The Front Row with Jim Litke November 8, 2010
The problem with making up excuses is that each one has to improve on those that came before.
After benching Donovan McNabb in the closing minutes of last Sunday's loss to the Lions, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said his quarterback wasn't ready to run the two-minute offense.
A day later, Shanahan said - five times, no less - that McNabb's "cardiovascular endurance" wasn't up to snuff.
The day after that, his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, said they had considered sitting McNabb "to rest him up and get him better for the rest of the year" before he talked them out of it.
So the next time one Shanahan or the other decides to yank their quarterback off the field - and there will be a next time - get ready to hear a tale about how the dog ate McNabb's playbook.
That's how things work with Shanahan. He inherited John Elway in Denver early in his coaching career, won back-to-back Super Bowls, and has yet to find another quarterback he trusts to carry out his carefully crafted game plans.
When the replacements were named Bubby Brister, Brian Griese, Jake Plummer and Jay Cutler, it was easy to give Shanahan the benefit of the doubt. But McNabb?
Not so much.
In less than half a season, the coach has managed to alienate Albert Haynesworth, who took a boatload of money to anchor the Redskins defense, and now he's undercut a quarterback he signed off on just this past April.
This is hardly the first time unnecessary drama has swirled around McNabb. A pack of notoriously tough fans from Philadelphia drove up to New York to boo McNabb on the day the Eagles drafted him. Then radio talker Rush Limbaugh dragged McNabb into his sermon about "black quarterbacks." Then Philly coach Andy Reid, long one of his most loyal supporters, paved the road to ship him out of town.
Up to his point, McNabb's list of sins has been mercifully short: He never won the big one. He took the Eagles to five NFC championship games and the Super Bowl, only to have certified blowhard and then-teammate Terrell Owens question whether McNabb had enough stamina left at the end of that one.
Through it all, McNabb managed to hold his tongue. He tried one more time this week, right after the Shanahans got their stories straight.
"I'm just ready to move on, focus on what I have to do after the bye week," McNabb said during a radio interview Tuesday.
"You can ask these guys," he added, referring to his teammates, "how I work and my work ethic. My work ethic has never been a question. My tempo has never been a question. But I think there's a lot of digging going on right now, miscellaneous digging."
It's fair to question McNabb's performance. The Redskins have already matched their win total for all of last season, though he's been far from his best. He's thrown eight interceptions against seven touchdown passes. His quarterback rating of 76.0 is the lowest he's posted since his rookie year.
He's closing in on 34, but if he were 134, he'd still be better than Rex Grossman, who replaced him Sunday against the Lions, as well as JaMarcus Russell, the failed No. 1 pick whom the Redskins gave a second look at a workout Tuesday.
Neither QB is going to provide Shanahan the leadership he's been looking for, and submarining McNabb might not only undue all the smart choices the coach has made before this, it could well lose him the rest of his locker room.
Shanahan is such a control freak that back in Denver, he put cameras in the clubhouse so he could watch team meetings from his office on closed-circuit television. There's little chance he'll do the same in Washington. Even with a bye week to cool things down, chances are good he wouldn't like what he saw.
Maybe that's what prompted Shanahan, finally, to walk back some of his criticism and say that a long-term deal for McNabb was still possible.
"We all know Donovan is a franchise quarterback. ... Obviously there's negotiations that go on with both sides," Shanahan said. "Time will tell, as it does with all our players."
McNabb said on his radio show that there was a "100 percent" chance he would be quarterbacking the Redskins next season.
"If I would have said 75 or 60," McNabb said candidly, "it would have been another big story."
But the chances he finishes the season as Washington's starter are considerably lower than that. If the past is prologue, Shanahan is already trying out new-and-improved alibis.
They'd need to be better than what he's come up with so far, since he wouldn't be the first guy to be reminded that the cover-up is a lot tougher to get away with than the crime.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org