Donovan McNabb was at his best in Redskins' loss to Texans

By Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 20, 2010; 12:06 AM

In many seasons, a defeat like the one the Redskins suffered in overtime Sunday to the Texans, 30-27, could be a wrecking ball that damages the foundation of a whole season. How many times can you have a game in your hands and still find a way to lose?

"It's not frustrating that we lost, it's frustrating that we had the game won and then lost," said cornerback DeAngelo Hall of a blown 17-point second-half lead and the complete shredding of the Redskins defense for 497 passing yards by Matt Schaub.

However, because of one player, Donovan McNabb, this game may actually be a building block, both for this season and several more to come. Because of McNabb's 426-yard aerial show, the third-largest total of his 12-year career, this defeat will, in time, be seen as the day when the Redskins realized how much they've improved since last year at the game's most important position.

This defeat was a one-week setback for a 4-12 team that's trying to become respectable. Such embarrassments will happen. The Redskins are far from a polished Mike Shanahan operation. They still clank when they walk. "We had chances to seal it," Shanahan said. "If you don't do it, that's what happens."

If your defense gives up 526 yards of offense at home, if you can't execute a 29-yard field goal with 6 minutes 36 seconds to play to virtually ice the game and if you can't keep the one super-duper-star of the other team from catching a desperation 34-yard fourth-and-10 touchdown pass to tie the score with 2:03 to play, you aren't going to the Super Bowl this year, buddy.

No NFL team wants to admit such realities in September. You want to escape the Texans, beat up the lousy Rams next week in St. Louis and start the season 3-0. Oh, that would be better. The Redskins' reality is that they have a lot of work to do before they are actually a good team. But when and if they actually get there, they have a quarterback worthy of a contender.

McNabb didn't just complete 28 of 38 passes with no interceptions or fumbles. He also heaved a 65-yards-in-the-air bomb that slipped through Joey Galloway's fingers in the end zone for a should-have-been 54-yard touchdown. Mike Sellers could have caught another deep pass up the sideline. Yet another 22-yard completion was called back by a penalty.

In other words, with a bit more help, McNabb could have blown away his previous one-game yardage record of 464 yards and shot into the stratosphere of 500-yard games. With better execution on key field goals, he could have talked about a victory.

As courageous as former Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell was, he never had a day when he looked remotely as good as the spry 33-year-old McNabb in his second game for Shanahan. In fact, Campbell was lifted at halftime by his new team, the Oakland Raiders.

One blown victory matters a lot. But getting this kind of vintage McNabb for a measly second-round draft pick and a third- or fourth-round pick means a lot more.

Oh, that's not how the Redskins feel at the moment. They're miserable. And they should be. They botched what could've been a beautiful shock-the-NFC-East September.

They led 27-10 late in the third period. But they never had an answer for the Texans' two big wide receivers, Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter, who combined for an almost ridiculous 23 catches for 302 yards. For years, the Redskins have tried to find just one large, swift outside threat who's about 6 feet 3, 220 pounds. The Texans have a pair of 'em. The Redskins' defensive backs, climbing them like kids on a fence, were helpless.

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