- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs is optimistic Mark Brunell will start Sunday against Philadelphia, although an MRI yesterday morning confirmed a sprained MCL in the quarterback’s right knee.

“We were obviously concerned after the game, but he has very little swelling, and our guys feel encouraged,” Gibbs said.

Brunell, 35, was injured early in the third quarter of Saturday’s win over the New York Giants when he was sacked by linebacker Nick Greisen. Brunell was limping noticeably after the game, but his gait was significantly better yesterday at Redskin Park.

“Heading in the right direction,” he said. “Every day, it’ll get a little bit better, but I’m certainly not going to make any predictions. It’s too soon. The MRI [showed] what we thought, and it’s a day-to-day thing. It feels better than it did on Saturday.”

The Redskins (9-6), who can clinch their first playoff berth in six years with a win over the Eagles, return to practice tomorrow. Brunell isn’t expected to practice until later in the week.

Director of sports medicine Bubba Tyer said the MRI showed “some superficial fibers of the MCL were stretched, but all of the other ligaments and meniscus look good. … We have a lot to be enthused about. I think he has a good chance of being ready for the game.”

Brunell had his right knee reconstructed in 1991 while playing at the University of Washington. He tore one ligament and sprained two others in 1997, when he was with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Redskins are sixth in the NFC playoff race. If they can’t defeat Philadelphia, they need Dallas to lose to St. Louis to clinch a wild-card berth. A Giants loss at Oakland on Saturday combined with a Redskins win would give them the NFC East title and a first-round home game.

Brunell has started 14 consecutive games this season and has thrown 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Since he became an NFL starter in 1995, Brunell has sustained six injuries that have caused him to miss games.

During a preseason game against the Giants in 1997, Brunell was hit by linebacker Jessie Armstead and sustained three damaged ligaments. Though he was expected to be out for as long as the entire season and a minimum of eight weeks, Brunell missed only two regular-season games.

Brunell missed three games in 1995 (strained hamstring) and 1997 (high ankle sprain) and one game in 1999 (knee) and 2001 (quadriceps). He started the first three games in 2003 before suffering an elbow injury. Brunell did not play the rest of the season after losing his job to then-rookie Byron Leftwich.

Brunell said he knew something was wrong when he was sacked by Greisen.

“It hurt [right away], and I’ve done it before, so I was familiar with getting hit like that,” he said.

Redskins defensive end Renaldo Wynn said he sprained his MCL a couple years ago and did not miss a game. But the injury did affect his play.

“It depends on what level the sprain is, but it’s tough,” Wynn said. “I’m sure he’ll be working hard in the training room all week to get out there on Sunday. … I was able to play [right away], but it was tough because you no doubt feel the difference on every play.

“Mark’s a guy that has been around for a long time and is pretty heady, so I don’t think it will be that big of a distraction.”

Brunell has been rested from practice at times throughout the season because of calf, groin and hand injuries. Gibbs isn’t concerned Brunell’s preparation for the Eagles will be compromised if he can’t practice.

“He’s good because he’s smart, has been around a bunch and understands the game plan,” Gibbs said. “He can walk through the game plan, and that allows him to call the audibles and do the things he needs to do. If I had to guess, he’ll take some time off early in the week, and hopefully we’ll be able to work him in later in the week.”

If Brunell’s recovery gets sidetracked, Patrick Ramsey will make his first start since Week 1 against Chicago. Ramsey was 5-for-7 for 104 yards, including a 72-yard touchdown to Santana Moss, against the Giants.

“He was extremely confident [in the huddle],” right tackle Jon Jansen said of Ramsey. “He came in, and he was excited to be in there, and you could see that. After the first four plays didn’t go well, he said, ‘Let’s calm down. I need to calm myself down and just play.’ From that point on, it was like having Mark in the huddle.”

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