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Redskins QB Donovan McNabb looks forward to his next chance at the two-minute drill

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The Washington Post's football insiders discuss how the Donovan McNabb benching has "festered" during the bye week and how the quarterback controversy has predictably overshadowed McNabb's second matchup against his old team.

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By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 12, 2010; 12:10 AM

Countless times in an NFL career that now spans 12 seasons and 156 games, Donovan McNabb has taken the field with his team trailing, the clock winding down, the game in the balance, ready to perform a two-minute drill. He said he felt prepared for those spots when he was a Philadelphia Eagle. He feels prepared now, he said, ready to lead the Washington Redskins into a Monday night game against those Eagles.

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"The two-minute drill is an exciting time, because no one knows what to expect, and kind of the unknown happens," McNabb said Thursday. "I've been a part of it for years."

He has never, though, been a part of it in the situation he now faces. McNabb was benched once in his 11 years in Philadelphia, but that was at halftime of a blowout loss. His benching on Oct. 31 as a Redskin raised a litany of questions that get at the core of how quarterbacks are judged: It came at a time and in a situation - with 1 minute 50 seconds left in a six-point game - in which the best players excel and the also-rans fail.

In the dozen days since Coach Mike Shanahan yanked McNabb from what became a loss to Detroit, questions - some of them raised by Shanahan himself - have surfaced concerning McNabb's grasp of the Redskins' offense, his work habits, his health and his physical conditioning. But the central issue remains that, in the circumstances that help define the legacy of quarterbacks, Shanahan felt more comfortable with Rex Grossman at the controls than he did with McNabb.

The thought of John Elway or Peyton Manning or Tom Brady taking a seat in such a spot seems preposterous. Yet for all of McNabb's accolades, the evidence - statistical and anecdotal - suggests he doesn't belong in that same type of two-minute quarterback club.

"I think if you look at the history of Donovan, he's been inconsistent in that period of time," said former Philadelphia quarterback Ron Jaworski, who has studied McNabb throughout his career and will call Monday's game on ESPN. "There have been times where he's run the two-minute offense brilliantly, and there have been times when he's been sketchy."

McNabb has faced a fourth-quarter deficit of between one and eight points - one score - and pulled out a win 15 times in his professional career, including the playoffs, according to research by Scott Kacsmar of the Web site pro-football-reference.com. He led his team from behind to tie once. And 31 times, he has faced such a deficit and lost.

Compare that to other contemporary quarterbacks: According to Kacsmar's research, Manning has 35 comeback wins and 39 losses; Brady has 22 wins and 15 losses; Ben Roethlisberger 18 wins and 19 losses.

The struggles are even more acute this season. Fourteen times in his tenure with the Redskins, McNabb has taken the ball with five minutes or less in a half in a situation in which Washington was pushing to score - thus discarding fourth-quarter possessions that begin when the Redskins had the lead and were trying to salt a game away. The Redskins have scored four field goals and only one touchdown on those possessions.

McNabb's numbers - 28 for 44 with no touchdowns, three interceptions and a passer rating of 65.2 - would indicate that he has been mediocre when trying to push the offense quickly. Yet they are situations to which he looks forward.

"I enjoy that part, especially when you've gotten things going and you're in that rhythm and everybody's getting involved," McNabb said. "Everyone feels they're contributing. You're spreading the ball around, you're picking up first downs, you get yourself in the red area where you feel like good things can happen."

Yet for a variety of reasons - circumstances, a suspect offensive line, a thin receiving corps and his own poor play among them - McNabb hasn't yet found that success in Washington. As Jaworski said, "You have to look at the whole body of this offense right now. They have some issues."


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