- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2006

HOUSTON — Mark Brunell certainly knows how to answer his critics.

The quarterback of the Washington Redskins took much of the blame for poor performances that left his team winless after its first two games of the season.

Yesterday, Brunell responded with a nearly flawless, record-setting outing that helped the Redskins to an easy 31-15 victory over the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium.

Brunell set a National Football League record for consecutive passes completed in a single game by connecting on his first 22 attempts against the Texans. By the time Brunell finally misfired, the final seconds of the third quarter were ticking away and the Redskins held an insurmountable 28-7 lead.

Brunell finished 24-for-27 for 261 yards and a touchdown, good for a stellar 119.3 quarterback rating.

Brunell deflected the post-game praise, crediting his teammates for his accuracy. He did, however, admit that he had been through a rough patch.

“It was a tough week, a lot of things being said,” Brunell said. “You do your best to block those out knowing that they’re not true, and you go forward and you keep working hard. With the guys that we have on this team, it makes things easier.”

The victory definitely makes things easier for the Redskins (1-2), who entered this season with high expectations and yesterday’s game desperately needing a win.

The Redskins got the win — it was their first, including preseason games, since the first round of the playoffs last season — and now embark on a difficult stretch in which they play three of their next four games against teams that qualified for the postseason last year.

Brunell, who turned 36 last week, entered yesterday’s game ranked 14th among the 16 starting quarterbacks in the National Football Conference.

He failed to throw a touchdown pass in an anemic upset loss to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 1 and performed dismally in a loss to the Dallas Cowboys last week.

Skeptics wondered whether Brunell was too old to compete effectively any longer and whether he should be benched in favor of backups Todd Collins, who hasn’t started a game since 1997, or Jason Campbell, who never has played a down in the NFL.

“You’re not always going to have your best day every game,” Pro Bowl receiver Santana Moss said. “Mark’s been winning for years. So when people have doubts, it kind of makes you scratch your head. …

“Whatever you say about him — he can’t do it, he’s too old — he’s going to line up next week and still show you that he’s capable.”

Brunell certainly looked capable yesterday, helped by a few favorable conditions: Star running back Clinton Portis, who did not play in the loss to the Cowboys last week because of injury, returned to the lineup and scored two touchdowns. And, the Texans defense that Brunell faced ranks last in the league.

Still, the Redskins failed to pick up a first down on their first possession and then allowed the Texans a 66-yard touchdown drive. But the Redskins on their next possession were energized by a 74-yard shovel pass from Brunell to Portis that led to a touchdown, and they never looked back.

Brunell picked apart the Texans with short passes, and by halftime, he had 14 completions in as many attempts and the Redskins had a 21-7 lead that they never would surrender.

One quarter later, Brunell broke the record for consecutive completions in a game of 21 set by Rich Gannon of the Oakland Raiders in 2002.

The record for consecutive completions over more than one game was set in 2004, when Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb connected on 24 straight passes over back-to-back games against the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers.

But for the Redskins, the performance of Brunell and his teammates was enough to bring smiles to the locker room for the first time in eight months.

“It’s a big relief,” coach Joe Gibbs said. “We went through a long streak here of not having anything to cheer about. It’s so depressing for everybody. It’s like going to work every day when you’re going broke. Nobody wants to do that.”



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