- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 28, 2004

It’s going to take a lot longer than we thought, this Redskins Renaissance. Surely, Joe Gibbs knows this by now, knows it after three weeks of offensive wheel spinning and two straight losses to teams in his own division.

Last night it was the Cowboys who welcomed Gibbs back to the NFL, trimming his salary cap-busting club, 21-18. But it really wasn’t what Dallas did to the Redskins; it was more what the Redskins did to themselves. Four straight series in the first and second quarters were sabotaged by the following:

Series No. 1: Two helium-filled deep balls by Brunell, neither of which came close to its intended target.

Series No. 2: Two dropped passes by Laveranues Coles.

Series No. 3: Two penalties by the offensive line.

Series No. 4: Two sackings of Brunell.

Yup, the bad things kept happening in twos — two as in (Tom) Tupa, Washington’s punter, who got almost as many touches in the first half as Clinton Portis. No one expected the Redskins to score 541 points this year, the way they did in the glory days of ‘83, but folks probably did expect them to score more than 16, 14, 18 points a game.

What really must be driving Gibbs crazy, though, is that his team has been beaten in the last two games by quarterbacks he could have signed in the offseason — the Giants’ Kurt Warner and the Cowboys’ Vinny Testaverde. Worse, both of them outplayed his own hand-picked QB, Brunell (and displayed better arm strength to boot).

And Sunday in Cleveland, Coach Joe will get an up-close look at yet another quarterback who was available over the winter, Jeff Garcia. Will Garcia show up Brunell, too?

The season is still young, sure, but the Redskins’ QB clearly isn’t. And it’s beginning to look like Gibbs hitched his Hall of Fame star to the wrong wagon by bringing in the former Jaguars Pro Bowler. Has No.8 made a single throw thus far that has brought anybody out of his seat? Last night he missed nine of his first 11 passes, and even if you give him credit for the drops it wasn’t a particularly hopeful start. Three times he tried to go deep, and three times he misfired badly. You’re not going to put fear in the heart of a defense that way.

Brunell’s percentage went up when Gibbs switched to more of a dink-and-dunk approach, working his tight end (Chris Cooley, Robert Royal) and third receiver (James Thrash) into the mix. A 91-yard drive ended with a field goal, and a similar-looking 62-yard march near the end of the third quarter resulted in a touchdown. But an offense doesn’t do stuff like that out of strength; it does it out of weakness. And right now, the Redskins can’t do the things their coach wants them to do, can’t pound the ball with Portis and can’t get it downfield to Coles and Rod Gardner.

Which brings us back to Mr. Brunell. It’s not all his fault, assuredly. There have been pass protection breakdowns and debilitating penalties and turnovers that had nothing to do with him. But he’s not creating many problems for the Other Team, either. Much of the time, in fact, he has played like Just Another Guy.

The Giants game presented Gibbs with a perfect opportunity to change drivers, to turn the wheel over to Patrick Ramsey. Yes, Ramsey threw some ill-advised passes in the loss to the Giants, three of which were picked off, but that can be chalked up to youth and an urgent desire to impress his legendary boss. When he wasn’t offering up interceptions, though, he was connecting with Rod Gardner for a 51-yard gain, the Redskins’ longest completion of the season. Ramsey, in my mind, is Josh Beckett to Brunell’s Jamie Moyer, and when he’s on the field the offense at least bears a passing resemblance to a Joe Gibbs attack — rather than last night’s Dunkin’ Donuts commercial.

But Gibbs stuck with Brunell and his tender hamstring — as we knew he would, because Coach Joe didn’t get to Canton by not standing behind his quarterbacks. He stuck with Joe Theismann until he was carted off on a stretcher, he stuck with Jay Schroeder until the bitter end, he exercised considerable patience with Mark Rypien … and he wasn’t about to bail out on Brunell after two ineffectual performances.

Soon enough, however, Gibbs will have a decision to make, and it could go a long way toward determining how his Second Act will play out. So far, he has wanted to have his cake and eat it, too, has wanted to win now with Brunell and win later, after further seasoning, with Ramsey. But if the club isn’t winning, and Brunell isn’t doing much to reverse that trend, at what point does Gibbs start looking to the future?

Brunell did just enough in the second half last night to keep his job for another week. A third consecutive defeat on Sunday, though, might cause Gibbs to reconsider. At 1-3, what would he have to lose?

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