Donovan McNabb helps guide Washington Redskins to strong preseason debut

Head Coach Mike Shanahan and quarterback Donovan McNabb make their Redskins debuts as the Redskins race to victory over visiting Buffalo as FedEx Field.
By Mike Wise
Friday, August 13, 2010; 11:44 PM

Six minutes into the game, and Donovan McNabb went down hard, his head bouncing off the ground. A sight that for 11 years brought instant euphoria to FedEx Field - that No. 5 jersey no longer scampering but slammed to the turf - became cause for hush and momentary concern.

McNabb got up quickly, apparently unfazed, and Buffalo's blitzing linebacker Aaron Maybin was flagged for roughing the quarterback.

First down. Drive stays alive.

The new Washington Redskins quarterback then skittered along the right side for a first down, found Chris Cooley for another and drove his former rivals 80 yards in 11 plays for an efficient touchdown in a preseason opener that meant absolutely nothing.

And everything.

Points in the red zone build confidence, just as cohesion in a new system builds confidence. But everything about the next few weeks before Sept. 12 is really about one thing: keeping the most important player on the roster healthy.

Keeping McNabb upright and mobile enough means all the decisions in the offseason have a chance of being justified.

I keep hearing about throwing motions, the fragility of Stephen Strasburg's right arm in relation to the Nationals' long-term plans. Or how the Wizards would have no buzz if John Wall hurt his knee, and the Capitals would become a lot less breathtaking with a sidelined Alex Ovechkin.

And that's all true and valid.

But of all the franchise players in Washington at the moment, nothing should be treated like fine china and babied more than a quarterback who turns 34 in two months.

McNabb is the key to everything.

Yes, the Albert Haynesworth conditioning saga gave Mike Shanahan a bit more locker-room cred. He has gone about establishing a clear delineation of command, whereby no one leapfrogs the coach to get to the owner.

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