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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Redskins circus enjoys a moment before McNabb departs

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- When you walk into the Washington Redskins locker room, which I did late Sunday, you expect to see a circus tent set up, especially considering the past decade and specifically this season.

You expect to see the carnival barker owner, the fat-man nose tackle who won't play and the quarterback benched for some journeymen who can barely throw the ball down the field.

What I found instead was a locker room full of young football players who are still competing, despite the horrors and turmoil of a season gone wrong. This Redskins team played for nothing Sunday against a team in the Jacksonville Jaguars that was still alive in the playoff chase.

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But on a cold, windy day, the Redskins toughed out a 20-17 overtime victory that speaks volumes about a lot of things. It says that benching Donovan McNabb two weeks ago -- he was the No. 3 quarterback Sunday to further humiliate him -- hasn't fractured the team to the point that it will quit. It also says that the players are still listening to coach Mike Shanahan and that the message has not been tuned out by headphones full of loud music.

"We have a lot of young guys playing for jobs," Redskins tight end Chris Cooley said. "I don't think there was ever a question that we would fold up and quit. It says something about Mike [Shanahan]. He puts pressure on every one of us to play good football."

It was far from good football. The Redskins gained 251 yards and won. That's because the defense, an undermanned unit stung by injuries, found a way to limit the Jaguars to 17 points. The defense made the play of the game when backup safety Kevin Barnes picked off David Garrard in overtime to set up the 31-yard, winning field goal by Graham Gano.

Barnes was playing because Reed Doughty and Kareem Moore were out with injuries. The Redskins had only one projected starter from the start of the season -- corner DeAngelo Hall -- on the field in the secondary for the final play.

"We had some guys we added this week and had to come in and play snaps for us," inside linebacker London Fletcher said. "It was basically calling guys by numbers because you didn't know everybody's name."

And that's the problem with the Redskins. They don't have the talent. The defense really is a problem area. That's why they are ranked 32nd in the league in total defense. Jim Haslett, the defensive coordinator, is considered one of the best in football but he doesn't have the talent to succeed.

It didn't help that lazy defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth slopped through the season and didn't contribute, leading to his suspension by the team for the final four games. Team sources say he wasn't any good when he played, anyway.

The offensive side hasn't been much better. Led by Shanahan's son, Kyle, the team botched the handling of McNabb's situation. They benched him earlier this season at the end of a game, and then benched him for good in favor of Rex Grossman.

At the time, Mike Shanahan said it was a move made to evaluate Grossman. What, they hadn't seen the tape on him from the past eight seasons that screamed "journeyman?"

If the Redskins think they're winning anything with Grossman, watching tape from Sunday should convince them otherwise. There is no way that what we saw from Grossman was better than what McNabb could have done. No way.

The word is that McNabb and Kyle Shanahan didn't get along. It was the younger son who pushed to have McNabb sit down. Mike Shanahan allows his son that kind of input, which can be dangerous.

Jags DE Austen Lane pressures Rex Grossman, who is not Washington's answer. (AP)  
Jags DE Austen Lane pressures Rex Grossman, who is not Washington's answer. (AP)  
Kyle Shanahan hasn't earned that right yet, but the elder Shanahan has yielded to his son at times.

Can you say nepotism?

There was a report Sunday that McNabb will ask to be released after the season. That isn't shocking, but I asked McNabb about it.

"I don't know where that came from," he said. "I know nothing about it."

"You're the only one who would," I said.

"That's right," he said. "And I don't know anything about it."

There is no way McNabb will return whether he likes it or not. The younger Shanahan has convinced his father that McNabb has to go. So that's that. Plus, McNabb is due a $10 million roster bonus next spring. That isn't happening.

It was kind of weird seeing McNabb dressing so quickly after a game, few reporters near him, only a few fans asking for pictures around his locker. Once they were shooed away, it was only McNabb, waiting to make the walk to the bus, a No. 3 quarterback done in by a personality conflict with the offensive coordinator, the son of the coach.

Was McNabb playing great? No, but he's better than Grossman. Now the Redskins have to move on again at quarterback. The problem is they need so much help on defense, and they only have seven picks to use in the April draft but only two in the first four rounds.

Washington didn't spend freely in free agency last year, but you can bet they will in 2011. That's the only way they can try to make this team competitive. Look for a lot of money spent on the defensive side of the ball.

They have a lot to do to get past this season, which can only be summed up as a failure. When you hire Shanahan and trade for McNabb, the expectation is not missing the playoffs while celebrating meaningless victories in December.

That's not supposed to be the Dan Snyder way. We keep hearing that, but the reality is that is his way. Since he purchased the team in 1999, the Redskins are 85-106. All of the coaches he's hired have had losing records. He's had seven coaches in 12 seasons. That failure is nothing compared to the free agency, trade and draft flops.

It's like a waste dump of failed deals. It's Haynesworth. It's McNabb. It's Deion Sanders, Dana Stubblefield. On and on it goes.

True story: Snyder once asked a writer I know for help in some free-agency evaluations. That speaks volumes.

I asked Cooley if it's been different this year with all the stuff going on.

"It's been a little strange as far as extracurricular activities," Cooley said. "It's not been any different than my other years here."

Maybe Redskins defensive end Andre Carter summed it up best.

"The NFL is always a soap opera," he said.

No, in Washington it's more like a circus led by P.T. Snyder himself.


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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