With the Redskins down six points and still a chance to beat the Lions in Detroit with 1:45 remaining on Sunday, head coach Mike Shanahan benched the quarterback who had played the first 58-plus minutes — a battered but healthy Donovan McNabb — and turned to his backup, journeyman Rex Grossman, to rally the troops. What is not newsworthy was the predictable result: that Grossman would be sacked and fumble after only a single snap. But what was significant was the fact that Shanahan would bench McNabb, the man whom he traded for this offseason, when the game hung in the balance.
The PFW Spin
Some coaching moves don't need explanations. Players can tell how coaches feel sometimes when they don't even open their mouths. Sunday's benching of McNabb had that effect. Players know what that means, and it resonated tenfold because of the position McNabb plays. Shanahan's explanation of his reasoning afterward had all the earmarks of either a hastily patched-together excuse or a sad realization — that Grossman was more familiar with the two-minute offense that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan wanted to run at the time.
"At the end of the game with Donovan, with a minute left and Rex knowing how to run that two-minute offense, I felt with the time and no timeouts he gave us the best chance to win in that scenario," Shanahan said. "Just knowing the terminology of what we've done, how we've run it, it puts a lot of pressure on a quarterback that hasn't been used to that terminology."
First, some indisputable facts. One: Grossman hadn't taken a snap all season prior to that point. Two: Grossman and Kyle Shanahan spent one year together, 2009, in which Grossman played in one game. Three: McNabb is the owner of a $15 million contract that is set to expire after this season.
Mike Shanahan's explanation might not make perfect sense, but the reality has been made clear. He doesn't trust McNabb to run this offense. And we're not just talking about familiarity with the two-minute offense.
Sources have hinted for weeks, back to the Philadelphia game when McNabb was shackled with a mere 19 pass attempts, that things were not a perfect fit. Far from it, it turns out. In fact, the real fission might be between Kyle Shanahan, the man who calls the plays, and McNabb as much as it is with Dad and QB.
There could be a hidden message that will have two weeks to percolate, and that's that McNabb has the rest of the season to prove his worth to the Shanahans. The difference between a 5-3 record and 4-4 is big, especially in the wide-open NFC, and McNabb has the unique opportunity to turn a negative situation into a positive. Lest we forget that McNabb pulled this trick before when he was benched (almost permanently) by Andy Reid against the Ravens a couple years ago and yet still rallied the Eagles to within a few minutes of another Super Bowl appearance.
Right now, Team Shanahan doesn't believe McNabb can run this offense completely. But the bright side is that he has more than half a season, if you include what will be an excruciatingly long bye week, to turn this thing around and show he deserves more than a year in D.C. We'll see which way the ball bounces.