Donovan McNabb's benching reveals Mike Shanahan's lack of trust in his QB

By Mike Wise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 31, 2010; 11:13 PM


Here's the dirty little secret the Redskins have been concealing as well as they can, until the fed-up Shanahan clan just couldn't take it anymore Sunday afternoon:

They don't yet trust Donovan McNabb to run this offense. In the aftermath of Washington's annual Motown meltdown, they may never.

Neither My-Way Mike nor Quality-Control Kyle (the heir apparent to the coaching throne in, oh, three years) have complete confidence the future Hall-of-Famer they traded for in the offseason is the Redskins' man for the job in the long haul, let alone two weeks.

The coach and his son can't say that after Washington ruined a tremendous opportunity to enter the bye week at 5-3. And for the sake of 2010 team unity, they probably need to steer as clear from that notion as possible.

But with the surprise benching of McNabb with less than two minutes left and the Redskins down to the Lions by a mere six points - in essence, sitting a proven late-game playmaker at the exact moment he was acquired for last spring - the evidence keeps building toward an undeniable reality:

Halfway into a 4-4 season, the quarterback and his immediate supervisors don't see eye to eye.

Mike Shanahan made that clear the moment he pulled McNabb for Rex Grossman, whom he explained understood the two-minute offense "terminology" better than McNabb - as if McNabb had never converted fourth and 26 once in January against Brett Favre and Green Bay to save another Philadelphia season.

Kyle Shanahan and McNabb separately admitted they're on different pages, too; Kyle saying in the postgame locker room that he called most of the plays at the end of the game; McNabb revealing in his news conference that "the majority of the time, you call your own plays, but Kyle had major input today."

Like any quarterback, McNabb added, he was bothered by the fact he didn't have the opportunity to "hopefully sustain a drive and win the game."

The kid's old man tried to nip the benching in the bud by saying McNabb will still be his starter two weeks from Monday against McNabb's former Eagles at FedEx Field, My-Way Mike implying this was just a situational substitution with no long-term effect.

But it's pretty clear for the first time since Todd Collins helped guide the Redskins to the playoffs after Jason Campbell was injured in 2007, Washington has a quarterback controversy.

And if you feel that's too drastic after a one-time benching - McNabb was benched at halftime in Baltimore three years ago, after all, and ended up regaining his starting job - don't think of it as Undependable Donovan vs. Unsexy Rexy.

No. It's McNabb vs. the organization that mortgaged part of its future to bring him here and, it hoped, re-sign the quarterback for four to five years.

With the coach making clear this past week he had no intention to talk contract extension during the season, it's not hard to decipher Shanahan's coded message to an established veteran (one hoping for a bona fide deal before a possible lockout):

"You're on stage for another nine weeks. Get this version of the West Coast system down. Because we're not convinced yet."

From the McNabb Stinks side, the abysmal quarterback rating and errant throws will be used as evidence in support of not keeping him around beyond this season. Even No. 5 knows he has been extremely lucky that just one - and not three - of his passes have been returned for touchdowns the past two weeks. (A delay-of-game nullified one pick six in Chicago and Sunday the Lions' Alphonso Smith presumably dressed up for Halloween as Carlos Rogers, jumping an out route along the left sideline only to bobble and drop and sure interception for a score, just like the Redskins' Mr. Hands-Free Device.)

From the Donovan is Still Dangerous side - my side - are these numbers: No quarterback has hooked up with a receiver for 50-yard plus gains more than McNabb's six times thus far this season. Lousy completion percentage and pathetic quarterback rating and all, he's still a game changer.

Sacked six times, hit on his hand during a late interception that probably sealed his benching, McNabb admitted he could have "made some people miss more" and wished he had gotten the ball out of his hands quicker a few times.

But unless Stanford's Andrew Luck has been tabbed as the future in Cashburn, Va., unless the organization is going to painfully mouth "rebuild" instead of "win now," the alternative to McNabb was clear Sunday afternoon:

Rex Grossman, a deer in the headlights, dislodged from the football after a violent blindside hit, a fumble that was returned for a game-clinching touchdown.

Grossman can run Kyle Shanahan's sophisticated offense with unparalleled precision all he wants; but that's the post-McNabb future, right there.

One player, who requested anonymity, said he felt the strained relationship between McNabb and Kyle Shanahan as well, adding that McNabb's bootleg and play-action talents don't exactly mesh with a meticulous West Coast scheme under the coach's son. The player also said McNabb gives the offensive unit more confidence in the huddle than any player in recent team history, that that counts for more than a scheme.

Either way, with less than two minutes left there was McNabb, in a baseball cap rather than a helmet. He spoke to Albert Haynesworth near the Gatorade cooler on the opposing sideline late Sunday afternoon at Ford Field.

"I asked him if he was okay," Haynesworth said, presuming the Redskins quarterback was injured.

"I mean, that's Donovan McNabb on your team," he added. "I would always keep him out there on the field - no matter what. That's just me."

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