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Brian Eller: Benching McNabb was wrong decision

The last time most of us saw Rex Grossman, he was on the biggest stage in professional sports, trying to lead the Chicago Bears past the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLI.
It was a messy game, played in rain-soaked Dolphins Stadium, and Grossman was out-shined by the great Peyton Manning.

Nearly four years later Grossman emerged again, this time with the Washington Redskins, once again trying to lead his team to a late win. And similar to what happened down in Miami against the Colts, Grossman couldn't get the job done, fumbling a snap that was returned for a touchdown as the Redskins dropped a winnable game at Detroit.
But where the two games differ is Sunday's loss to the Lions wasn't Grossman's fault. In fact, we shouldn't have even heard or discussed his name the morning after. For that, we have to credit, or in this case put blame on, Washington coach Mike Shanahan.

With only a few minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Shanahan made the bold, yet ludicrous, decision to pull starting quarterback Donovan McNabb in favor of Grossman. Naturally, the decision didn't work, and the Redskins now head into their bye week with a stinging loss and questions surrounding Shanahan's choice to swap signal callers.

After the game Shanahan explained his decision to bench McNabb, arguing that in their situation at the time, Grossman gave the Redskins a better chance to win. If you watched Shanahan during his press conference, you could almost pick up on a smirk, the kind of smirk that tells us even he didn't totally believe what was coming out of his mouth.

Maybe Shanahan did believe it was the right choice to go with Grossman, rather than stick with McNabb. If he truly believed that, he's wrong. Sorry, coach. But pulling a struggling McNabb and resorting to a guy who has more career interceptions (36) than touchdown passes (33) was the wrong move.

I think it's easy to see what lured Shanahan's brain into possibly thinking this was the right move. Over the past three weeks, McNabb has been just average, while the Redskins have been, well, average. On Sunday, McNabb completed 17 of 30 passes for 210 yards and threw both a touchdown and an interception. Like I said, an average day for most quarterbacks.

But watching McNabb control the offense Sunday showed things weren't quite where they needed to be, beginning with the first series, in which McNabb tripped and fell for a loss of 9 yards on first down, then got his feet tangled with center Casey Rabach before being sacked by Detroit's Kyle Vanden Bosch.

His completion percentage looks decent, but I would argue his 13 incompletions were more of a concern than his 17 throws that connected. His deep passes weren't on target, and even short dump-off passes to his running backs were often low to the ground, giving linebackers an extra second to reach the receiver.

It was a discouraging performance by No. 5. But the funny thing is, all of those mistakes -- the accuracy issues, balance in the pocket, even offensive line problems -- could be fixed or at least improved with Washington's bye week, which just happens to be this week.

Despite all of his shortcomings Sunday, a sub-par McNabb still gave the Redskins a better chance to win than Grossman. Shanahan claimed Grossman was more familiar with a two-minute drill and keeping McNabb, who is in his first year with the Redskins, in the game wasn't a smart decision because he didn't know as much of the playbook.
I would have a hard time believing McNabb couldn't manufacture a game-winning drive against a defense ranked 19th against the pass and be able to stay cool under center with the game on the line. And talk about disrupting chemistry and timing, not only in the game but for the days ahead. Asking wide receivers to make adjustments to a new quarterback with less than five minutes to play isn't smart or likely to pay dividends.

Moving forward, it's clear fans and the media weren't the only ones puzzled and upset by the decision to bench McNabb. According to reports, cornerback DeAngelo Hall said Monday that seeing Grossman in the game was "definitely a shocker" and raises the question of "after the season, will he be here or not?"

I'll agree with Hall that the move was a "shocker," but I wouldn't go so far as to read into this decision having anything to do with the rest of the season. I honestly think Shanahan made a poor choice at the worst possible time of the season and now has to sift through all of the scrutiny over the next two weeks.

What's interesting to note, too, is with all of the heat Shanahan is taking just 24 hours after pulling McNabb, I can imagine Vikings coach Brad Childress sitting in front of the television screen thinking, "This is why I could never yank Brett Favre from a game."
As for the coach in our nation's capital, I just can't quite figure out what Shanahan was thinking. I grew up watching him with Denver, and by all accounts he's still one of the smartest minds in the game. Now he has to be wondering if he made the right choice. Hey, we all make mistakes.


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