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Donovan McNabb stays calm amid the Redskins storm brewing around him

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By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 10, 2010; 12:00 AM

Washington Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb faced yet another round of questions early last week about Coach Mike Shanahan's stunning decision to bench him late in the Week 8 loss to the Detroit Lions.

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Surrounded by reporters and television cameras shortly before the team began its bye week, McNabb acknowledged he was "absolutely" insulted by reports of his inability to grasp Shanahan's two-minute offense and questions about his work ethic.

But if McNabb was wounded by the criticism, he didn't show it. He did what he has always done during rocky moments: He was calm. He didn't point fingers. He acted professionally.

"It's part of the job. I know that," McNabb said that day. "That's why I'm standing here right now."

Despite his best efforts to remain drama-free during more than 11 successful seasons in the NFL, McNabb again finds himself in a storm after Shanahan determined backup Rex Grossman gave the Redskins the best chance to win in the final two minutes at Ford Field. Shanahan and his son, Kyle, Washington's offensive coordinator, continued to stir confusion days later, when they tried to elaborate on their reasoning.

National NFL television analysts have criticized McNabb for failing to speak out publicly against the Shanahans, but that's simply not his style, according to people who know how the six-time Pro Bowler conducts himself. McNabb's calm approach has helped him retain the respect of his teammates during another difficult time for an organization that experienced this sort of thing weekly last season.

"Yeah, there's a lot of stuff Donovan's had to deal with, but Donovan always handles everything first class," said cornerback Carlos Rogers. "It was a whole lot after the game and then [last week], but nobody handles stuff like that better than Donovan."

Privately, many within the organization acknowledge that Mike Shanahan could have handled things much better when he first met with the media after benching McNabb for the final 1 minute 50 seconds of the 37-25 loss. Many veteran players were upset about the move, though none would dare to publicly criticize the man who runs Washington's football operation.

Although McNabb did not play well against the Lions and has struggled for most of the season, he is highly respected in the locker room. Players believe they always have a chance to win with McNabb on the field. Grossman does not inspire such confidence.

The Redskins had hoped things would settle down after Shanahan and McNabb addressed the situation in separate interviews immediately after the game. But a day later, Shanahan said McNabb's injuries also contributed to the benching. Two days after the game, Kyle Shanahan, in what proved to be only a partially successful attempt to clarify some of his father's comments, said McNabb was informed he could be removed against Detroit because of his performance.

McNabb said he did not hear that part of his conversations with the Shanahans.

"I would have gotten hot because of a lot of situations that went on, but he's our quarterback and he's our leader, so he's handling like he should," strong safety LaRon Landry said. "He's keeping his composure. And after what he went through before [in Philadelphia], it's what we all expected."

By now, the story of Eagles fans booing McNabb on draft day in 1999 is as much a part of his career bio as the five NFC championship games and one Super Bowl in which Philadelphia played during McNabb's 11-year tenure there. Eagles fans at Madison Square Garden jeered as the team chose McNabb with the second overall pick, instead of running back Ricky Williams.

During 2003, conservative commentator and radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh resigned from ESPN after he used racially charged language in saying that McNabb was overrated. Wide receiver Terrell Owens repeatedly blasted McNabb before the 2005 season, and there were many other times when McNabb's mental toughness and ability to lead were questioned.

"I mean, let's analyze Donovan's career," defensive lineman Andre Carter said. "He was booed before he even was really part of their team, but he didn't take anything personal. And there were a lot of other times where the organization there, I don't want to say chastised him, but he could have taken other things personal, like a lot of guys would have, and he didn't do it."

Rich Burg, spokesman for McNabb's charitable foundation, said that "Donovan has always felt by responding to public questions it tends to create distractions - more answers to be analyzed. He was able to have his questions answered privately by Coach Shanahan and that conversation will remain between the two of them. The quicker they move on from this distraction the greater their concentration will be on the next game.

"Ultimately it's about solving problems, not creating them."

McNabb's stoic demeanor provided fodder for criticism on sports-talk radio in Philadelphia. Fans often expressed frustration that McNabb did not display more emotion after his poor performances in losses, but "that's him," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "He's been in this league a long time, man, and he's a consummate professional. He goes out, works hard and gives everything he has. That's what matters, and that's why I'd definitely still ride with him and the other guys in here will, too."

Some NFL analysts believe McNabb has acted too passively in this situation. They said he should blast the Shanahans for stirring doubt about his intelligence and conditioning.

"But why would you want to do that?" fullback Mike Sellers said. "Just to add fuel to the fire? . . . It's all about your teammates and how your teammates feel about you. And we definitely believe in Donovan."

Washington hosts Philadelphia on Monday night at FedEx Field. Before he was removed against Detroit, McNabb was last benched in Week 12 of the 2008 season during a 36-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

The next game, he responded with a four-touchdown performance in a 48-20 victory over the Arizona Cardinals and produced his second-highest quarterback rating (121.7) of the season. McNabb threw nine touchdown passes and just one interception in leading the Eagles to four victories in their final five games of the regular season.

"Look at what he did the last time this happened. He balled out," Carter said. "No matter what Donovan goes through, we know we can count on him."


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