Redskins 411: Brunell Should Start

Redskins 411 12.28.05--The Redskins should have Mark Brunell behind center as they try to clinch a playoff spot on Sunday.

 
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The Redskins expect Mark Brunell to start Sunday's "playoffs or bust" finale at Philadelphia.

The 35-year-old quarterback sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee in Saturday's 35-20 victory over the New York Giants. He was hurt while being sacked by Nick Greisen in the third quarter with the Redskins clinging to a 21-17 lead. Backup Patrick Ramsey replaced Brunell and played well.

Brunell was limping noticeably after the game, but he was already walking significantly better on Monday.

"Heading in the right direction," Brunell said. "Every day it'll get a little bit better, but I'm certainly not going to make any predictions. It's too soon. The MRI (showed) what we thought, and it's a day-to-day thing. It feels better than it did on Saturday."

The Redskins (9-6), who can clinch their first playoff berth in six years with a victory over the Eagles (6-9), return to practice Wednesday, but Brunell isn't expected to be on the field.

Redskins director of sports medicine Bubba Tyer said Brunell's MRI showed "some superficial fibers of the MCL were stretched, but all of the other ligaments and meniscus look good. ... We have a lot to be enthused about. I think he has a good chance of being ready for the game."

Brunell had his right knee reconstructed in 1991 while playing at the University of Washington, and he tore one ligament and sprained two others in 1997 when he was with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"We were obviously concerned after the game, but he has very little swelling, and our guys feel encouraged," coach Joe Gibbs said.

Brunell has started 14 consecutive games this season for the Redskins and has thrown 22 touchdown passes and nine interceptions.

Because of his past history with knee injuries, Brunell said he knew something was wrong when he was sacked by Greisen.

"It hurt (right away), and I've done it before so I was familiar with getting hit like that," he said.

Brunell has been held out of practice throughout the season because of calf, groin and hand injuries, so Gibbs isn't concerned Brunell's preparation for the Eagles will be compromised if he can't practice.

"Mark's good because he's smart, has been around a bunch and understands the game plan," Gibbs said. "He can walk through the game plan, and that allows him to call the audibles and do the things he needs to do. If I had to guess, he'll take some time off early in the week, and hopefully we'll be able to work him in later in the week."

Quotes and Notes

--Santana Moss is a difference-maker, something the Redskins hadn't had at wide receiver in more than a decade. The long touchdown catches against the Giants weren't as spectacular as the bombs that stunned Dallas and jump-started the season in Week 2, but they were awesome athletic plays. Moss's nine TD catches are more than the entire team had last year, and his 1,400 yards are just 36 shy of Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell's team record.

"There isn't anybody who has better long-ball reactions than Santana," coach Joe Gibbs said. "It's just phenomenal. He turned around (on the 59-yard touchdown) and snatched that thing from I don't know where."

--Running back Clinton Portis isn't quite the linchpin that such great Redskins as Larry Brown, John Riggins and Stephen Davis were during their heydays, but he has been a reliable weapon during the team's four-game winning streak. In that stretch, Portis has for 461 rushing yards, four rushing touchdowns and a 17-yard option toss to Chris Cooley for a score against the Giants. Portis follows Hall of Famers Earl Campbell and Barry Sanders as the only backs to gain at least 1,300 yards in each of their first four seasons.

"You can pick your poison," Portis said. "You can either let Santana (Moss) and (Chris) Cooley kill you, or you can let me grind it out. Early on, the Giants were focused on taking away the run, and they were overloading the backside. But after Santana kept making the plays he was making, there was no way they wanted to leave (cornerback) Will Allen out there by himself anymore. We eventually wore the defense down with the running game. There's only so long you can guess right on the run."

Player Notes

--Reserve WLB Chris Clemons will miss a couple of weeks with the sprained knee he suffered against the Giants.

--WR James Thrash returned against the Giants after missing four games with a pulled hamstring and didn't suffer a health setback.

--CB Carlos Rogers, who missed the past two games with a torn left biceps, could return for Sunday's game at Philadelphia.

--S Matt Bowen, who missed the past two games with a bruised leg and knee, could return against the Eagles.

--K John Hall, who was hospitalized last Thursday with an intestinal virus, returned to make all five extra points and averaged the 8-yard line on his six kickoffs against the Giants.

REPORT CARD VS. GIANTS

PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus -- QB Mark Brunell threw an ugly interception for a New York touchdown and had an off-target pass turned into a score by WR Santana Moss in a deceptively high-rated first half. Brunell exited in the third quarter after spraining his knee when sacked by Nick Greisen. Patrick Ramsey replaced him and played his first meaningful action since being benched for Brunell in the first half of Week 1. Like Brunell, Ramsey was the beneficiary of a wonderful downfield adjustment by Moss for a 72-yard TD. Together, the QBs posted a sterling 127.9 rating. RB Clinton Portis lofted a 17-yard TD pass to H-back Chris Cooley. Moss continues to amaze. Cooley set the team season record for catches by a TE/H-back. TE Robert Royal rumbled 13 yards on a flip from Brunell. WR James Thrash was back after missing four weeks with a pulled hamstring, but like WR Taylor Jacobs, to no effect. The pass protection by Ts Jon Jansen and Chris Samuels against Giants sackmeisters Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora was superb.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B-plus -- After running so well the previous three weeks, Portis found the going tough early before breaking out in the fourth quarter to set a Redskins record with his eighth 100-yard game of the season and moving into third on Washington's single-season rushing list. RB Ladell Betts gave Portis some breathers before taking over toward the end. The run-blocking got better as the game wore on as the Redskins kept the ball for 33:13. Ray Brown, 43, performed well in place of injured RG Randy Thomas.

PASS DEFENSE: B-minus -- RE Phillip Daniels continued his terrific December with a sack and two passes defensed. LE Renaldo Wynn just missed a sack. MLB Lemar Marshall beat TE Jeremy Shockey to an interception he returned 27 yards to set up a TD. WLB Chris Clemons sprained a knee.

Ex-Giants SS Ryan Clark helped his old team go ahead with a personal-foul penalty and was lucky that Plaxico Burress dropped a TD after beating him on deep on the first play. CB Shawn Springs defensed three passes but also gave up a 41-yard interference penalty. FS Sean Taylor had a team-high eight tackles. The Giants passed for 244 yards but not to much effect.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- Led by RT Joe Salave'a, the front four didn't give Tiki Barber much room to run until garbage time. WLB LaVar Arrington had six tackles in his return from a two-game absence with a bruised thigh. SLB Marcus Washington had a rare quiet game.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- P Derrick Frost had his best day in weeks. Return man Antonio Brown was mediocre. The usually top-notch coverage units gave up a 41-yard kickoff return to ex-Redskin Chad Morton to start the game. K John Hall didn't try a field goal for the second straight week.

COACHING: A-minus -- Joe Gibbs' team was down and out at 5-6, but four weeks later, the Redskins are on the brink of their first playoff berth in six years. Gibbs stayed steady even after his team fell behind on Saturday against the Giants and then lost Mark Brunell, its starting QB of the last 14 games, to a sprained knee. Gregg Williams' aggressive defense held the Giants' talented offense pretty much in check most of the day after being blasted for 262 rushing yards in the 36-0 loss at New York on Oct. 30. Danny Smith's special teams units  didn't have one of their better days.

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