterday game as the NFC’s second-lowest rated passer, ahead of only San Francisco near-rookie Ken Dorsey, Gibbs remained supportive, continually saying the Redskins’ failure to score even 20 points in a game was far from just the fault of his quarterback.

That loyalty was characteristic of Gibbs, who stuck with Joe Theismann until the struggling veteran’s career ended with a broken leg in 1985.

Gibbs had benched his quarterback just three times (Jay Schroeder for Doug Williams twice in 1987 and Jeff Rutledge for Stan Humphries in 1990) in his previous 12 seasons.

“I’m reluctant to make a change there, but at this point I felt like it was the smart thing for us to do,” Gibbs said. “I know that Mark is disappointed that he didn’t play better than he has.”

Although Gibbs strongly indicated that Ramsey will start Sunday in Philadelphia against the NFC East-leading Eagles — “We know a lot about Mark now. … It’s probably good [to give] Patrick a chance to see what he can do,” Gibbs said — Brunell refused to concede that he had lost his job.

“I don’t know what to expect,” Brunell said. “I really hope to [start in Philadelphia]. I want to be in there. I’m not interested in taking a step back. So we’ll see how the thing goes.”

If Brunell is on the bench for good, he’ll be haunted by his second-to-last pass. He had Laveranues Coles open on a slant on fourth-and-3 at the Cincinnati 36 and threw behind his receiver.

The Redskins’ 7-0 deficit was doubled before they got the ball back.

“I’d love to have that fourth down back,” Brunell said. “That hurt me. We had a slant route and we had the coverage that we wanted. We needed to convert that.”

That is something Brunell could have said made many times this season.

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