If ever there was a game that clearly illustrates why the Washington Redskins were willing to sign a soon-to-be 34-year-old Donovan McNabb to a five-year contract extension, it was the 19-16 overtime win over the Tennessee Titans.
Not because he completed 30 of 50 passes for 376 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Not because the Redskins’ offense, led by McNabb, converted eight of 16 third downs on the day and had the ball for more than 40 minutes. Not even because the 12-year veteran was able to overcome a lack of conditioning and football smart to put his team in a position to kick the game winner in overtime.
No, the Titans game is a perfect example of why the Redskins were willing to keep McNabb longer not so much because of anything he did, but rather, because of the actions of the opposing quarterback.
You might have heard that Titans quarterback Vince Young was pulled from the game in the second half after suffering a torn flexor tendon in his right thumb Sunday. The fifth-year pro apparently banged the thumb on his throwing hand on the helmet of Redskins defensive lineman Maake Kemoeatu and was affected by the play enough that his head coach thought it best to finish the game without him.
"If I thought Vince could go out and give us the best chance to win, then he would've gone back on the field," said Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher after the game. "I was not going to put him on the field, knowing ahead of time he had an injury that would prohibit him from throwing accurately."
Young, of course, was not thrilled to learn his day was over. And really, it’s hard to blame any competitor for wanting to go back into the game when the outcome is still very much up in the air. But instead of handling the situation properly, Young had a hissy fit. He had a temper tantrum. He took his ball and went home.
Young took his jersey and shoulder pads and threw them into the crowd as he stormed off the field. And then, while Fisher was attempting to address his team after the loss, Young continued to be a distraction – muttering obscenities under his breath but loud enough to cause another scene and ensure everyone nearby knew he was still disgruntled.
When Fisher tried to talk to him, Young opted to storm out of the locker room.
"Don’t walk out on your teammates," Fisher said to Young.
"I’m not walking out on them, I’m walking out on you," his supposed franchise quarterback responded.
And then, to the absolute surprise of no one, Tennessee announced 24 hours later that Young’s season is over. Sure, Fisher was kind enough to say that Young needs season-ending surgery on his thumb and that’s the reason why the 27-year-old is done, but you get the sense that after Sunday’s outburst this was really the only possible outcome.
And now the Titans are in the hands of someone allegedly named Rusty Smith, a baby-faced rookie out of Florida Atlantic. The sixth-round pick might very well turn out to be the next Tom Brady, who was also a sixth rounder, but he wasn’t up to the task against Washington. In his first live action as a pro, Smith completed three of nine passes for 62 yards with one interception. Smith’s quarterback rating for the day was 19.0, which is fitting because he looks young enough to still be a teenager.
Now, I bring all of this up to remind Redskins fans just how fortunate we are to have McNabb in town. He’ll be the first to admit that he needs to perform better on the field than he did the first half of the 2010 season, but there’s no questioning how McNabb handles himself off of the field.
He’s a consummate professional. Bullies like Rush Limbaugh and Terrell Owens might walk up to him and try to start a fight, but McNabb’s never going to stoop to their level. Mike Shanahan might stand up in front of a sea of microphones and question his quarterback’s lack of conditioning and football smarts after a disappointing loss to lowly Detroit, but he’s not going to make a scene.
No, he simply shrugged his shoulders and said, "It happens." He doesn’t want to be benched in the deciding moments of a very winnable game. He doesn’t want his coach to throw him under the bus. He doesn’t want to deal with any of those kinds of unnecessary distractions. But he’s such a classy guy that he bites his tongue and keeps his true feelings under wraps.
Nothing good can come out of a public feud with your head coach, and McNabb knows it. If he stood up defiantly and fired back at anyone and everyone named Shanahan currently employed at Redskins Park, it would only splinter an already-fragile locker room. It would only make things more difficult for a 5-5 team that has already dealt with more than its fair share of adversity in 2010.
So instead, he says nothing. He just keeps his head down and works harder. How does throwing half of your uniform into the crowd help your team get better? What message – other than "when things get tough, I’m out of here" – does storming out of the locker room send to your teammates?
Young’s actions were completely inexcusable and you can bet the Titans coaching staff would be more than happy to part ways sooner rather than later with their emotionally unstable quarterback. Of course, when it comes to all thing Young related, the Tennessee owner Bud Adams is completely irrational.
A man who otherwise seems like a pretty solid owner turned into a cheerleader – pom poms and all – when Young is involved. Last season, you may recall, Adams basically demanded Fisher play the former Texas Longhorn – a move that would likely get Redskins owner Daniel Snyder crucified in Washington. Forget fantasy football; that’s Jerry Jones territory right there.
And even after Young’s epic meltdown this past weekend, Adams is already in full-fledge spin control for the player who can do no wrong in his eyes.
"They are going to have to work together," he said. "I haven’t given up on Vince, and I am sure Fisher hasn’t either.
"Vince is a young guy and a good player and he has never had an injury like this before, and it is getting to him," Adams continued. "He told me he wanted to go back in the game, but the doctors didn’t think it would be a good idea. He was hurting, but he was going to play anyway.
"This will all go away pretty quick," he said.
Well then. Glad we’ve settled that. You’ve already cut your head coach’s authority more than once when dealing with Young, so why not go that route once more, for old time’s sake.
But honestly, as Redskins fans, what happens next in Tennessee is irrelevant. Adams could name himself the team’s starting quarterback next week and all anyone will care about in this town is whether or not the Redskins defeat the Minnesota Vikings.
And although the injuries are piling up and the team may or may not have enough players to make it through next weekend’s game, the fact is, we’re able to turn our attention to that game because McNabb was willing to be the bigger man, even when his head coach couldn’t be.