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Monday, December 20, 2010

Pleasantly Suprised

When news broke last week that Rex Grossman would replace Donovan McNabb as the starting quarterback for the Washington Redskins, I was furious. Here my beloved Redskins were playing our hated rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, and Coach Mike Shanahan was replacing a potential hall of famer with a man who has more career interceptions than touchdown passes.

In fact, I was so furious, that I wrote, not one, but two columns expressing my dismay. I didn't care that the team was eliminated from playoff contention. I contended that Grossman was neither a short or long term solution given his past performance. Further, I believed and still do, the team's issues had less to do with McNabb, than it did with general deficient personnel in many areas.

Nevertheless, Rex Grossman took the field yesterday as the starting quarterback for the Washington Redskins. Despite, a rough start, Grossman performed more than admirably, throwing for over 300 yards with 4 touchdowns, in a 33-30 loss. Perhaps, most impressive was Grossman led the team back from 20 points down to tie Dallas in the fourth quarter, before the Cowboys kicked a last minute field goal to secure the victory. And Grossman, calling to mind memories of Todd Collins, ran the offense with the same weapons more effectively than McNabb had over the past few weeks.

Now, before we jump to conclusions, lets be clear on a few things. Grossman still has much to do if he is to be considered a starting quarterback for the Redskins or any team. Also, the Cowboys have struggled on defense this year, and are not as good as many teams the Redskins have faced. But after a season of controversy, with Albert Haynesworth, McNabb's benching in Detroit, countless media leaks, and the fallout of last week's quarterback controversy, Grossman's performance did more for his coach, offensive coordinator, the Redskins, and a very unlikely beneficiary than anyone could have expected.

To start, Grossman vindicated Shanahan. The new coach, of course has had difficulty winning over the difficult Washington media and rabid fan base. Despite his impressive credentials, he's been called everything from "a tyrant," to "a control freak," and some, like John Feinstein, have even insinuated, he is a racist. Further, he was slammed by many, including me, for his benching of McNabb. Had Grossman fallen on his face yesterday, a scenario many like myself considered likely, the testy, somewhat difficult to like, Shanahan would have taken another P.R. hit.

Secondly, Grossman did much for Shanahan's son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. The 30 year-old Kyle, who looks about 20 and will likely always fight presumptions of nepotism, has been criticized for being too rigid and not adapting his offense for McNabb. It was always assumed that Grossman, who worked with Kyle in Houston and is about the same age, was the offensive coordinator's preferred choice. In effectively operating Kyle's system, Grossman gave the young, talented play-caller, a major credibility boost by showing everyone, McNabb included, that the system could be effective with a knowledgeable trigger man.

Further, Grossman's effective running of the system puts the entire team on notice. The Redskins have long suffered from an entitlement culture of overpaid, would be stars, who cash checks better than they play. Shanahan showed that he would not allow a player's profile, or public sentiment, to hamstring him or the team.

And to be clear, I would never group the classy McNabb with many of the Redskins prior petulant, overpaid divas. However, he is unquestionably, the team's biggest star. And a star was benched in favor of a Collins-like "system," guy. Very un-Redskin like. But you saw a team that play very inspired football yesterday. Shanahan must be given credit for that.

Lastly, Grossman's performance will probably give a shot in the arm to an unlikely source: McNabb. McNabb, who is always very calm, had become seemingly more apathetic and frustrated in recent weeks. While many believe we've seen the last of McNabb in the Burgundy and Gold, I'm not so sure. The team has an option on him for next year, and depending on the collective bargaining agreement, he may be a bargain at $10 million.

Word is McNabb has enjoyed D.C. very much, despite the difficult season, and has made many friends on the team. While the decision as to whether he stays or goes, will ultimately be Shanahan's, McNabb still potentially offers the team value. Knowing Grossman can lead the team effectively, can only light a fire under the prideful, sometimes lethargic, McNabb. Further, Grossman's play is a message to McNabb that if he is to be successful in Washington or anywhere else, he must adapt to that team's system.

Overall, Rex Grossman, yes Rex Grossman, gave a moribund franchise a huge shot in the arm yesterday. He vindicated a new head coach many find unlikeable, and a young coordinator who will always battle the presumptions of nepotism. Further, on a team long plagued by a star-driven culture, a non-star came in and played terrific, putting everyone on notice.

Lastly, Grossman probably did a huge favor to Donovan McNabb. I believe the embattled quarterback has plenty of good football left in him. While I hope it comes in the Burgundy and Gold, McNabb finds himself at a crossroads. He will either adapt to the Redskins system, or start anew elsewhere.

After all, Rex Grossman has made that loud and clear.

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