ASHBURN, Va. - Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs made a seemingly foregone conclusion official yesterday when he tabbed Patrick Ramsey as the team's starting quarterback for the 2005 season.
Gibbs, who started Mark Brunell for the Redskins' first nine games before switching to Ramsey, said the 25-year-old Ramsey's play over the past three weeks had cemented his decision to have the third-year pro begin next year as the No. 1 quarterback.
"When somebody goes in and starts playing [well], the way I look at it, he's earned the right," Gibbs said. "I'm kind of reluctant, as you know, to pull guys in and out. So I kind of gave him a shot. We're going until something were to happen that tells me that we need to make a change."
Ramsey was unavailable to comment as the players were given the day off, but his play since being named the starter on Nov. 21 spoke volumes to Gibbs.
Ramsey, who chafed at Gibbs' public courtship of Brunell during the offseason, has completed 65.4 percent (106 of 162) of his passes for 939 yards, has thrown for five touchdowns and has been intercepted three times in five successive starts.
Under Ramsey, Washington's offense - which didn't break the 20-point ceiling during Brunell's nine starts - has already surpassed that level twice and is averaging nearly three more points per game than the unit under Brunell's direction (16.8 to 13.9).
Under Ramsey, the Redskins are 2-3. Under Brunell, the team went 3-6.
Gibbs said he has noticed Ramsey's impact.
"I think our receivers and Patrick have stepped up in the passing game," the coach said. "Now, we're starting to get some things where you get some 30- or 40-yarders and you get some big plays in there."
The move signaled a significant shift in Gibbs' traditional thinking about the value of a veteran quarterback. That philosophy led Gibbs to recruit Brunell during the offseason and sign him to five-year, $43 million contract.
But Brunell struggled as the starter, throwing for fewer than 100 yards in four of his last five starts.
Asked if he wished he had made the switch earlier, Gibbs replied, "I don't think you can wish on something like that because I think we went through a natural process, and what we did, I think, was the right thing to do. ... I think it worked out the way it's supposed to work."
Gibbs said he has already talked to Ramsey, Brunell and No. 3 quarterback Tim Hasselbeck about the situation.
"I think he [Brunell] understands," Gibbs said. "Instead of having somebody with their lip stuck out and pouting and [saying], 'Hey, I should be playing,' it's been, 'We're going to support the guy in there.' I think Mark knows how he got to where he is and I think he understands all that."
As inconceivable as it sounds, the 5-9 Redskins are still mathematically alive for the sixth and final playoff berth.
While the scenarios involved are complex, one thing is certain: Washington must defeat the Cowboys - who also have a shot - on Sunday and the Minnesota Vikings at FedEx Field the following week to close out the season with a 7-9 record.
Then the Redskins will need help - as in losses - from the current 6-8 group of the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and St. Louis Rams and the current 5-9 swarm of the Arizona Cardinals, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"I don't know how realistic it is, but I do know that we have a chance," Gibbs said. "That's all you can ask for at this time of year."
NOTE: Cornerback Shawn Springs (concussion, sprained left shoulder and bruised sternum) has been cleared to practice this week and should be available for Sunday's 4:15 p.m. game against the Cowboys at Texas Stadium, said Washington's director of sports medicine, Bubba Tyer.
Next for Redskins
Matchup: Redskins (5-9) vs. Dallas Cowboys (5-8)
Site: Texas Stadium, Irving, Texas
When: Sunday, 4:15 p.m.
TV/Radio: Chs. 45, 5/WNAV (1430 AM), WJFK (106.7 FM)
Line: Redskins by 1