Patrick Ramsey's development as an NFL quarterback has been ongoing for three seasons now. After showing promise in five starts during his rookie season in 2002, he made significant strides in 2003 before suffering a season-ending foot injury that required surgery.
When Ramsey took over as the starting quarterback against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 11 of last season, he was given seven games to demonstrate how much he has improved and how well he can manage head coach Joe Gibbs' offense.
In leading the Redskins to a 3-2 record in their final five games, Ramsey convinced Gibbs that he is ready to enter 2005 as the team's starting quarterback.
"When somebody goes in, the way I look at it is, he's earned the right [to be the starter]," Gibbs said in December. "That started from the first day Patrick went in there and started playing well. To me, when we named him the starter, I'm kind of reluctant to pull guys in and out. So I give them a shot and we're going until something would happen that would say to me, 'We need to make a change.'"
Gibbs said he expects Ramsey to continue to develop into the dependable player the Redskins envisioned when they selected him 32nd overall in the first round of the 2002 draft.
"He needs to keep improving. He needs to keep stepping up. He needs to show you. He needs to learn from mistakes," Gibbs said. "And we need to get better around him. Our pass protection wasn't what we wanted. We were kind of middle of the pack this year. That's not good enough--we want to be at the front of the pack. So, as that improves, Patrick will improve."
The Redskins' offense ranked near the bottom of the league in points scored when Gibbs replaced quarterback Mark Brunell with Ramsey during the Redskins' 17-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 10. After competitive showings in consecutive road losses to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, two of the NFL's best teams, Ramsey had one of his best games as a pro in a convincing 31-7 win over the New York Giants in Week 13.
Against the Giants, the product of Tulane University completed 19 of 22 passes for 174 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions for a quarterback rating of 139.2. It was the first time all season the Redskins scored more than 20 points in a game.
"I've felt that all season if we can just play consistently, we will be a successful offense," Ramsey said. "Finally, we were able to do that late in the season. We were able to put some long drives together, and guys made some big plays. This has been the most comfortable I've been in the pocket as a Redskin."
The 6-3, 223-pound quarterback continued to show improvement through the end of the season, despite some moments of struggle. He went 25-of-49 for 259 yards against a strong Eagles defense in Week 14 but threw an interception in the final minutes that halted a potential game-winning drive.
At Dallas in Week 16, Ramsey engineered a 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter that gave the Redskins a 10-6 lead and a put them on the verge of snapping an eight-game losing streak at Texas Stadium.
The Cowboys won the game, however, on a 39-yard touchdown pass from Vinny Testaverde to Patrick Crayton in the final minute. Had Washington held on to win, it would have been Ramsey's first professional come-from-behind, game-winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
Ramsey also played well in the season finale, a 21-18 win over the playoff-bound Minnesota Vikings. He posted a 100.8 rating, completing 17-of-26 passes for 216 yards and a touchdown to tight end Robert Royal. With critics challenging the offense's ability to connect on deep passes, Ramsey hit wideout Taylor Jacobs on a 45-yard pass play that set up running back Ladell Betts' one-yard touchdown run.
In a jubilant Redskins' locker room after that game, Ramsey spoke about what he learned in his third NFL season and first under Gibbs.
"I learned that I don't have to do it all," Ramsey said. "I learned to make sound decisions because we can drive the football down there. I think in the past I have been a little bit of, 'I'm going to go down there and make this happen.' A lot of times it works and a lot of times it doesn't."
In nine games and seven starts in 2004, Ramsey completed 169-of-272 passes for a career-high completion percentage of 62.1. He threw for 1,665 yards, 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. In the Redskins' final five games, Ramsey threw seven touchdowns compared to four interceptions.
Gibbs has noted that Ramsey had a chance last season to learn both from the sideline and in game situations. What Ramsey learned translated into a rejuvenated offense in the season's final weeks.
"You have to be smart with the football," Gibbs said. "Patrick has certainly done that, and that's really to his credit. The other thing is, he has made plays. He's stepped up in there. The first two starts, we didn't make plays on offense. I think our receivers and Patrick have stepped up in the passing game."
Gibbs has maintained that the upcoming offseason is crucial for Ramsey's development. Ramsey was slowed last offseason because of his foot surgery. This spring, he will be able to study the finer points of Gibbs' offense and develop chemistry with his receivers during mini-camps.
"It will be interesting how he progresses," Gibbs said. "If you remember Mark Rypien, he had a lot of problems with fumbling and we even had to bench him at one point. The young guys need experience. The offseason is going to be the key to Patrick's future and how much he progresses as a quarterback."
After one season, Ramsey has developed a rapport with Gibbs and is looking forward to another offseason of learning under the Hall of Fame coach.
"He's so great to work with," Ramsey said. "I think what I love about him is his ability to see things, knowing that everything is not going to be perfect. He just does a great job of staying even-keeled and letting you play the game. He prepares you well to play. Therefore, I think he has confidence for you to play well."