- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 5, 2005

The 2004 season was virtually over for the Washington Redskins when former starter Patrick Ramsey finally supplanted inept veteran Mark Brunell in the second quarter of Week9 with the 3-5 team trailing the Cincinnati Bengals 21-0. Near-certain losses to powerful Philadelphia and Pittsburgh lay ahead in three of the next four weeks.

What was really at stake was the Redskins’ future. The stellar defense was virtually set. So were the high-priced offensive tackles and running back. But if Ramsey couldn’t effectively run Joe Gibbs’ offense, the coach would have to find another quarterback for 2005, an expensive proposition considering Brunell’s $43million contract and the first-round draft choice and three years invested in Ramsey.

The third-year man from Tulane didn’t rally the Redskins to a miraculous playoff berth, but he showed enough in his seven games as the starter to give the Redskins hope that he’s the right quarterback to finally lift them from their seemingly perennial also-ran status.

“Patrick did make strides,” Gibbs said. “He did a real good job of studying and learning when he was watching Mark play. Over the time that Patrick played there was improvement. He started to make more plays as we went along. He engineered long drives.”

Ramsey, who had a 69.9 career passer rating after the Bengals’ game, posted a solid 82.6 rating the rest of the way. A career 52 percent passer before regaining the job, Ramsey raised that figure to 65 percent down the stretch. And Ramsey, who was 6-10 under former coach Steve Spurrier, went 3-4 in those last seven games with a victory over wild-card entrant Minnesota and the losses coming against the Steelers and Eagles (twice) and in the final minute in Dallas.

“I feel like I’ve played progressively better,” Ramsey said. “But there’s so much room for improvement. That’s what I’m excited about. As far as the evaluation of my play, that’s up to the coaches. But as far as the offense and my comfort level it’s not even comparable to what it was against Cincinnati.”

Ramsey has always had a strong arm, unquestioned toughness and a solid work ethic. After 23 NFL starts, he hasn’t cured his penchants for locking onto receivers and for foolish interceptions, but his teammates believe they can win with the 25-year-old Louisianan.

“Patrick really played well this year,” left tackle Chris Samuels said. “We protected him better, and that enabled him to have a lot more poise in the pocket. In [Spurrier’s less-risk-adverse system] he was kind of antsy because he had a guy in his face all the time.”

Running back Clinton Portis said Ramsey “provided a spark” for an offense that averaged just 12.6 points with Brunell despite facing just one playoff team.

Of course, the Ramsey-led offense was far from a world-beater, averaging just 15.6 points, albeit with those four games against postseason qualifiers. Ramsey, a one-time gunslinger, was almost straight-jacketed by Gibbs’ conservative approach, his own mistakes, an uneven running game and pass protection and the lack of a receiver who could get downfield. Ramsey had just six completions for 30 yards or more compared to 14 such plays in 2003.

Gibbs said he and his assistants will look “long and hard” at how to return the offense to its level in the halcyon days of his glory-filled 1981-1992 Redskins tenure, when a bruising running game eventually opened holes for quarterbacks Joe Theismann, Jay Schroeder, Doug Williams and Mark Rypien to go deep.

Having right tackle Jon Jansen back from injury should enhance the blocking. Portis should be better adjusted to the scheme. The Redskins must find at least one deep threat. And Gibbs and Ramsey, strangers a year ago, must continue to establish the trust that made Theismann and Rypien, in particular, totally attuned to the coach’s thinking.

With Ramsey no longer having to guess at deciphering the complicated offense and with him not aching inside and out as he was last winter while recuperating from foot surgery and correctly fearing that his job had been given to the newly acquired Brunell, the potential is there for a quantum leap in 2005.

“What you’d like to see is that Patrick starts out next year at [this] point and takes off again,” Gibbs said. “He needs to keep improving. He needs to keep stepping up. He needs to learn from mistakes. It’s a learning process. It’s nothing easy. It’s nothing fast.”

True except that Gibbs, who didn’t make the playoffs in his first seasons with Theismann, Schroeder or Rypien at quarterback but won a Super Bowl and lost in the NFC Championship game and the second round in their respective second seasons.

“I’m not hobbling out of here like I was last year,” Ramsey said. “I have an opportunity to better myself and not focus on my rehab as much as on my ability and improving as a quarterback. I’m excited about that.”

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