I guess if you're going to undermine the starting quarterback, you might as well do it in epic fashion, as Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan taught us Sunday in Detroit. But hey, the silver lining is that we finally have a controversy in Washington that doesn't involve Albert Haynesworth.
As a healthy Donovan McNabb stood on the sideline wearing a baseball cap Sunday, his backup Rex Grossman took the field with 1 minute, 45 seconds left on the clock and the Skins trailing, 31-25. We'd been led to believe that McNabb had been acquired for critical moments such as these, but Shanahan & Son had a different plan in mind. Grossman, whose career flamed out in Chicago before he surfaced as a backup with Kyle Shanahan in Houston, was asked to enter the game cold and do what he'd done so many times before. ... Oh wait, I don't recall him being a comeback artist for the Chicago Bears.
Shanahan will once again insist today that McNabb is the Redskins' starting quarterback and he'll flash that funny smile while saying something to the effect of "nothing to see here, folks." Most of us know better. Shanahan and son Kyle pulled back the curtain on their relationship with McNabb in the final moments of Sunday's 37-25 loss to the Lions -- aka The Redskins' Worst Nightmare. Shanahan indicated that Grossman had a better grasp of the team's two-minute offense, which I believe is an indictment of McNabb's work ethic and overall preparation. Are you going to tell me that Grossman's time in Houston as a backup to Matt Schaub makes him better equipped to engineer a last-minute drive with the game on the line? Well, that's exactly what the Shanahan boys rolled out there Sunday.
Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid famously benched McNabb on a November afternoon in 2008, but those two men had a long history together. Yes, it was uncomfortable for both of them, but they had years of friendship to fall back on in the aftermath of that decision. McNabb doesn't have anywhere close to that type of relationship with Shanahan. I'm sure the two of them will try to clear the air before they address the media, but what's McNabb supposed to be thinking at this point?
He was hoping to get a long-term contract extension this season. Now, he'll be lucky to finish 2010 as the starter. It's amazing how one late-game decision can call into question so much of what we thought general manager Bruce Allen and Shanahan were trying to build. In what had to be a surreal moment, Haynesworth and McNabb chatted together on the sideline late in the game.
"I asked him if he was OK," Haynesworth told reporters, assuming that McNabb had to be injured. "I mean, that's Donovan McNabb on your team. I would always keep him out there on the field -- no matter what. That's just me."
And for once, I'm right there with Haynesworth. If you're going to suggest this trade was some type of remarkable heist, the least you can do is carry out the charade. The Skins basically told us that McNabb would allow them to take a shortcut back to prominence in the NFC East. And in some ways, that has happened. Washington has four wins at the midway point in the season, which equals its total in 2009. Though his stats have been ordinary, McNabb (along with Shanahan) has given this organization much-needed credibility.
But now McNabb and his teammates must wonder when the next benching will come. McNabb's '08 benching served as the impetus for a run to the NFC title game. He might not look at it that way, but most folks in the Eagles' organization felt that decision served as a wake-up call to a lot of veterans who weren't meeting expectations. This doesn't feel like that at all.
This feels like a head coach who constantly needs to prove he's in charge -- even though most of us haven't thought otherwise. The only message Shanahan sent to his team Sunday is that he doesn't trust his star quarterback. And that's a tough message to rally around as the Skins prepare for the second half of the season.
Enjoy the bye week, fellas.