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Joe Gibbs' announcement that Patrick Ramsey would be benched and that Mark Brunell would start at quarterback has created quite a stir among Redskins fans, a development about as predictable as the sun rising. Around the message boards, the water coolers, in barroom debates and in the talk shows and the like, there have been two distinct camps that are bickering with each other and are easily identified. They each have a motto:
In Gibbs We Trust: Whatever Joe Gibbs does is OK with this bunch. Argue with Gibbs and he can punch you in the mouth with his three Super Bowl rings. If he thinks that Mark Brunell is best for the team and gives it be best chance of winning that's good enough for them. Of course as late a week ago, many of these same people were wondering if Gibbs had lost his mind because he hadn't yanked Ramsey based on his preseason performance.
Gibbs II is a Bust: This crowd says, "Thanks for the memories, Joe, but you've lost it." According to them, you have to give the guy that you said was your starter for eight months during the offseason more than 20 minutes of playing time before you yank him. Ramsey is the up and comer, Brunell is the has-been and if Gibbs can't see that, well, maybe it's time to promote Gregg Williams into Gibbs' job and put Joe out to pasture.
Here, the position is to keep one foot firmly planted in each camp. Call it Gibbs, Wait and See We Must. This may disappoint some of you who come here looking for a firm stand to tell you what to think about it. Sorry, that's not going to happen. While I don't like the move, I have to give Gibbs the benefit of the doubt.
I didn't like the move because, while Ramsey was struggling some with interceptions and fumbles, he was also making enough plays on the positive side to warrant giving him a chance to work through his problems. And even though many, present company included, think that Mark Brunell has been throwing and playing much better than he did last year you can't overlook the fact that he could be vastly improved from 2004 and just move from being a horrible QB to one who is sub-mediocre. On top of that, it seemed to me that the Redskins have a defense that could minimize the damage from a higher than average number of turnovers.
On the proverbial other hand, you have to think that Gibbs had had enough of Ramsey. While I remarked here yesterday that Ramsey got only 18:52 to prove himself; in fact he has had much longer than that. He had the last seven games of 2004 plus this year's OTA's, minicamp, training camp, and the preseason games to prove himself. In Gibbs' eyes, he hasn't done that. This was not a snap judgment by Gibbs but one based on his observations of Ramsey ever since his return as coach of the Redskins.
This is speculation—everyone else is trying to get inside Gibbs' head, why not me—but I have to think that Gibbs' patience with Ramsey grew thin over the past eight months because, although Gibbs and Bill Musgrave and a number of other coaches have been telling Ramsey the same things over and over again and they just aren't sinking in. Implicit in the "you're the starting QB" deal is that you listen to what the coaches say and adjust what you do accordingly.
It's one thing for a fourth-year quarterback to make mistakes. It's another him to repeat the same mistakes. The end zone interception Ramsey threw against Cincinnati in the preseason wasn't just eerily reminiscent of the game-killing pick that Ramsey threw against the Eagles last year; it was its twin brother down to it being at the same spot on the FedEx Field turf. In 2005 he has twice looked up to find a linebacker who had come through on a blitz in his face. Against the Steelers he threw an interception for a touchdown. Certainly, one would think, the coaches repeatedly went over with Ramsey what he needs to do in that situation and practiced it over and over. But the next time it happened, in the second quarter last Sunday, the result was another turnover (albeit on what appeared to be a dirty hit).
Gibbs probably looked at Ramsey and his gut told him that it wasn't going to get any better that the turnovers would continue at the rate of one or two a quarter because Ramsey was either unwilling or unable to learn from his mistakes and adjust. He may be right in that assessment and he may be wrong.
One other thing—please don't talk to me about Ramsey's psyche or say that Gibbs lied to him. He has not demanded a trade according to Jon Jansen and numerous other sources. Sure, it hurts to be demoted, but he's a big boy and he'll get over it. His best bet it to keep his mouth shut, play when the opportunity comes along (few NFL quarterbacks make it through 16 games unscathed) and audition for a shot at a starting job here or elsewhere.
All that being said, I still don't like the move. The Redskins offense would be more effective and versatile with Ramsey at the helm and, again, the defense is good enough to minimize the effect of mistakes. With Brunell, we're reduced to "Portis left, Betts right, Pass, Punt, Fight, Fight, Fight!" and waiting for the other team to lose the game.
It's a strategy that has landed a playoff spot for many teams. We'll see if it works for this one.