- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 21, 2004

This could be the beginning of the end for the Washington Redskins.

Already possessing virtually non-existent playoff hopes, the Redskins (3-6) now begin a four-game stretch that should effectively finish their season — and perhaps bring coach Joe Gibbs his first-ever double-digit loss total.

Sandwiched between a pair of games against the Philadelphia Eagles (8-1), including today’s at Lincoln Financial Field, are a trip to Pittsburgh (8-1) and a home contest against the New York Giants (5-4).

Today Gibbs is a double-digit underdog for the first time in his 13-year career, and young quarterback Patrick Ramsey is making his first start of the season. The grim worst-case scenario, of which Gibbs warned at his introductory news conference in January, seems to be coming to fruition.

“It’s part of life,” Gibbs said glumly. “I said that when I came here. I could get a lot of adversity. Can we get out of it? We’ll see. But that’s life. The other choice is to stand on the sidelines. Don’t get in the game.”

Despite some admirable resiliency and rare (for this organization) professionalism, Washington watched its playoff hopes pretty much die in last weekend’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Gibbs finally yanked veteran quarterback Mark Brunell after a 1-for-8 performance that completed Brunell’s free-fall to the bottom of the NFL’s passer rankings.

The Redskins would like to think they’re playing for more than pride today, but players acknowledged the team’s role rapidly is becoming that of spoiler. Washington is trying to rally with a nothing-to-lose mentality against the Eagles, the NFC’s best team.

“We’re going up there with nothing to play for, basically,” linebacker Antonio Pierce said. “Everybody’s doubting us. Nobody thinks we can win, that we’re going to get blown out. We ain’t got nothing to prove to nobody. They’ve got more to prove than we do right now.”

Washington’s primary hopes lie in its new starting quarterback. Brunell threw for fewer than 100 yards in three of his last four full games before finally getting the hook. Ramsey’s strong arm creates the chance of downfield completions and — dare to dream — the Redskins’ first 20-point game of the season.

Although Ramsey hasn’t looked at ease in Gibbs’ offense since practices began in the spring, the young passer spoke with surprising optimism.

“The truth is, and I don’t want to be too confident, but I’ve felt more comfortable [in practice this week] than I’ve ever felt in this offense,” Ramsey said. “There are things I can improve on. I feel that always. But I feel pretty good about this week’s practice.”

This week was, Ramsey noted, the first time he has gotten a chance to take the majority of practice snaps, run Gibbs’ offense with a full game plan, and go against a defense impersonating that of the upcoming opponent. Until now, Ramsey was either sharing snaps during the offseason or taking just 10 percent of the plays while Brunell prepared.

If Ramsey plays to the potential he has flashed at points in his three-year NFL career, the results could be dramatic. Deep completions not only would set up touchdowns and boost the confidence of a struggling receiving corps, they could force Philadelphia’s defense to back off and give running back Clinton Portis more room.

That, of course, is the best-case scenario. A more realistic forecast has Ramsey (five interceptions and seven sacks in about four quarters of play this year) taking a beating from the Eagles’ blitz-happy defense and powerless to stop a thorough drubbing.

Perhaps with that in mind, Ramsey conceded he enters the game with modest goals.

“Just go out there and just be efficient,” Ramsey said. “That’s really the key for us — for me to go out there, manage the game as far as get all the right audibles and checks and things like that. I’ll try to complete balls and just let guys work with it once they get it.”

In years past, such a performance would have created a legitimate chance to beat Philadelphia. But the offseason addition of wide receiver Terrell Owens has transformed a once-erratic offense. Already Owens has caught 12 passes for touchdowns, while quarterback Donovan McNabb ranks in the upper half of the NFC in completion percentage (63.3), traditionally his Achilles’ heel.

Gibbs pointed to Philadelphia’s 49-21 demolition of the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night as proof of the challenge that awaits Washington.

“Nobody else [in the NFC] has been able to stop them,” Gibbs said. “They’re up and down the field. They’re playing with real confidence. You’ve got a quarterback who can make things happen, even when you’ve got things covered. They’re very explosive on offense. We’ve got great respect for Dallas, and everybody saw Monday night. It’s a huge undertaking for us.”

Not to mention, perhaps the start of Washington playing out the string of another difficult season.

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