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When Rookie quarterback Patrick Ramsey stuck his head into the Washington huddle with 5:44 remaining in the first quarter of Sunday's game at Tennessee, his teammates were shocked and confused. "No one knew that [ Ramsey] was coming in until he showed up in the huddle," said Redskins tackle Jon Jansen, who was unaware at the time that starter Danny Wuerffel had hurt his throwing shoulder on Washington's first drive. "He was being cool about it, but we were all wide-eyed. I kept thinking, What's going on here?"
Not to worry. Flashing equal parts talent, savvy and grit, Ramsey completed 20 of 34 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns in leading Washington to a decisive 31-14 win over the Titans. One day after moving into the backup role following the demotion of Shane Matthews from first-to third-string, Ramsey brought an end to coach Steve Spurrier's much-maligned attempt to turn two of his former Florida quarterbacks into NFL starters. "I didn't know he could play like that," Spurrier said of Ramsey, whom Washington selected out of Tulane with the final pick in the first round of last April's draft "Nobody did. I'll tell you this: We don't have to worry anymore about who our quarterback is."
Had Spurrier gotten his way nine weeks ago, that wouldn't be the case. After Ramsey's contract negotiations broke down this summer, he was a no-show for the start of training camp. Angered by the rookie's absence, Spurrier lobbied hard for a trade. Washington found an interested party in the Bears, but the teams couldn't agree on compensation. Chicago would have parted with a second-round choice in 2003, but the Redskins wanted a first-rounder.
"I called Coach Spurrier the night the trade almost happened and asked him not to trade me," Ramsey says. "I told him that I wanted to play for him." The next day he signed a five-year, $5.7 million contract, and Spurrier went to work. The coach began post-practice tutorials, schooling Ramsey on everything from arm angles to Spurrier's preferred way of making the turn from center. Meanwhile, Wuerffel and Ramsey became regular golf buddies, with the veteran Wuerffel quizzing the rookie between holes on protection schemes. When most players left town during the team's bye in Week 4, Ramsey spent the weekend watching film in Spurrier's office.
Against the Titans he stayed cool under fire and displayed arm strength far superior to that of Matthews and Wuerffel. After three ineffective series, Ramsey directed a 13-play, 90-yard touchdown drive—Washington's longest of the season—that ended with 11 consecutive passes. The last, a 20-yard strike to wideout Rod Gardner, put Washington ahead 10-7. After Tennessee scored for a 14-10 lead at intermission, Ramsey opened the second half with a 12-play, 74-yard drive capped by Stephen Davis's one-yard scoring run.
Following the game, after a long embrace with his wife, Virginia, Ramsey made his way to a waiting team bus, all the while lauding the work of his linemen and receivers as well as Spurrier's aggressive play-calling. "I succeeded today," he said, "only because of this team."
Make that his team.
We're in a time warp, aren't we? We must be stuck in 1992, on a hot October afternoon in Dallas. Dave Wannstedt is overseeing the defense. Norv Turner is calling plays from the press box, with line guru Tony Wise signaling blocking schemes from the sideline. The quarterback is completing passes at a 63% clip and has already thrown for two TDs without an interception; the running back is chewing up yardage (he will end up with 105 yards on 36 carries) behind a massive line, and the fierce tight end is showing a nose for the end zone. This is Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Jay Novacek and an Erik Williams-led line, right?