'Skins have some explaining to do, plus 10 things to watch for Sunday
Mike Shanahan's decision is a head-scratcher, but McNabb has played poorly
Four thoughts on Jags-Colts, Chiefs-Rams, Jets-Steelers, Bears-Vikes
The chase for the No. 1 pick, a QB milestone and more thing to watch Sunday
Plenty of great games this weekend to mini-dissect. In fact, it's arguably the best weekend of games this year. But we've all been derailed by the Donovan McNabb benching for the unimpressive Rex Grossman in Washington, so that has to lead the weekend news.
In March, Andy Reid couldn't believe there weren't more teams in the NFL interested in trading less than a first-round pick for McNabb. In fact, there was only one: Washington. I've found out recently that the Raiders did not have a viable trade offer on the table; the Eagles could have gotten maybe a fourth-round pick from Oakland for him, but nothing like the offer headed by a second-rounder from Washington. Had the Redskins not come through with their offer, Reid probably would have held on to McNabb and let the best quarterback win the job in Philadelphia this year.
So now it's eight months after the McNabb trade to Washington, and a second highly respected quarterback guy, Mike Shanahan, has spurned McNabb. Whether you like the move or hate it (and I find the timing questionable, certainly, with McNabb having played better than average Sunday in the 17-16 loss to Tampa Bay), the one thing you have to admit is this: Two smart quarterback men have turned thumbs-down on McNabb in the span of nine months. You can defend McNabb all you want, and Lord knows he has his legions of defenders out there, but Reid and Shanahan are in the business of winning football games. Both have been to Super Bowls. Shanahan's won two of them. And both said they thought they could do better than McNabb.
Reid was under tremendous pressure to be right when he traded McNabb within the division. And 13 games into McNabb's Washington career, Shanahan is under tremendous pressure to be right in playing Grossman. My point is: Criticize Shanahan for his handling of McNabb and for thinking Grossman is anything but a backup, and acknowledge that McNabb is hamstrung by poor offensive support, but understand that McNabb bears a prominent role in this too. He's 25th in the league in passer rating, 26th in touchdown-to-interception ratio, 27th in accuracy.
One point you should know: Before the infamous benching of McNabb in the closing minutes of a Week 8 loss to Detroit, Shanahan told McNabb he thought he was so sufficiently hobbled by two hamstring strains that he should sit out the game that week and rest during the team's bye week. That way, he'd have a solid 16 days before he had to go back to practice and prepare for the first game after the bye. McNabb said he felt OK to play, and so he played. He still hasn't been able to be as mobile as the team would like. That has to play some role in Shanahan's decision.
But this isn't a decision I would have made. I'm not on the inside, but Shanahan had to know that his locker room will be roiling over this, and NFL Network's Jason LaCanfora has quoted one unidentified Redskins player as saying the locker room was very angry over it. If you have a prospect you think can be a candidate to play, fine -- play him. But Grossman shouldn't be anyone's starter. Shanahan's going to have some fence-mending to do.
Now four points on the games of the weekend:
Jags at Colts. In six of the past seven years, the Colts have won the AFC South; in the other year, 2008, the Colts won 12 games and were a wild-card team. This year, the Colts have to win Sunday or face losing the division and missing out on the playoffs for the first time since 2001. So this is quite a momentous game. In the past four weeks, the Colts have allowed 31, 36, 38 and 28 points, and I don't see much of a way they're going to hold a rejuvenated David Garrard (65.5-percent accuracy) and running back Maurice Jones-Drew (six straight 100-yard games) down. Peyton Manning's going to have to put his team on his back -- what else is new? -- for the Colts to have a chance here.
Chiefs at Rams. Don't want to call this a must-win for Kansas City, but it pretty much is that. The Chiefs are 8-5, and San Diego 8-6 after last night's rout of the Niners. A loss at St. Louis would leave the Chiefs tied with the Chargers with two games to play, and San Diego's two (at Cincinnati, at Denver) look like pretty easy wins. Since Kansas City is likely to lose a tiebreaker with San Diego (tied in head-to-head and division record, with the Chargers having an edge in the third tiebreaker, record against common opponents, if the Chiefs lose to St. Louis), this becomes a vital game in the Jones Dome. And not an easy one. The Rams are tied for first in a division nobody seems to want, and playing their most important home game in five years.
Jets at Steelers. No Troy Polamalu (ankle), evidently, for the Steelers, which seems to make the Jets' job easier. If Mark Sanchez were playing well, and the running game were the 2009 running game, and the defense had someone who scared the quarterback on a pass-rush, and if they were distracted by this Sal Alosi mess, I could see New York winning. With all those things ... uhhhh, no.
Bears at Vikings (Monday). Understand that the Bears are not whining because they have to play in frigid weather Monday night. They just want to be sure they're not playing on a skating rink, with unforgiving turf, at the University of Minnesota's football field. "I feel for the Vikings,'' safety Chris Harris told me. "I know they're going through a lot of issues right now. But as player, I think what we're concerned with is making sure we're not going out there on a field that we'll have a much bigger risk of injury.'' I'm told this morning that the Vikings and the university plan to tarp the field over the weekend, blow hot air onto the field with six or eight blowers, and make sure the artificial surface is not rock-solid by the time the game kicks off. So the field shouldn't be a debacle by gametime.
Vincent Jackson's back.
In a five-catch, 112-yard, three-touchdown performance against the 49ers, Jackson began to re-emerge as an impact player for the rest of the season and, the Chargers hope, for the postseason. His first touchdown -- a leaping, physical catch against cornerback Nate Clements of the Niners just two minutes into the game -- showed how Jackson is the kind of competitive receiver the Chargers just couldn't replace in his absence.
Pivotal for his future, Jackson has begun to speak to groups in southern California about not doing what he did -- namely, don't drink and drive. He's had two driving-while-impaired arrests as a Charger, which has led to the team not wanting to pay him the big bucks he'd deserve if off-field stuff wasn't factored into what teams pay players. Maybe other teams will see Jackson as a reformed guy when it comes to free-agency in 2011. We'll see. For now, the Chargers have a major weapon for the rest of the season.
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