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Brian Eller

McNabb finding niche in capital city

Jeff George, Brad Johnson, Tony Banks, Shane Matthews, Patrick Ramsey, Danny Wuerffel, Tim Hasselbeck, Mark Brunell, Jason Campbell, Todd Collins, Donovan McNabb.

One of these things is not like the other.

The list above represents the Washington Redskins' starting quarterbacks since 2000. Ten years of gun-slingers, signal callers and team leaders, all of whom have brought Redskins fans two playoff appearances, one playoff win and a boatload of frustration in
recent history.

But it's the last name on the list that doesn't quite fit. Maybe it's because he's only had five games as a sample size, on a team that's still trying to figure out its identity. One thing is for sure, however. McNabb has a chance to separate himself from the franchises' woeful list of quarterbacks and Sunday No. 5 took a big step in that direction.

Sunday's win over the Green Bay Packers has the Redskins at 3-2, a suitable position through five weeks for any realistic D.C. football fan. Washington now boasts wins over Dallas, Philadelphia and Green Bay, two teams that look to be contenders this year in the NFC. But it's the team's most recent win, and the way it was done, that should have fans excited about McNabb under center.

With starting running back Clinton Portis out with a groin injury, Washington turned to former Denver Bronco Ryan Torain. Torain carried the ball 16 times Sunday, amassing 40 yards, an average of just 2.5 yards per carry. Considering the Packers defense is allowing nearly 105 yards on the ground per game, it's safe to say the Redskins' rushing attack wasn't a major force.

That meant Sunday's game fell on the shoulders of McNabb. Not only was Torain being held in check, but Washington found itself behind, 13-3, to start the fourth quarter.
With anyone else on the above list as quarterback other than McNabb, the Redskins aren't winning that game. But that's what he's been conditioned to do -- lead his team. With less than five minutes gone from the final quarter, McNabb found Anthony Armstrong on a 48-yard touchdown pass, part of a 357-yard day for the quarterback. His 26 completions were the second-highest mark so far this year, just two behind McNabb's 28 against the Texans, and that game went into overtime. All the while, McNabb has thrown just three interceptions, a big reason the Redskins are sitting pretty at the top of the NFC East.

But it hasn't been all about McNabb recently. A lot of credit should go to the defense, which, over the past three games, have forced six turnovers, including a key interception by LeRon Landry in the win against the Packers in overtime.

Last week, I said this would be the three-week stretch in which we find out who the Redskins really are, with matchups against Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Jay Cutler. Rodgers' day is done and now Manning will travel to Washington looking to keep pace with Houston.

But Sunday's win showed me something. It showed me that maybe the arms like Rodgers, Manning and Cutler aren't the ones who will determine how far the Redskins go this season. Maybe it's their own arm, the one attached to No. 5.

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