- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2006

HOUSTON — Mark Brunell looked every bit his 36 years of age against the Cowboys last Sunday in Dallas. When he wasn’t throwing away balls, the Redskins quarterback was missing receivers or getting pounded by pass rushers.

Brunell dragged himself across the hallway at Texas Stadium after that one-sided loss and admitted that he and his team, supposedly Super Bowl contenders, stunk as badly as the Fort Worth stockyards 30 miles away.

Things got no better for Brunell on Wednesday.

Surrounded by the usual midweek mob of reporters at Redskin Park, Brunell was grilled mercilessly about the pressure he was under and whether he was still up to a job that is one of the most scrutinized in the nation’s capital.

A repeat performance in Houston yesterday, and the calls for his scalp undoubtedly would have reached Texas-sized proportions. But Brunell changed all that with a flick of his left wrist in the first quarter.

The Redskins trailed the Texans 7-0 five minutes into the game and faced third-and-6 at their own 13. Brunell had yet to attempt a throw.

Brunell flipped a shovel pass to franchise running back Clinton Portis, who missed the debacle in Dallas because of an injured shoulder but returned yesterday. Portis raced 74 yards, and two plays later the Redskins tied the score.

Brunell then connected on pass after pass after — admittedly short — pass. By the time he finally misfired in the final seconds of the third quarter, the Redskins held a 28-7 lead, and Brunell owned a bit of NFL history.

Brunell completed 22 consecutive passes — the most ever in a single game — during the first three quarters for 253 yards and a touchdown to receiver Antwaan Randle El. Brunell’s passer ratings for those quarters were 118.8, 137.1 and 95.4.

Portis joked that he wanted to leave the game when Brunell’s streak reached 18-for-18 because he didn’t want to drop a ball and break the run.

Running back Rock Cartwright said the players on the sideline treated the streak like a no-hitter in baseball, not mentioning it.

Not that Brunell really cared.

Maybe it was knowing that coach Joe Gibbs is totally committed to him. Maybe it was knowing that backups Todd Collins and Jason Campbell aren’t serious threats to his job, at least not unless the Redskins are out of contention and playing out the string.

Or maybe 14 years in the NFL have taught Brunell there’s no point in saying “I told you so” to the guys with the pens and microphones. He resisted the temptation to fire back after his big day.

“It was a tough week last week for a lot of us,” Brunell said. “When you go through two difficult weeks and you’re able to bounce back the way we did, it says a lot about the guys we have on our team.”

Gibbs was far more effusive about his quarterback.

“Mark threw everything pinpoint and made some very good plays,” Gibbs said. “He’s really a competitor. I felt like this last week he took everything to heart. He didn’t feel like he played well against Dallas. You could tell he set his jaw and wanted to play well.”

Most of Brunell’s passes, of course, didn’t travel farther than the length of the chains. And Brunell, clearly, no longer has the arm strength of a Brett Favre or a Carson Palmer. So he simply did what he was asked to do and spread the ball around masterfully. Brunell distributed his 14 first-half passes among eight receivers, and only tight end Chris Cooley got even three balls thrown his way.

Even heretofore unseen receiver David Patten got in the act, making a leaping catch for a 25-yard gain on the only pass of the day from Brunell that could be considered a downfield attempt.

“Part of the learning process in this offense is making sure you’re putting the quarterback in situations where he can have a productive game,” said associate head coach Al Saunders, whose new offense has undergone a difficult installation process. “We tried to do things that Mark was more comfortable with and made some adjustments to our protections to protect him more. And it worked out well.”

The Redskins next face Brunell’s former team, the formidable Jaguars. A difficult road test against the Giants follows, and a still tougher road game against the powerhouse Colts looms two weeks later.

Brunell found his arm and his team its footing at just the right time.

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