EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.
You know it’s your day when Rex Grossman throws two interceptions in the first three Washington possessions and the net result of the two picks is a gain of 117 yards in field position. Even Sav Rocca can’t punt like that.
You know it’s your day when the Giants’ Hakeem Nicks drops a pass that hits him on the face mask on what should be a 46-yard touchdown bomb, then later drops a four-yard touchdown pass, too.
You know it’s your day when Eli Manning throws three interceptions and no touchdowns so that he gets back close to his career ratio of interceptions to touchdowns. Eli’s good, but not as good as he’s been this year. He was due to give a few holiday gifts. Didn’t have to be to the Redskins.
But the Redskins were due for a day. This was their fifth straight game of consistently competent, competitive football. Their 23-10 victory, while only their second win in 10 games, was late-season balm for a team that has played well enough to contend, but managed to lose late to the Cowboys, Jets and Patriots in the last month.
The difference between the Giants and Redskins seems enormous. New York can still capture the NFC East if it wins its last two games, both here, against the Jets and Cowboys. The Redskins, trying to save some dignity at 5-9, are viewed as one of the league’s weak links — without a credible quarterback and, until this game, never winning the turnover battle in a single game this season.
Sometimes, seasons are deceptively decent. That’s the case with the Giants, 7-7, but actually outscored this year by 38 points. Only Manning’s six late game-winning drives have saved them. They’re probably not a playoff-quality team at all. In defeat, the Giants did everything except rip their flesh at being swept by the Redskins this season. “I expected more,” said disconsolate Giants Coach Tom Coughlin, doing the mandatory New York act. “The responsibility always comes right back to me. I accept it.”
The Redskins’ season has also been deceiving. In three games started by John Beck, they were crushed, 75-31. In Grossman’s 11 starts, they are now actually 5-6, with only a tiny disadvantage in points, 221-225. It’s conceivable that, despite Grossman’s almost inconceivable 22 turnovers this year, they are roughly as good as the Giants in Rex’s games.
Ironically, the more Grossman plays, the better chance the Redskins have to win, as the last five weeks have shown. But the more they win (and they’ll be favored to beat the Vikings next Sunday at FedEx Field), the less chance they have to get a very high draft pick and grab Andrew Luck (unlikely), Robert Griffin III or Matt Barkley to be their quarterback of the future.
So, to a degree, the more Grossman wins, the better chance he has to reduce the quality of his own competition for the quarterback job next season and, in the process, quite possibly damage the team’s long-term future. You admire his moxie, but the better he plays, the longer you may be stuck with him.
Grossman has hot streaks when he can put up points. But his 29 turnovers in 14 starts are roughly twice the maximum number allowed if you ever want to go deep in the playoffs.
As a result, Grossman is a kind of guilty pleasure, a secret you don’t tell your family. This was his kind of game: admirably ugly, with those two intercepted bombs in the first quarter and a homely 65.6 quarterback rating, but 15 of 24 passes completed for 185 yards as he outplayed Manning and secured a win.
“When things go badly early, you have 55 minutes to fix that problem,” said Grossman, who has been far more resilient, and less likely to go into a funk, while playing in the Shanahans’ offense than he was earlier in his career because the Redskins keep attacking no matter what happens. “This offense allows you to bounce back.”
Asked to expand on that later, Grossman used more colorful language to describe the way the Bears would sometimes go into an offensive shell after he made his first mistake of a game. “You can understand it,” he said. “But it’s hard to break out of that.”
As a Redskin, he’s been allowed, actually ordered, to keep firing, his first chance to be the pure passer he’s always believed himself to be. Has that been wise?
“He’s a gunslinger, man,” Moss said. After a mistake, Grossman analyzes, but not for long. “He comes right back like: ‘So what? Who cares?’ ” Moss said. “I love his attitude.”
If the Redskins should finish the season respectably, and last year’s 6-10 record gave them the No. 10 overall pick in the draft, there may be a temptation, if only for an instant, to imagine what Grossman could do next year with a better, healthier line and other offensive restorations.
That way disaster lies. Grossman could be almost any team’s backup quarterback. And he might hold down the starting job — with the same kind of 6-8 results he’s had so far in the job — until a high-pick rookie has time to serve an apprenticeship. But don’t take respect for Rex too far. Admire his relish for competition. Respect his ability to ignore his physical limits. And, go ahead, even enjoy the goofy way he just keeps bouncing back up as if nothing awful had just happened to him — again.
But don’t be deluded that the Redskins’ 5-9 record is an illusion. The biggest reason for their plight is their minus-13 turnover ratio, the worst in the NFL to start Sunday’s play. And the principal reason for that, even after you rationalize some of his mistakes as the fault of others, is still Grossman.
“We’ve talked about this from Day One. If you don’t win the turnover ratio, you’re not going to win football games,” Coach Mike Shanahan said. “You’re probably going to have five wins like we’ve got .”
Even on days like this, when Shanahan is filled with fully justified pride, that almost certainly means the expeditious elimination of the estimable Rex.
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