By Tony Mangia
There have been plenty of head scratching moves by by NFL head coaches this season, but none of them are as nonsensical as the Redskins Mike Shanahan pulling his starting QB, Donovan McNabb, on Detroit's Ford Field Sunday with 1:50 remaining in the game. Shanahan, acting like some baseball manager in the ninth, went to his bullpen (hog pit?) and handed the ball to a pair of fresher legs and a livelier arm--and it backfired.
This could start a new trend in the sport. Older baseball fans might remember a time when starters actually went nine full innings. The relief pitcher was an anomaly--only used when a pitcher got hurt or his arm hung like a wet rope in the sixteenth or so inning. Alright, that was before Hoyt Wilhelm, but is it possible for football to start a QB for three quarters, use a middle man in the fourth and bring in a closer for the final two minute drive? Shanahan might think so.
The Detroit Lions led the game 31-25, but the game was still winnable for the Skins. Shanahan yanks McNabb for the backup, an unprepared and totally unsuspecting Rex Grossman, who promptly fumbles on his first play. Is this the NFL's first blown save?
I like Shanahan's innovation and say we should take it further. Tarvaris Jackson can come in and relieve Brett Favre...oh wait that happened last week. Or maybe football will follow baseball's lead and we'll start seeing sideline coaches in team uniforms. If the sight of Bill Parcells in a sweatsuit was funny enough imagine Charlie Weis imitating a giant tomato clad in Chief's red.
Grossman, who hadn't taken one snap this season, was inserted for the 6-time pro-bowler because Shanahan believed McNabb didn't have the "cardiovascular endurance" to finish the game. Grossman's jaw hit his clipboard and he looked as surprised as McNabb when the call came.
Shanahan defended his move by saying the game speeds up in the final two minutes and McNabb would be unable to keep up. According to Elias Sports, McNabb has 24 come-from-behind winning drives in the final minutes under his belt. Tom Brady has the same amount during that same time span. Looks like dis-jointed thinking by the Redskins' chief.
While Shanahan starts the NFL's version of a bullpen (pig pen?) and tries making a point by benching McNabb and making bizarre excuses, he loses games and respect. The team is 4-4 and falling behind the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East.
One can only wonder what Shanahan's rationale was for publicly calling out McNabb during a crucial point of the game. Was it punitive or a show of power. Shanahan should have admitted he was wrong and honestly give an answer for messing with McNabb's head.
Shanahan was lucky in Denver. He had total control, Terrell Davis, John Elway and an owner as a best friend. He laid down his laws, nobody questioned him and the Broncos had a good run. Now he just looks foolish and weak flip-flopping on excuses for the bone-headed move.
In his first season in Washington, Shanny has now alienated his two best players. Albert Haynesworth felt his crazy eye gaze over the summer and now it seems doubtful McNabb will play out the season with any regard for the head coach who bought him over from Philly.
Whether or not McNabb had a "sore hamstring" or is just out of shape remains to be seen. The quarterback's reputation for bad practice habits goes back to his Eagle days. Tim Hasselback--a teammate of McNabb's in Philly--said, "One of the things that drove them crazy in Philadelphia was the lack of tempo at which he practiced...Nearly every single day."
One can only wonder the rationale for Shanahan's public emasculation of McNabb. Maybe the head coach has had enough of his aging starter's tempo, but you can bet McNabb's stay in D.C. will be 'tempo'rary.