Redskins' OT win over Titans works wonders for their locker room

By Mike Wise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 22, 2010; 12:43 AM

NASHVILLE From Monday Night Massacre to Music City Make-Up, just like that.

If this was "sorry" for six days ago in Landover or last month in Detroit, what genuine amends they were.

If it took nearly a dozen injuries and an assistant coach playfully asking Albert Haynesworth if he could play on the offensive line to produce the most gratifying moment to date of the Mike Shanahan era, Sunday was worth the debilitating physical toll.

Healthy or hurting, the bodies of Washington players who stormed the field won more than an NFL war of attrition in overtime. Donovan McNabb's aging bones didn't just deliver in the two-minute drill like Graham Gano's foot in the clutch.

They didn't merely win a game; they won back belief.

Resilients 19, Titans 16.

Five-and-5 may never feel as good or earned as it does today in Ashburn.

Apology accepted for the recent string of bad play, bruised egos, rotten rumors and the unfortunate return of Cirque Du Soleil to Daniel Snyder's franchise, which, let's be honest, made us question whether or not the culture is indeed being changed by the coach and primary decision-maker from Denver.

Just three weeks ago Wounded-Duck Donovan was dissed in Detroit by My-Way Mike and his son, Hyper-Competitive Kyle, who unknowingly stoked the embers for their own skewering when they gave McNabb the hook for Rex Grossman with less than two minutes to go in a game.

It's been barely six days since Washington's dreadful defense gave up an ungodly 59 points and Jim Haslett all but Fed-Exed Mike Vick's game-worn jersey to Canton by himself.

But winning really is the great deodorant, isn't it? The stench already seems gone.

From Monday Night Massacre to Music City Make-Up, just like that.

And in hindsight, maybe the madness of the past month was needed for Sunday in Nashville to happen. Maybe the QB-rama drama and knockout loss to Philadelphia was a needed airing-out session, one that created more closeness than chasms.

"Exactly," McNabb said in a jubilant locker room full of strained hamstrings and unsteady ligaments and athletic tape. "It's growing pains right now. I'm getting to know Kyle a little more. He's getting to know me. The guys around us are trying to grow together. Our defense is trying to get a new scheme as well. It's a growing process for us.

"Sometimes it can be frustrating. Sometimes it can be outstanding, like, today."

Amid the adrenaline after he spoke on the dais, Shanahan acknowledged he expressed regret in the handling of McNabb's benching.

"I would have worded it differently," he said. "Hey, I don't want to ever throw somebody under the bus or appear to throw somebody under the bus."

This is what happens when grown men holding resentments lay their cards on the table, authentically, in a one-on-one atmosphere.

"The conversation was making sure we're on the same page," McNabb said of the meeting between him and the coach after Detroit. "For me, it was knowing I'm the leader for this team and that I can do this with the guys. And if they build that trust in me, we can go out there and play games like this and come out winners."

Asked if he was aware of the criticism leveled at his coach, McNabb added, "He took a lot of grief. I've taken a lot of grief before. That's the marriage that the head coach and quarterback have."

He also shot down the most sinister theory of all, that Shanahan's decision had anything to do with race.

"Sometimes people dip into that whole aspect of it," McNabb said. "That wasn't me. I didn't respond to it in that way, nor would I ever. No. I never thought that had anything to do with it."

Added Shanahan, who was clearly bothered by some of the coverage: "I've been called a lot of things, but never that one."

Bottom line, the coach and the quarterback are good. The defense apologized to, well, itself. And the Washington Redskins made their legions believe again, the greatest amends of all.

"I've never been more proud of anybody in the way they handled themselves, especially the adversity we had, as many guys go down as we had," Shanahan said. "They never wavered."

From calamity came character. From a gut-churning controversy came a growing closeness.

Monday Night Massacre to Music City Make-Up, just like that.

"If this team is healthy, are they a playoff team?" Shanahan was asked.

"You take a look at some of the teams we played and how we played, you say, 'Hey, what you want to do is try to get a little healthy and try to play your best football the second half of the season. We proved we can play - now we got to do it in the second half."

That's not, "Yes." But after all the grit and resolve on Sunday, it's also not, "No."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company