ASHBURN, Va. - Washington is long accustomed to a two-party political system.
But when it comes to the Redskins' quarterback competition, Tim Hasselbeck is making it a three-way race. At least if assistant head coach Joe Bugel has a vote.
"Them other two better be careful," Bugel says of Mark Brunell and Patrick Ramsey, who will start tonight when the Redskins play the Carolina Panthers in preseason game No. 2. "It's not a twosome right now, it's a threesome."
Hasselbeck has elbowed his way into the mix by demonstrating a knack for staying in the pocket and in the good graces of teammates and coaches. Asked about the plaudits he's been receiving from coach Joe Gibbs, Hasselbeck betrays the pragmatism of a journeyman who's bounced around enough to know how fleeting success can be.
"There are four preseason games [left] and if I play bad in the next four, he'll forget he ever said anything about me," Hasselbeck says.
Hasselbeck entered Washington's preseason opener against the Denver Broncos in the third quarter on Monday night and took the Redskins on two scoring drives. The second drive, in which he completed passes of 21 and 35 yards, led to the winning field goal on the final play.
Hasselbeck says he wouldn't allow himself much celebrating. He is among a class of gritty NFL survivors that knows you have to treat small victories like snowflakes - admire them for a moment, then let them disappear.
"If you said to talk about that game Monday night, the first thing I'd think about was the ball that I threw that almost got picked off," the third-year veteran says. "And the next one I'd think of was the ball I probably should have checked down that I tried to throw downfield to Darnerien McCants and ended up throwing out of bounds."
Or he might think about Jeff Lewis, who was vying for the starting quarterback spot for the Carolina Panthers in 2001.
"He had a horrible preseason and he was out of the league," Hasselbeck says. "I have seen guys who thought they were untouchable in terms of being cut because they played a little the year before or they did something at one point. In this game you can't relax. There aren't any guarantees."
Hasselbeck, 26, has the even temperament of a man skilled at avoiding highs and lows.
His 2003 story is the opposite of the Jeff Lewis cautionary tale. After stops with the Ravens, Buffalo Bills and NFL Europe, Hasselbeck began last season at the bottom of the depth chart for the Philadelphia Eagles. Picked up by the Redskins at midseason, he was promised nothing.
But he ended up getting significant playing time because of injuries to Ramsey. "I was the fourth guy waiting to get cut in Philadelphia and ended up starting five games [for Washington]," he says.
The Redskins lost four of the games, but Hasselbeck threw for 1,012 yards and completed 54 percent of his passes. Meanwhile, his brother, Matt, was starting at quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks.
Tim is married to the former Elisabeth Filarski, a co-host on ABC's The View. His father, Don, played nine years in the NFL for four teams
"He's got good football pedigree," Bugel says. "Tim Hasselbeck is a very cold-blooded young man. The football team likes him because he stands in that pocket and he's oblivious to the rush. He completes passes downfield, and Joe Gibbs likes passes downfield."
Based on past performance, Hasselbeck is more likely to end up as the No. 2 or No. 3 quarterback than as the starter. But Bugel says Gibbs wouldn't hesitate to tap Hasselbeck if he outplays his competition. "Free agent? No. 1 pick? Makes no difference to Joe," Bugel says.
Hasselbeck says trying to analyze his place on the depth chart would drive him batty.
"In the past I have counted heads and said, 'Am I going to make the team or not?' But it hurt the way I played. So after I got cut a few times I kind of learned my lesson and stopped doing it," he says.
"I just try to play. It doesn't make for a good story and it sounds boring, but I just have to program myself that that's how I have to think."