Redskins and Mike Shanahan will be in this together for a while

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla.

Would you like a blindfold, Mike?

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“We will do whatever gives us the best chance to win next week.”

How about one last cigarette, coach?

“We will do whatever gives us the best chance to win next week.”

Any final words for Rex Grossman or John Beck?

“We will do . . . ”

If Mike Shanahan ever faces a firing squad, the guys with the guns better be worried. By the time he finishes telling them, over and over, the NFL coach’s equivalent of name-rank-and-serial-number, they might turn the guns on each just so they don’t have to hear the “royal we” anymore.

The Redskins better hope Shanahan is still the first-rate coach they thought they had hired less than two years ago, because he’s probably going to be their coach for a long time. More discipline, less drama, a couple of more drafts, oh, and a new quarterback, better be the right Redskins answer.

Daniel Snyder has little choice but to stick with Shanahan, not just through the Redskins current five-game losing streak but probably much longer, unless the owner wants to return to the netherworld of do-not-touch franchises where few men with a fine NFL reputation want to work for you.

No matter how humbling this 20-9 loss to 2-7 Miami may have been — and the Redskins, in the last 40 years, have never looked more lost on offense than they have in the last three weeks — nothing is changing at the top.

Snyder has been to the pits and never wants to go back. Shanahan saved him — it seemed — from that purgatory of cursed franchises, like the current Orioles of Peter Angelos in Baltimore. When Shanahan agreed to coach for five years for $35 million and bring his son Kyle, the offensive coordinator, along as a possible, and pretty darn obvious, potential heir, order looked like it would be restored. Playoffs, title runs, who knows; but competence, yes.

The league, or most of it anyway, agreed that, “If Shanahan can’t fix it, who can?” When the Redskins reached their bye week at 3-1, you’d have had to turn over half the rocks in the Northern Hemisphere to find anyone who thought Mike Shanahan was losing his touch.

“Everything was very promising. We liked our football team,” linebacker London Fletcher said. “It just shows you how quickly things can change in this league.”

Or, perhaps, what it really shows is how quickly things can simply revert to the way they were before, which seems like the reasonable operating assumption since the 3-6 Redskins were 6-10 and 4-12 the last two years.

The Redskins are simply a shattered organization in a total rebuilding mode. Whether Shanahan is up to such a challenge will be the central question for the rest of this year and, very likely, next season, too.

When Shanahan arrived, I assumed he wasn’t as great as John Elways made him look (47-17), but that his 10 non-Elway years (91-69) were proof he was a very good coach. With his son on board as offensive coordinator, it was unlikely that, on attack, his teams could be out-of-step with the times. As for his ego, wear earplugs and enjoy those 9-7 years.

However, this isn’t a religiously held belief. Shanny agnosticism is creeping up. Yes, he’s had injuries on offense. But isn’t that when the great ones “coach ’em up” and cope anyway? In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately NFL, can atheism be far behind?

The core of all Shanahan doubts was displayed here Sunday: Can he still evaluate quarterbacks accurately? In light of Donovan McNabb, Grossman and Beck in the last two years, is his body of work, post-Elway, particularly special?

Since few others, after another defeat and only one touchdown in three weeks will point it out, Shanahan’s decision to switch from Beck to Grossman had a sane rationale behind it. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been in this situation before,” Shanahan said when asked if he’d ever had to go week-by-week deciding who his quarterback would be. “We don’t want to put John in a situation where we had a number of guys go down. With his [in]experience, especially after the last two weeks, I don’t think that was the right thing to do.”

Shanahan’s handling of Grossman and Beck is simply the standard way that coaches at all levels of the game handle a team when they have two quarterbacks who are equally poor and no one better in sight. It’s slightly devious, but it’s also universal, even with the most respected coaches.

You can’t out-coach your own bad quarterbacks. What Shanahan admitted, by his actions, not his words, is that despite all his brave talk he has two brutally limited backup quarterbacks and nothing more. You might hide their flaws if surrounded by talent. But they’re surrounded by nothing.

Injured Santana Moss hasn’t been a deep threat in two years. Tight end Chris Cooley is on the back end of his career. Anthony Armstrong clicked with some of McNabb’s bombs, but he’s of little use with these rag arms.

“We haven’t had a big play — 60 or 70 yards at a pop,” said Grossman, trying to explain one touchdown in three weeks. “We need to be more explosive and our red zone efficiency needs to be better.”

Except for tight end Fred Davis, the Redskins don’t have anything resembling a “playmaker.” And at full health, they have little more.

So in Grossman, and perhaps even Beck again, we have to endure the quarterback flip-flopping that almost never helps any team and announces to your rivals the old wisdom that if you switch quarterbacks, it means you don’t have a quarterback.

“I don’t know. I’m just here to play,” Grossman said of the quarterback flux. Did he know he’d be starting before the team itself was told on Saturday? “I was on a need-to-know basis,” he said. “But you could read between the lines.”

That’s where the Redskins are: with their quarterbacks, their most important position, on a need-to-know read-between-the-lines basis.

That’s it for the good news. The soft part of the schedule, the relative patsies like the Dolphins with quarterback miseries of their own, are almost all in the rearview mirror. Now it gets difficult. How will the Redskins react?

“I wish I had answers. I’m digging deep. I’m running out of material,” linebacker Brian Orapko said. “There was no drama this year, we got off to a good start. Then ever since the bye week, the drop-off has been way down.

“Whoever plays quarterback, we’ve got his back,” added Orakpo. “Beck, Grossman, who [knows]?”

Who is this quarterback named Who Knows? Is he on the practice squad? Go on, give him a shot.

 
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