By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 3, 2011; 12:26 AM
Repeatedly calling the tail end of the Washington Redskins' 2010 season an "evaluation period," Coach Mike Shanahan had hoped the season finale against the New York Giants might provide some clarity at the quarterback position. The burning question Washington took into Sunday's game will carry over into the offseason, though, because Shanahan wasn't ready to make any pronouncements regarding the future of either Donovan McNabb or Rex Grossman.
In the Redskins' 17-14 loss, Grossman did little to secure the job, but he did just enough to keep his name in the offseason conversation.
"Nothing is out of the realm of possibility right now," Shanahan said moments after his first season as Redskins coach had drawn to a close. "I'm not going to say one way or another what's going to happen because I'm not really sure myself."
While Shanahan's first season as coach started with a big win over the division rival Cowboys, it ended Sunday with a dispiriting loss to another division foe, a gloomy prelude to an offseason that promises plenty of questions. But none will draw the scrutiny of the unstable quarterback position.
Needing a win to remain in playoff contention, the Giants beat the Redskins in front of an announced crowd of 76,189 at FedEx Field. The victory wasn't enough for the Giants, who finished the season with a 10-6 record. By virtue of Green Bay's 10-3 win over Chicago Sunday, the Giants were eliminated from the playoff race.
Sunday's loss means the Redskins finished with a 6-10 record - two wins more than a season ago - and will pick 10th in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft. Five teams finished the year with fewer wins than Washington, and six others also managed to post six wins.
In Sunday's loss, Grossman was 26-of-44 passing for 336 yards and two touchdowns. But he also threw an interception to New York linebacker Keith Bulluck that might have been returned for a touchdown and lost two fumbles on a pair of sacks.
In the past three games - plus a brief appearance Oct. 31 at Detroit - Grossman was responsible for eight turnovers: four interceptions and four lost fumbles.
"I feel like I can play at a Pro Bowl level. I'm not sure if I did that," Grossman said. "But there was times I felt I was playing at a high level. Made a few mistakes here and there. For the most part, it was a tough situation to be put in. I feel like I did an okay job, but I can play a lot better."
On Sunday, Washington trailed 10-7 at halftime, but in a lackluster second half, one big play put Washington in a big hole.
The Redskins punted following their opening drive, pinning the Giants back at their 5-yard line. On second down, Giants wide receiver Mario Manningham beat Washington's DeAngelo Hall off the line of scrimmage, and quarterback Eli Manning floated a pass perfectly into Manningham's outstretched hands. Manningham ran nearly the length of the field for a 92-yard score, the longest reception a Redskins team has allowed since 1983.
The defensive lapse certainly isn't new to Washington. The team finished the season with the league's last-ranked defense, allowing an average of 389 yards per game, the third-most of any Redskins team and the most since 1954.
Linebacker London Fletcher said despite injuries that have sidelined at least five defensive starters, the unit played its two best games in Weeks 16 and 17. In addition, he said, last week was Washington's best effort in practice. These are reasons for optimism, he said, that the team is poised to improve next season.
"Obviously, we know there's going to be some changes," said Fletcher, the team's defensive captain. "We're 6-10 - there are going to be changes."
The exact nature of those changes won't be known for several weeks - and perhaps several months, if the NFL owners and the union can't hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement.
"I think at the end of the first year, especially over the next two weeks, we look at everything," Shanahan said. "We look at personnel, we look at our scheme. Then you've got to make a decision, 'What can you do to better your football team and your organization?'
"Obviously when you finish the way we did, with six wins, you've got some areas to work on."