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Washington Redskins lose to Detroit Lions, 37-25; Donovan McNabb replaced by Rex Grossman

By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 1, 2010; 12:05 AM

DETROIT - Many questions arose from the Redskins' latest horrible experience here against the Detroit Lions, whose 37-25 victory Sunday afternoon could again prompt change in Washington.

Although the Redskins' poor performance in front of an announced crowd of 42,329 at Ford Field will not trigger the organizational upheaval that occurred after Detroit's 19-14 win last season - a victory that ended the Lions' losing streak at 19 games - adjustments appear necessary quickly. The Redskins begin their bye week in search of answers after mistakenly believing they were beyond that point.

"We worked so hard during the week, we studied so hard, and we were ready, so to come out with an 'L' after all this . . . it's frustrating," fullback Mike Sellers said. "We just need to stop playing down to our competition."

Detroit exposed Washington's flaws in pulling away with a 23-point fourth quarter. Washington's offensive line struggles have been glaring at times, but the Lions took things to another level, sacking starter Donovan McNabb a season-high six times, backup Rex Grossman once and pounding both throughout the game, which Washington led by five points midway into the fourth quarter.

Detroit capped the high-scoring quarter when Grossman, who replaced McNabb with 1 minute 50 seconds remaining because Coach Mike Shanahan believed he gave Washington the best chance in its hurry-up offense, fumbled while being sacked. The Lions' standout rookie defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh (two sacks) returned the ball 17 yards for a touchdown.

The Redskins' secondary often has been burned for big plays in the first season of the defense's transition to a 3-4 base, and Sunday was no exception.

Lions second-year quarterback Matthew Stafford continued his success against the Redskins, throwing a personal-best four touchdown passes - including three to star wide receiver Calvin Johnson - to help Detroit (2-5) rally for the win. Stafford - the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft - played in his first game since suffering a separated passing shoulder in a Week 1 loss to the Chicago Bears. Stafford, who received an ovation to start the game, struggled for long stretches, but threw for 212 yards in improving to 2-0 against the Redskins.

The Redskins (4-4) had only one healthy running back in the second half. Third-string back Chad Simpson, who has been slowed the past two weeks by a hamstring injury, was inactive. Starter Ryan Torain, promoted after Clinton Portis was sidelined by a severe groin injury, sat out the second half with a hamstring problem of his own, leaving rookie Keiland Williams to shoulder the load in the running game.

Washington committed costly penalties, extending drives that resulted in points for Detroit. The Redskins wasted an outstanding performance from rookie return specialist Brandon Banks, who averaged 35.5 yards on six kickoff returns. Banks had a 96-yard touchdown and another long score was nullified by a penalty.

And then there's the McNabb situation.

Obviously, the 12-year veteran has struggled during his first season in Shanahan's West Coast scheme. And last season with the Houston Texans, Grossman worked under Redskins offensive coordinator and play-caller Kyle Shanahan in the offense Mike Shanahan designed.

Still, Shanahan stirred surprise along the sideline when he replaced the six-time Pro Bowler in favor of Grossman to run the two-minute offense. "I felt with the time, and no timeouts, he was the best chance to win in that scenario," Shanahan said. "Just knowing the terminology of what we've done, how we run it, puts a lot of pressure on the quarterback that hasn't been used to that terminology. I thought that was the best scenario for us to have a chance to win."

McNabb and Torain teamed on a short touchdown pass, but McNabb had only a 75.7 passer rating. He also had a costly interception late in the fourth quarter. On the possession after McNabb's turnover, Stafford and Johnson (nine receptions, 101 yards) teamed on the go-ahead touchdown.

But McNabb did not question Shanahan's choice. "Well, he makes the decisions," McNabb said. "I just continue to go with it and just cheer for my team."

Some of McNabb's teammates, however, expressed surprise about the move.

"I walked up to [wide receiver] Santana [Moss], I said, 'Is Rex in?' He said, 'I guess,' " tight end Chris Cooley said. "Yeah, I was surprised."

Informed of Shanahan's comments about Grossman being more familiar with the offensive terminology, cornerback DeAngelo Hall supported McNabb.

"It had nothing to do with terminology, it looked like we couldn't protect our quarterback. That's the bottom line," said Hall, who had his NFL-leading sixth interception in the first quarter. "Rex got out there . . . I don't care if he knew the terminology or not. Sack, fumble, touchdown. I don't care who's back there, if we can't protect them then we can't win. We gotta get better. We gotta stop making mistakes."

Hall paused, said the defense also needed to play better, himself included, and then continued on the decision to bench McNabb.

"It ain't that complicated as far Rex being able to know the system in the two-minute better than Donovan," Hall said. "I mean, that's a surprise to me. I thought we prepared everybody. . . . I don't know what to say about that. I thought he [McNabb] was banged up. He was in the training room with me. . . . You'd like to have your starter out there, obviously."

Both Shanahan and McNabb describe McNabb's development in the offense as being "a process," and Shanahan "maybe in a way is putting it on himself a little," Cooley said of the surprising decision. "He's taking the responsibility himself, as far as saying, 'I'll take the responsibility of making that choice.' Like I said, I'm surprised. . . . I remember a lot of games, getting beat, or him [McNabb] taking it all the way down the field to the very end when he was on the other side of the ball."

The offensive line did not do its part to help McNabb, players said.

"They [the Lions' defensive line] changed it up," left tackle Trent Williams said. "They didn't come out there with the same look that we had seen before. Some of that goes to them. But then again, we gotta pick it up. We didn't do a great job."

Now, the Redskins have time to reflect. Although they could have been in a better position as their break begins, there still is, potentially, much for them to accomplish in their final eight games if they can find some answers - especially on offense.

"There's ways to look at it, but yes, I thought we would be able to kind of get things rolling by now," McNabb said of the offense. "But it's a long season ahead of us. We're not in the position, which we thought we wouldn't be in, but it's not a bad position. We just have to focus on these last eight games and make sure we come out on the winning side of things."

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