McNabb’s Last Stand

Number Five won't last in D.C. So where will he play next season?

It’s a testament to the long tentacles of one Rush Hudson Limbaugh that my seven-minute appearance on Fox 29’s “Good Day Philadelphia” program last Thursday found its way onto the ultra-conservative talker’s radar. The segment was “Race in America” and one of the topics was Redskins’ coach Mike Shanahan’s comments in the wake of his decision to bench Donovan McNabb Nov. 7 against the Lions.

Limbaugh tried to defend Shanahan for using what author and columnist John Feinstein referred to as “racial coding” by saying McNabb hadn’t yet grasped the entire Redskins offense and was therefore ill-equipped to run the two-minute attack against Detroit and later leaking to an ESPN reporter that the team had cut the playbook in half for McNabb. At best, Shanahan was stupid for taking that path. At worst, he was insinuating that McNabb wasn’t smart enough to run his offense. Limbaugh didn’t like that. [SIGNUP]

He also didn’t like that Bill Anderson of WURD-AM mentioned the celebrated 2003 comments Limbaugh made about McNabb while an ESPN analyst. Forget that Anderson was referring to the remarks as evidence that drama and controversy follow McNabb wherever he goes. Talk about Rush, and he’ll talk about you – even if he mistakenly attributes the talk to someone else (he thought I had said it) and cherry-picks samples of interviews to suit his purpose.

The real issue here is not whether Rush Limbaugh has a raging ego; it’s that after spending 11 years in Philadelphia under the protective shell created by Andy Reid, McNabb is out in the real world and not exactly enjoying himself. McNabb was Reid’s first big personnel move, and the coach tied his tenure to the quarterback – with pretty darn good results. Reid was very careful to protect his investment, so he created an environment in which McNabb was comfortable, most of the time. His decision to draft Kevin Kolb rankled the QB, and his insistence that his version of the West Coast offense was clever enough to offset a lack of talent at wide receiver didn’t make McNabb’s job easy. Yet, for the large portion of the pair’s time together, Reid supported his quarterback vehemently.

For a guy like McNabb, who has proven he doesn’t handle controversy well, that was huge. Reid’s interference allowed him to perform with little doubt surrounding his status. Even though McNabb made some comments after being traded to Washington about not being loved in Philadelphia, he wasn’t speaking about Reid. And though he could have acquired more for McNabb in a trade to another team, Reid dished the QB to an NFC East rival and a coach whose offense is similar to Reid’s.

After last week’s drama, it’s obvious McNabb’s world has been shaken, and it’s not clear whether he will find a stable situation again. Barring a reconciliation that would tax the skills of Dr. Phil, McNabb and Shanahan are done. The trouble for McNabb continues when he searches for a new home. Everybody thought he would head directly to Minnesota, where The Old Interceptionslinger appears ready for the last roundup. But now that 90 percent of the Vikings players hate coach Brad Childress, and the team is a dismal 3-6, it’s unlikely Chilly will be around next season to welcome Number Five.

Since Chicago seems to like Jay Cutler, a McNabb homecoming seems unlikely. The other top teams in the NFL are satisfied with their quarterbacks, leaving unpalatable destinations like Buffalo, San Francisco and Carolina as possibilities. None would offer McNabb the kind of safe landing spot he prefers, and each would be fraught with the kind of uncertainty and pressure to which he has seemed vulnerable throughout his career.

Recent history has shown us that McNabb responds well to being benched. In 2008, he followed up an ugly performance against the Ravens that forced Reid to use the hook by throwing for four touchdowns against Arizona and then leading the Eagles to the NFC title game. It’s entirely possible McNabb will be on fire again tonight against the Birds and rebound strongly again from adversity.

Even if he does, it’s unlikely the shaky Redskins are headed for the post-season and even less probable McNabb will be back for another season in D.C. Left on the outside by Reid and working with a coach whose ego is out of control, McNabb is in the absolute worst situation for him. Even if he still has the physical tools to be a productive quarterback, he likely won’t find the security he had under Reid and therefore won’t be able get comfortable enough to perform at a high level. It’s an unfortunate way for a fine career to end, but it appears to be how McNabb’s final act will be written.

We can say what we want about whether Shanahan’s handling of last week’s benching was merely ham-handed or something worse, but the fact remains that McNabb is in a tough spot. This time, he doesn’t have a coach interested in his well-being. That’s about the worst situation he could face.


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  • Tomorrow’s game with Ohio is huge for Temple. The Owls are trying to improve their national image to become more attractive to a bigger conference, and a berth in the MAC title game is a good step in that direction.
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