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For Washington sports fans, patience is needed in abundance

Donovan McNabb is pulled from the fourth quarter, and Detroit defeats Washington 37-25.

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By Tracee Hamilton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 31, 2010; 10:53 PM

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Aren't you getting tired of being told to be patient? Because I'm getting tired of saying it. Americans have never been a patient people, and the 21st century is not a patient era. Tom Petty had it right: The waiting is the hardest part. Right now, doesn't it feel like Washington's Big Four professional teams are using dial-up when the rest of the world is wireless?

The Wizards are rebuilding, and they've got John Wall - so be patient. The Nats have a Plan and they've got Stephen Strasburg - so be patient. Strasburg, you have to be patient, too, with your rebuilt elbow. The Caps should challenge for the Stanley Cup this season (we're heard that before, of course) but there's an 82-game regular season to get through - so be patient.

And then there are the Redskins. Despite new coaches, new players and new schemes, they've already matched last year's victory tally. So be patient, Washington, it's all coming together.

Except that it all came apart Sunday in Detroit, where the Redskins lost to the Lions, 37-25. The result was neither surprising nor particularly horrifying, Halloween or not. But what happened in the final two minutes will have ramifications through the bye week, the remainder of the season, and probably into the offseason and beyond.

Trailing 31-25 with 1 minute 50 seconds to play, Coach Mike Shanahan benched quarterback Donovan McNabb in favor of Rex Grossman, because Grossman knows the two-minute offense better.

Well, a little knowledge may be a dangerous thing. Grossman was sacked on the first play and fumbled, Ndamukong Suh scooped it up and scored and just like that, the Lions were up by 12 with 90 seconds left. Ball game. Grossman had one more series of work, but it was too late.

"We're close to being a good football team," said tight end Chris Cooley. "But every part of our offense is garbage. Not just one facet but all of it. It's me, too. I keep thinking we're going to do something to really break out of this. I just don't know when."

After the game, Shanahan threw McNabb under the bus, backed it up and drove over him with it. How else do you describe a coach saying his backup quarterback gave him a better chance to win than his starter? This is not to say that McNabb could have pulled out the game, but the chances that Grossman, who had not played a snap this season, was going to save the day seem remote, at best. So by all means create a quarterback controversy before the bye week.

Shanahan had reason to be unhappy with McNabb - although if he's going to play the controlling parent who withholds love he might start with the offensive line, which gave up seven sacks. Still, McNabb contributed to the malaise, as he said afterward. The Redskins began their most important drive of the game at the 26-yard line with 5:21 to play. They needed a meticulous, clock-eating, touchdown-producing drive to put the game out of reach. Brandon Banks' kickoff return for a touchdown with 8:05 remaining had given them a 25-20 lead but it was sandwiched between two Lions series, so the defense needed a blow.

Forty-one seconds wasn't enough. On second and 10 McNabb threw a ball to Anthony Armstrong that was wrestled away by Alphonso Smith for an interception.

The Lions got the ball at the Redskins 37 with plenty of time to score, but Matthew Stafford was struggling to complete passes. A holding call on Kareem Moore kept the drive alive, Stafford found Calvin Johnson in the end zone for a touchdown, and the Lions made the two-point conversion and for a 28-25 lead.

McNabb had one more series, completing two short passes followed by two incompletions and a sack on fourth-and-10 out of the shotgun with 2:15 remaining. The Lions quickly kicked a field goal, and McNabb's day was done.

After the game, McNabb - in a blue crushed velvet jacket and gold tie - was his usual placid self. McNabb exhibits no highs or lows, at least to the media. He doesn't complain. He doesn't point fingers. He doesn't make excuses. He doesn't get down, or up. He maintains an even strain, like Gordo Cooper in "The Right Stuff."

McNabb's demeanor - "You have to be a professional in everything you do" - worries some fans, who'd like to see more hand-wringing, especially when he's asked whether he's surprised the offense isn't clicking after eight games.

"There's ways to look at it, but yes," he admitted Sunday, somewhat reluctantly. "I thought we'd be ready to get things going by now. But it's a long season ahead of us. We just have to focus on these last eight games."

Ah, yes, eight more games. The Redskins go into the bye week with a 4-4 record. Even Steven. For this team, this season, that's hardly a disgrace. (Be patient!) The Cowboys at 1-6, that's a disgrace. But in a down year in the NFC, the Redskins had a chance at 5-3 or better. They could be leading the NFC East right now, easily.

Instead, they go into the bye week with a head coach who apparently doesn't trust his quarterback and a quarterback who apparently doesn't have a firm grasp of the playbook. If Shanahan and McNabb don't mend fences, all the patience in the world won't resolve that problem.

hamiltont@washpost.com


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