Ashley Fox: The task of managing McNabb

Mike Shanahan showed his appreciation for Donovan McNabb last month against the Eagles. Things were different Sunday.
Mike Shanahan showed his appreciation for Donovan McNabb last month against the Eagles. Things were different Sunday.
Posted: November 03, 2010

Now we know. Trading Donovan McNabb wasn't just about the Eagles' brass wanting Kevin Kolb to get a shot at being the starting quarterback. They no longer wanted McNabb for all the reasons Mike Shanahan didn't want him on Sunday.

Shanahan can call it "cardiovascular endurance" or blame McNabb's loose grip on the Washington Redskins' two-minute offense. But Shanahan didn't want McNabb as his quarterback with the game against Detroit on the line with 1 minute, 45 seconds to play because McNabb is not clutch in those situations, not anymore.

It took Andy Reid 135 games to bench McNabb. It took Shanahan eight. He has no real allegiance to McNabb. Shanahan didn't build his career off McNabb's cannon of an arm, didn't ride with him through all those playoff wins and trips to the NFC championship game.

No, the only thing Shanahan had at stake were words. He had spent the off-season jabbering that the Redskins were going to win this season and that McNabb was a big reason.

So he risked a sliver of his reputation for what he truly believed - that McNabb can't get it done in crunch time - and the move stripped McNabb bare.

Shanahan doesn't trust him. It is that simple, and it makes the Eagles look brilliant in deciding that after 11 seasons, it was time to move on. That is why they had no problem moving McNabb within the NFC East. It had nothing to do with appeasing McNabb. It had everything to do with sending him somewhere that would help the Eagles.

And, boy, could it really help them.

After Reid benched McNabb at halftime of the Baltimore game in 2008, McNabb came back with a vengeance. Just four days later, on Thanksgiving, he carved up Arizona, completing 27 of 39 passes for 260 yards and four touchdowns. His 69.2 completion percentage was, at that time, his highest of the season.

With the exception of a game against Washington, of all teams, McNabb played superbly the rest of that season, throwing nine touchdowns and just one interception in five games, with four wins.

The benching served as the wake-up call McNabb and several other veterans needed to make another run to the NFC title game. But that title game, also against Arizona, exposed what had become a familiar McNabb flaw. He had the ball in his hands with a chance to win at the end and couldn't pull out a victory.

In typical fashion, McNabb said all the politically correct things Sunday after his latest benching, and on Tuesday during his weekly radio show in D.C., he failed to get into a war of words with his coach. According to the Washington Post's Jason Reid, McNabb admitted on ESPN-AM 980 that drama "just seems to follow me," then he defended his work ethic, something else that has been questioned in recent days.

"You can ask these guys how I work and my work ethic," McNabb said, according to Reid. "My work ethic has never been a question. My tempo has never been a question. But I think there's a lot of digging going on right now, miscellaneous digging."

Tempo was a question in the Super Bowl, wasn't it? That is on tape and is not miscellaneous digging.

Peel away the layers, and McNabb has to be seething. He is a proud guy who has worked to build the confidence his teammates seem to have in him.

But the numbers don't lie. With a passer rating of 76.0, McNabb is 25th in the NFL, three slots - it has been noted in Washington - behind former Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell, who is now in Oakland. McNabb ranks 26th in completion percentage and is tied for 23d with seven touchdown passes. In the fourth quarter, his 64.4 passer rating is 27th, and his 62.8 passer rating on third down is 26th.

McNabb still has the big arm - he is tied for second with seven passes of 40 or more yards - but he has struggled this season on the short and intermediate passes. And Sports Illustrated's Peter King pointed out this week that with the ball in McNabb's hands in the final two minutes of a game this season, the Redskins have managed only a field goal. Once, McNabb threw an interception and twice Washington failed to get a first down.

And so, even though the Redskins' offensive line couldn't block me and the receivers are shoddy at best, Shanahan benched McNabb. Oh, and by the way, the Redskins worked out former first-round draft pick JaMarcus Russell on Tuesday. Coincidence? Doubtful.

Shanahan's hope certainly has to be that after the bye week, McNabb will be highly motivated and sharp at home against the Eagles. Shanahan also has to hope that the locker room doesn't rebel against him, because McNabb is popular and Rex Grossman is a turnover waiting to happen.

McNabb got 22 more starts for the Eagles after that Thanksgiving night. He is guaranteed one more in Washington - and nothing more.

Contact staff writer Ashley Fox

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