Donovan McNabb and Redskins defense not perfect, but plenty plucky

Donovan McNabb and Peyton Manning face-off at FedEx Field.
By Mike Wise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 18, 2010; 1:49 AM

I love these mano a mano title fights in prime time - the great Donovan McNabb vs. the really, really great Peyton Manning. Well, provided the Redskins don't go to the scorecards.

Manning, easily the most surgically gifted passer of his generation, a top-five all-time quarterback, did not win by knockout.

But he bloodied and battered that unbowed Redskins secondary before Washington's fourth-quarter comeback puttered to a halt, the victim of clock mismanagement at the end and a surreal game-ending interception.

And, okay, Manning was fairly flawless. Manning has more fourth-quarter comebacks than Tom Brady, his only real competition for Greatest QB of His Era. And his only genuine knock is having won the exact same amount of Super Bowls as his not-as-talented kid brother, Eli.

McNabb, meanwhile, has to be one of the most inaccurate elite quarterbacks of all time. When he lets go of an incredibly hideous throw, his coaches must sometime contort their innards the way coaches contorted their innards when John Starks once shot for the Knicks or Mitch Williams once pitched for the Phillies.

But he leads, makes big plays when his team is down and gives the Redskins organization its most bona fide shot at a Hall-of-Fame player in almost 20 years.

When he capped a 92-yard, 12-play drive down 10 points in the fourth quarter, finding Keiland Williams on the left hash like he found Brian Westbrook in Philly so many Sundays, all the unsightly possessions and passes credited to McNabb were gone

What remained was a franchise player doing everything he could to keep up with Manning, the most magnificent player on the field and, most weekends, in the NFL.

What had to be galling for the faithful, though, was how the Redskins defense - that same porous unit that gave up 170 yards rushing to a lousy running team and 307 yards to Manning - did its job at the end, getting the ball back, down a field goal. And all the McNabb-Shanahan brain trust could do was take 31 seconds to move a net zero yards in four downs, culminating in a deep ball to Anthony Armstrong against a defense that did not give up one single deep ball all night. That play was saved for that moment?

Harsh but true: perhaps the most important weapon McNabb has had the first six games of this season is playing alongside a defense that is knocking everyone out, making his inferior statistical lines often stand up.

What do Steven Jackson, Michael Vick, Aaron Rodgers and now Joseph Addai have in common? They either were knocked out of a game or suffered an actual concussion in consecutive weeks by a devastatingly violent defense that almost seems okay with giving up huge chunks of yardage as long as one of the other guys' offensive stars has to be helped off the field at some point.

That visible increase in monster hits - "bringing the pain," linebacker Lorenzo Alexander calls it - has helped conceal McNabb's flaws and given him the possessions and hope he needs to bring a team back from the brink.

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