You can reach Rich Tandler by email at WarpathInsiders@comcast.net
I have to park a long ways away since all of the spaces nearby are taken. I come inside and nobody says hello because they are all involved in intense conversations. There are empty Newcastle bottles all around but all the beer that is left is domestic light. The Grey Goose bottle is drained, too. There was once a nice spread but the crab bites are long gone; only a few cold pigs in a blanket, celery sticks and ranch dip and some broken chips are left.
Yep. Once again, I’m the last one at the party.
It’s time to sit Mark Brunell.
The body of evidence that Brunell can’t lead this offense effectively has been growing and has been explored in great depth elsewhere. Suffice it to say that the straws have been piling up on the camel’s back all year long. The last straws that broke the back came in the second half on Sunday.
The Colts had scored rather easily on their first possession of the third quarter, taking just 2:01 to drive to take a 20-14 lead. It was apparent that Indy was about to get on a roll and that the Redskins were going to have to respond if they were going to save their season. After Ladell Betts got one first down on the drive to save the season with a nice 19-yard run, the Redskins faced third and eight at their own 48. Brunell dropped back and fired the ball out to Betts in the left flat. Colts immediately surrounded him and he was tackled after a gain of three yards.
Washington punted and it took the Colts 2:02 to score another touchdown to make the score 27-14. If the previous drive was critical for the Redskins the next one, with the Colts offense on fire, was desperate. With a touchdown, it remains a competitive ballgame. After two plays the drive to maintain hope of saving the season the Redskins again faced a third down, this time with seven yards to go. Instead of going back to the same throw, Brunell really crossed the defense up this time. He threw to Betts in the right flat. The trickeration had no effect, however, as the Colts must have scout this left flat-right flat tendency and they made the tackle just inches short of the first down. Well, it was 180 inches--or five yards--short of the first to be precise.
After the punt, the Colts ground out a time-consuming drive taking every bit of 3:11 to take a 33-14 lead with 2:36 left in the third quarter. The lights were flickering, but the Redskins still could pull off a miracle if they could get a quick six points.
The Redskins converted a third and one with a Betts run and then they faced third and eight at the Colts 49. Brunell really tried to cross them up here, going to Mike Sellers in the right flat for four yards. Three third and long situations, three passes to the flat well short of the first down.
Santana Moss temporarily bailed the Redskins out with a one-handed grab on fourth down, but all that did was give Brunell yet another opportunity to fail to convert yet another third down, this time on a short toss to Clinton Portis. The season was over even before Nick Novak missed a 35-yard field goal attempt.
It’s not always a bad idea to dump the ball off short of the sticks in a third-down situation. Sometimes you can catch the defense back on its heels, the receiver can break a tackle and make the necessary yardage. That only works, however, if there is some threat of throwing deeper downfield like, say, eight or ten or even 15 yards. But there is no such threat with Mark Brunell. One dumpoff is OK to mix things up, sometime there could be a reason to do it twice. But three or more is a trend that opposing defenses can bank on.
And it’s not the offensive play calling. None of the plays was a maximum protection deal where all of the receivers besides the one who caught the ball were back blocking. There were other options, other receivers in patterns. Brunell had time to throw on all four plays. I don’t have to see the game film to know that at some point some other receiver who was positioned past the sticks had a reasonable chance of making the catch.
At this point, it doesn’t matter if Brunell can’t make the deep throws or if he won’t make them. The result is the same; an offense that halfway through the season has no identity and is, for the most part, utterly ineffective.
If you don’t want to bench Brunell based on four plays, the big picture is an indictment as well. One of the reasons you want a veteran at quarterback is to provide leadership and a steady hand for the tough road games. In the Redskins’ three tough road games this year, the ones in Dallas, the Meadowlands, and Indianapolis they have scored exactly one offensive touchdown when the outcome of the game was in any kind of doubt. That is unacceptable.
Would putting in Jason Campbell mean that the Redskins are giving up on the season? Possibly, but not certainly. In 1985, Joe Theismann was a struggling veteran quarterback just like Brunell is now. He was completing 55% of his passes for an anemic 5.6 yards per attempt with 16 interceptions and just eight touchdowns. Through 10 games the Redskins were 5-5. Joe Gibbs, however, steadfastly refused to bench Theismann in favor of the untested backed, Jay Schroeder.
We all know what happened in the second quarter of the 11th game, with Lawrence Taylor breaking Theismann’s leg and Schroeder coming in. His first pass was a bomb to Art Monk and the Redskins went on to beat the Giants. Overall they won five of their last six games to finish at 10-6, although they lost out on a playoff spot due to tiebreakers.
Gibbs had his reasons for sticking with the struggling veteran then and he has them now. One can only speculate as to what they are. That’s because there are very few if any apparent to even those who observe the team very closely from week to week throughout he year.
One wonders if it will take an injury like the one that Theismann suffered to force Gibbs to pull the plug on Brunell. Nobody wishes such a fate on Brunell, certainly, but it’s looking more and more like that’s what it will take.
Rich Tandler is the author of The Redskins From A to Z, Volume 1: The Games. This unique book has an account of every game the Redskins played from when they moved to Washington for the 1937 season through 2001. For details and ordering information go to http://www.RedskinsGames.com