It had been a great run for the Redskins' offensive line. No major injuries turned up through 13 games. But then, late in the Sunday night 35-7 pounding of the Dallas Cowboys, Randy Thomas, having perhaps a Pro Bowl season, went down with a fractured fibula.
What that means for Joe Bugel and the offensive line is that 43-year-old Ray Brown will be wedged between Casey Rabach and Jon Jansen when the NFC East-leading Giants come to town Saturday.
The Redskins, looking ahead to the most significant regular-season game in the history of FedExField, say they have a world of confidence in the 20-year veteran's abilities--just like they did in 2004 when Brown stepped in for an injured Jon Jansen.
"We'll probably have to adjust some things on offense, but in Ray, he's someone who last year bailed us out at tackle and we know he can play guard," head coach Joe Gibbs said. "There's nobody on this team who means more in terms of attitude in the locker room. That's a pretty phenomenal story to be starting at his age. We have a lot of confidence in Ray."
Added Rabach: "I know what type of player Ray is. Ray's been in this league a long time and he's seen everything and done everything. I have no worries about him being in there. Continuity-wise, we'll have to work on it. Obviously, we're going to miss Randy, but everybody has confidence in Ray.
"Ray's experience takes all the worries out of it that you would have if there was a rookie or a young guy coming in there."
Brown, who has played every position along the offensive line except center, started 48 consecutive games from 2001-03 at right guard, playing for the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions during that span. He earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2001 with the 49ers.
Brown put his new starting assignment in simple terms when discussing it on Monday at Redskins Park.
"It's not very complex," he said. "Let me watch film, let me practice, let me lift weights. I think I can give it to you on game day. I'm low maintenance. I don't need somebody pumping me up.
"Forget the fact that I have played 20 years in this league. Can I block the guy in front of me? That's all that matters."
Quarterback Mark Brunell, coming off an outstanding game versus Dallas in which he threw for four TDs in the first half, says he's sure the Redskins' right guard will give a superlative effort.
If you've been in the NFL since all the way back in 1993, as Brunell, you might have a hard time finding a teammate to look up to for veteran leadership. Brunell doesn't find himself in that situation, though. Not with Brown around.
"I tell you, I have a lot of respect for Ray," Brunell said. "A lot has been said lately about his career, 20 years into it. He can still play the game. He'll step in there and do just fine for us."
Given Brown's limited playing time early this season, his role on the team was primarily as a leader, particularly after three straight tough losses to Tampa Bay, Oakland and San Diego.
Brown was a beacon of hope during that stretch, telling his teammates, "Stick together. If you're in this, make sure you're in this all the way."
The Redskins did just that, responding with road wins at St. Louis and Arizona to go above the .500 mark at 7-6 and keep their post-season hopes afloat.
This season, Brown was been pressed into service on Oct. 30 at Giants Stadium following an injury to left tackle Chris Samuels. After getting his sea legs, Brown turned in a professional performance in a game the Giants won 36-0.
In 2004, also at the Meadowlands, Brown offered just about the same contribution. Brown moved in at right tackle for Kenyatta Jones and worked to keep Giants Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Strahan in check.
Way back in 1986, Brown entered the NFL as an eighth-round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals. He spent two years in St. Louis and one in Phoenix before joining the Redskins in 1989 for a six-year run.
The former Arkansas State player was with the San Francisco 49ers between 1996 and 2001. Following that, he was with the Detroit Lions for two seasons.
Entering the 2005 campaign, Brown had played in 246 NFL games since entering the NFL out of Arkansas State. He has played in 13 of the first 14 Redskins games this season.
As his 20th NFL season winds down, Brown has issued no public statements about returning to play another season. All of a sudden, he's not thinking long term. He's thinking Giants.