In the early going of his first year as a Redskin, Mark Brunell did everything he could to justify the team's belief in him as starting quarterback. Brunell led his team to a 16-10 win over Tampa Bay in the 2004 opener and then played well in the early stages of Week 2 at the Meadowlands.
But then at the 11:39 mark of the third quarter last Sept. 19 at Giants Stadium, Brunell went down with a left hamstring injury. The Redskins would go on to lose that game 20-14. Brunell's injury was one of the key setbacks for a 2004 Redskins team that limped to the finish line at 6-10.
What a great difference a year makes for Brunell and for the Redskins, who head into Giants Stadium Sunday at 4-2 and with a share of first place in the NFC East.
The 13-year NFL veteran is a rejuvenated player in a rejuvenated offense.
On the hamstring injury he suffered in New York last season, Brunell said today: "I think I played one more play, and that was it for me. It bothered me probably for the next three or four games. I think that's about as long as I remember it bothering me."
Brunell went on to start the next seven games, going 118-for-237 with 1,194 yards and seven TD passes and six interceptions. He gave way to Patrick Ramsey on Nov. 14 versus Cincinnati at FedExField. The Redskins lost to the Bengals that day 17-10 to slump to 3-6.
All of that is behind Brunell now, however. He's the lead figure in an offense that is cominig off a 52-17 thrashing of the San Francisco 49ers and has a pair of tough NFC East games just ahead on the schedule.
Brunell is currently tied for third with Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning in NFL passer rating at 98.3. He is ranked first in the NFC. He has completed 116-of-198 passes for 1,492 yards, 12 touchdowns and two interceptions.
To play against a team with whom they share the NFC East lead, Brunell says, means a great deal to the Redskins.
"It's a big game for us," he allowed. "Yet, it's still pretty early. It's only our seventh game. To have an important game early in the season like this is pretty big. Hopefully, we can get this one.
"We certainly have our work cut out for us. They got a big win last week [against Denver]. They have a lot of talent. Plus, we're in their place. It's going to be pretty tough."
It should be an emotional setting at Giants Stadium, considering that longtime Giants owner Wellington Mara passed away this week at age 89. Services for Mara are scheduled for later Friday morning at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan.
When Brunell looks to the other side of the field, he'll see not only his former head coach in Jacksonville, Tom Coughlin, but also his former teammate with the Redskins, Antonio Pierce. The Redskins' quarterback says he'll be totally focused on helping his team earn its second NFC East win of 2005.
"We talk about it every day," says Brunell. "We talk about winning our divisional games and games in our conference. The games you play in September and October are the ones that really count when you get to December and you're in the hunt. Hopefully, we'll be there."
Through six games, Brunell is 116-for-198 for 1,492 yards. He's hit on 12 touchdowns with only two interceptions, with a 98.3 QB rating that places him fourth in the NFL.
Of those stats, Brunell said: "The most important is how many games you win as a quarterback, not how many touchdowns you throw or what your rating is. I'd rather have a much lower rating and five or six wins. We're 4-2. Fortunately, we're doing some good things on offense."
His rival on the Giants, second-year QB Eli Manning, rallied New York to its dramatic 24-23 win over Denver at the Meadowlands last week. It's not lost on Brunell that Manning is playing such solid football at such a tender age.
Said Brunell: "He obviously has a lot of talent. He's showing this league that he has a really bright future. He's competitive, smart, well coached, and has a strong arm. He's just going to be one of those guys in our division and for the Giants who's going to play solid football for many years."