Little happiness can be derived from a team's third straight loss and fifth in six games, but amid the turmoil preventing the Redskins from achieving on the field, the offense should be able to take solace in the fact they did their part in scoring a vital touchdown in another comeback effort gone wrong for the Burgundy and Gold.
One thing's for sure, the offense took a huge step in the right direction with the 13 play, 75-yard drive that Donovan McNabb engineered, in a two-minute offense no less. I can't remember how many times McNabb has failed to come through in crunch time this season, but I know that in any scenario when I thought to myself, "this is why the Redskins signed Donovan," he's been a disappointment.
Against the Bucs, McNabb finally delivered on two big fourth down throws from inside the Tampa 10-yard line for touchdown passes and finished with a quarterback rating of over 100 for only the second time this season. He didn't throw an interception for the first time in 10 games and the final drive showed the organization he can still orchestrate some late-game magic.
"As a quarterback, you can't wait for that moment," McNabb said after the game. "Obviously, guys would like to win the game by a lot, but when you get in that situation in the two minute, you look forward to that. As a quarterback, that's how you get measured. Guys have to make plays around you, yet you have to call the right plays. We did a great job with that in being able to separate the defense a little bit and get more guys involved."
Though the touchdown ultimately meant little after Hunter Smith botched the hold on the game-tying extra point, the drive was key in terms of the growth of an offense which frequently discovers new levels of ineptitude.
McNabb went 8-12 for 79 yards on the drive, but the series would not have been praiseworthy had he failed to connect with Santana Moss in the end zone on fourth and goal from the six. Moss' touchdown reception meant the difference between the typical offensive shortcomings and a genuine display of proficiency rarely seen in the confines of FedEx Field.
"I thought was going well for us," McNabb said. "There were many opportunities for us. Each and every guy made plays for us. I think that's important because now you just can't key in on one particular guy."
Eight different receivers caught passes, attesting to McNabb's statement that when the ball is spread around, good things usually happen. He also hit four of those eight receivers on what would have been a game-tying drive save for the missed kick.
Say what you will about the down year McNabb is having, but whenever his teammates rise to the occasion and present him with a stronger supporting cast (case in point: Ryan Torain‘s monster day on the ground against the Bucs), he has proved capable. He may have missed a few throws, but he was passing efficiently and accurately at a near 63-percent clip.
With Rex Grossman waiting in the wings and McNabb reportedly on a short leash, there was a ton of pressure on whoever was under center to play soundly. McNabb responded by having one of his best days as a Redskin to date and then dismissed the benching rumors after the game.
"It was pretty much split up the way we've had it," McNabb said of the practice reps he and Grossman took this past week. "Nothing different I don't think."
Mike Shanahan also denied the storyline, telling reporters that he had "no idea what all these reports are about."
A stingy measuring stick is applied to McNabb here and with good reason. He is, after all, the first star quarterback the Redskins have had on their roster in decades. The expectations were high and he hasn't come even close to living up to them. However, he's been criticized early and often by everyone and their mother for his woes. Honestly, the guy hasn't been given a fair shot considering the personnel (or lack thereof) he's surrounded by.
That "grass is greener" mentality from the franchise or its fans won't work. In fact, nothing will until the Redskins locates a means of stability for their dreadful offensive line. Upgrade the pass protection to improve McNabb. Simple as that.
McNabb's return to the Redskins next year will likely be more imminent especially if he can continue to develop under new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Drives like the final one against Tampa Bay were what we expected after acquiring a star quarterback, a Super Bowl-winning head coach and his boy-wonder son.
So if this much-maligned trio can pull it together and build upon that instance of capitalizing in the clutch, then we might hopefully be treated to more enjoyable Sunday afternoons. Is that too much to ask?