By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 20, 2010; 12:13 AM
ARLINGTON, TEX. - Directed by new starting quarterback Rex Grossman, the Washington Redskins showed significant improvement on offense but continued their season-ending slide Sunday in a 33-30 loss to the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium.
Grossman matched his career high with four touchdown passes while helping the Redskins overcome a 20-point third-quarter deficit before they eventually fell short again in their fourth straight loss and sixth in seven games.
"I thought Rex did an excellent job today," said Coach Mike Shanahan, who came under fire from the media and fans this season for his handling of the McNabb-Grossman situation. "I wanted to give him an opportunity. I thought he took advantage of that opportunity."
Officially promoted over benched six-time Pro Bowler Donovan McNabb Thursday, Grossman impressed in his first start since the 2008 season, leading the Redskins to touchdowns on three consecutive drives in the third and fourth quarters. Grossman capped each with touchdown passes (two to top wide receiver Santana Moss and one to tight end Chris Cooley), and also completed consecutive two-point conversion passes after the fourth-quarter touchdowns. The second tied the score at 30 with 7 minutes 37 seconds remaining in the game.
Playing before a crowd of 86,904, Dallas eventually got it together again.
The Cowboys' defense, which Grossman torched after halftime, forced the Redskins to punt on their next possession. The Cowboys got the ball back with 3:11 to play and quarterback Jon Kitna led them into field goal position.
Place kicker David Buehler hit a 39-yarder with 50 seconds remaining. On the game's final possession, Grossman moved the Redskins from their 20-yard line to the 47 - where his good day ended badly. Dallas cornerback Terence Newman intercepted Grossman's pass at the Cowboys 47 and ran out the clock.
The Redskins (5-9) have only one victory in the second half of their schedule and dropped into a last-place tie with the Cowboys (5-9) in the NFC East. The Redskins' last-ranked defense again failed often, giving up 434 total net yards.
"Just wasn't very good again," outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. "Obviously, we're still not clicking."
Though McNabb does not deserve all the blame for the team's problems scoring, the rhythmic quality of Shanahan's quarterback-friendly offense finally took form with Grossman at the controls.
In announcing his controversial decision to turn to the journeyman Grossman over McNabb - one of the NFL's most-accomplished active signal-callers - Shanahan cited his desire to evaluate the Redskins' quarterback position. Many Redskins observers Sunday saw what Shanahan said he already knew about Grossman's potential to operate Washington's scheme.
Shanahan was not surprised about Grossman's production (322 yards, four touchdowns and a 93.4 passer rating) because "we've been practicing quite a bit, all the way through OTA [organized team activities] days, so it's not like he's not familiar with the offense or what we've been doing. It's been a little tough because he hasn't had a lot of reps with what we've been doing, but I thought he handled himself quite well today. . . . He played with a lot of poise."
A backup the past two seasons after leaving Chicago, Grossman delivered in his first start since Nov. 9, 2008, when he led the Bears against the Tennessee Titans. The Redskins scored at least 30 points in a game for the first time since Dec. 13 last season against the Oakland Raiders - a span of 16 games. It was Washington's first game with four touchdown passes since 2005.
For the most past, Grossman read the Cowboys' defense well and put Redskins pass catchers in position to make plays. The eight-year veteran played in a nearly identical version of the offense with the Houston Texans last season, under then-Texans offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who now runs the Redskins' offense.
Grossman seemed to raise his level of play when the Cowboys took a 27-7 lead with about 12 minutes remaining in the third quarter. He calmly directed three of the Redskins' best touchdown drives of the season.
"We didn't get a lot of things going early," Grossman said. "We couldn't pick up a first down to try to get through our game plan. But once you make first downs, and get able to run all the plays that are in the game plan [that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan] drew up, then you can start attacking."
No. 2 wideout Anthony Armstrong had five receptions for 100 yards. Moss (72 yards) had his first multiple-touchdown performance since Oct. 1, 2006, against the Jacksonville Jaguars. In that game, he had three touchdown catches.
Grossman's pleased teammates chose their words carefully, walking a fine line of praising him while trying support McNabb.
"You have to give him congrats of how he handled himself, coming in this late in the year and playing good," Moss said of Grossman. "But I'm not trying to get into all that comparison, I'll leave that [to reporters].
"You gotta understand something: Rex knows this offense. Rex played in this offense. For a guy that know what he knows, of course, it's gonna look the way it looks. He came out and he seen things and he been here before when it comes to this offense. And he has the weapons, so he took advantage of it."
Cooley had five receptions for 62 yards Sunday. In Washington's previous loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he was open at times and did not get the ball.
"Real impressed with Rex. Real impressed with his tempo," said Cooley, who before commenting said he would not compare Grossman and McNabb.
"Real impressed with his ability to communicate in the huddle, to move up to the line quickly, call plays quickly. There was no confusion, whatsoever, all game. Not I'm saying anything bad about Donovan. What I'm saying is, Rex did that very well."
Of course, Grossman wasn't perfect.
He committed three turnovers - including the game-ending interception - two of which led to Cowboys touchdowns. Not surprisingly, Grossman appeared rusty in the first half, and his slow start contributed to the Redskins falling behind quickly. And it's not as if he was facing the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense; Dallas is ranked only 25th in the league.
Still, Grossman performed better than McNabb has in most games this season. And in Shanahan's evaluation of the team's quarterbacks, that's probably not good for McNabb.
"Everybody's going to try to make this a quarterback issue," Shanahan said. "I understand this game, I understand how it works. . . . The reason why I wanted to look at him [Grossman] is based on how he's practiced. I thought he may look how he did today."