Tuesday, January 4, 2011 3:45 p.m.
By Rich Tandler
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The Washington Redskins 2010 season took a wrong turn in the Motor City. If a season goes bad, as the Redskins 6-10 campaign clearly did, it is not always possible to find a turning point, a moment where everything went wrong. It is easy, however, to find such a moment in Washingtons just-concluded year. The Redskins were 4-3 going into their Halloween game in Detroit. They had wins over division rivals Dallas in Philadelphia in their pocket plus victories over NFC playoff contenders Green Bay and Chicago. They had just one NFC loss giving them a few advantages in tiebreakers for playoff position. The Lions were 1-5 going into the game. They seemed to be an improved team over the ones that went a combined 2-30 the previous two seasons and they were slight favorites at home. Still, there was every reason to think that the Redskins could beat the Lions and go into their bye week at 5-3. The Redskins took a 13-7 lead into the locker room at halftime. The teams battled back and forth in the second half and Detroit took a 20-19 lead midway through the fourth quarter on a touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson. But the Redskins responded immediately. For the second time in the game, Brandon Banks returned a kickoff to the end zone. His third-quarter 95-yard runback was nullified by a penalty. This one, a 96-yard return down the numbers on the right side, counted and after missing the two-point conversion attempt the Redskins led 25-20 with 8:05 left to play. Detroit got one first down on its ensuing possession but a holding penalty derailed the drive and they punted back to the Redskins with 5:21 left to play. A first down run by Keiland Williams went for no gain but it kept the clock running. On second down McNabb dropped back to pass. He threw to a tightly-covered Anthony Armstrong. Alfonso Smith picked off the pass, sending the Redskins season into a downward spiral from which it never recovered. Smith returned the ball four yards to the Washington 37. Seven plays later, on fourth and one from the 10, Stafford and Johnson hooked up on a touchdown pass for the third time on the day. McNabb came in for the ensuing series but the Redskins went backwards. McNabb took a fourth-down sack, setting up a Detroit field goal. After the Lions kicked off, Rex Grossman trotted onto the field and promptly took a sack and fumbled. Ndamukong Suh scooped it up and scored, ending the competitive phase of the game. Grossman came back out for a final, futile drive. The almost comical and ever changing stories as to why McNabb was benched in favor of Grossman commenced short after the game was over. I felt with the time and no timeouts, Grossman gave us the best to win in that scenario, Shanahan said in the post game press conference. Just knowing the terminology of what weve done, how weve run it, it puts a lot of pressure on a newer quarterback who isnt used to that terminology. At his press availability the next day, Shanahan shifted gears, creating one of the years most memorable catch phrases when he said that he was concerned about McNabbs cardiovascular endurance while running the two-minute offense. The loss to the Lions had done damage to the Redskins when it came to the standings. They were 4-4 going into the bye week. The Redskins never got beyond the very fringes of playoff contention after that. And the image of the Redskins as the gang that cant shoot straight came back to life. A year after such fiascos as having bingo caller turned consultant (another set of eyes) Sherm Lewis get promoted to play caller in the space of a couple of weeks, the Redskins again were a laughingstock. This past Monday, in a rare admission of an error, Shanahan said, "I wish I would have handled the one in Detroit a little bit differently. I should've been a little more honest than I was. Sometimes you do things to protect players and at the same time you're actually hurting them. But the damage was done. The laughing grew louder in the first game after the bye when the Eagles and Michael Vick put up 35 points in the first 16 minutes of play in a nationally-televised game at FedEx Field. The Redskins stumbled to a 2-7 finish and missed the playoffs for the 15th time in the last 18 years. But what happens if McNabb doesnt throw that pass to Armstrong? What if he throws that ball away, the Redskins run a third-down draw, and they punt back to the Lions with about 4:00 left? The win probability calculator at AdvancedNFLStats.com says that the Redskins would have had a 75 chance of winning the game if they had punted there. The Redskins would have gone into their bye week at 5-3 with high confidence and expectations. The infamous benching would never have taken place nor would have the convoluted explanations for it. They probably would have lost to the Eagles but they would have emerged from the game with a winning record. Maybe the make the playoffs but probably they dont but they would have been in the race longer. And McNabb may have turned around his season or maybe he wouldnt have. After the Lions game, he had a 76.0 QB rating and he had completed 57.4 percent of his passes. McNabb finished the year with a quarterback rating of 77.1 and a completion percentage of 58.3. Perhaps at that point Donovan McNabb was what he was. The Redskins have had issues facing adversity in recent seasons. It seems that it often takes just one thing going wrong to throw off a play, a drive, a game, or, in this case, a season. Until they learn to bounce back from problems like that, they will continue to be on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. You can reach Rich by email at RTandlerCSN@comcast.net and follow him on Twitter @RealRedskins. 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