Donovan McNabb felt disrespected by the way he was benched by Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan.

"Everything was handled awkwardly, somewhat to a disrespect to me and to the team," McNabb said yesterday on his weekly radio show on ESPN980, the flagship station of the Redskins.

Making his first public comments since his demotion last week, McNabb said he strongly disagreed with the decision, but he has a bigger problem with the way he says the organization leaked the news to the media before informing him.

"Because of the timing and because of all the leaks and everything that was put out there, and no putting out the fire, so to speak," McNabb said, "I'm hearing everything through the media."

Shanahan waited until Thursday evening to tell McNabb that Rex Grossman would be the starter for the rest of the season, even though rumblings of a possible switch had been circulating all week.

"I was pulled back by it," McNabb said. "All of a sudden you get this news a couple of days before the game, you do feel somewhat disrespected. You could have told me earlier or at least prepared me for it . . . The term I did use was professional. You would like to hear it early, and if you hear it late, it kind of throws off the preparation for a lot of guys."

McNabb said he wasn't even aware that he was being demoted to No. 3 quarterback for the final two games of the season until Shanahan announced the move to reporters the next day.

As for the benching, McNabb conceded he's had a tough year, but he said he felt he had made enough progress in his first season in the Redskins' offense to give the team something to build on. Shanahan said he benched McNabb because the team had been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs and he wanted to evaluate the two other quarterbacks, Grossman and John Beck.

"The way this whole thing went down to me was 'off' and one that I strongly disagree with because I've always believed that if you start something you finish it," McNabb said. "I wanted to be out there with the team . . . Other quarterbacks have struggled a little bit, but I'm the one that's got to go through this 'evaluation process.' "

McNabb was asked if he felt demeaned by serving as the third-string quarterback.

"Yeah, I don't think too many guys go from 1 to 3," he answered. "That's an unfortunate situation that I guess I'm one of a few to be a part of."

The Redskins signed McNabb to a contract extension last month, but it contains a clause that allows the team to release him before next season without further financial obligations. McNabb said he did not think his relationship with Shanahan is permanently damaged and that he hopes to return to the team next season.

"I love the fans here . . . I've enjoyed myself here," he said. "I think we can do some good things here."

Noteworthy

* Cincinnati placed Terrell Owens on season-ending injured reserve a day after the receiver had surgery to repair cartilage in his left knee. Owens hurt the knee a couple weeks ago but kept playing.

ESPN.com, citing a league source, reported that the Bengals are not expected to re-sign Owens, who agreed to a 1-year deal at the start of training camp.

* Dallas placed quarterback Tony Romo on season-ending injured reserve. Romo broke his left collarbone Oct. 25 and hasn't played since. Owner Jerry Jones had hoped Romo could return from the broken bone on his non-throwing side, but the Cowboys have two games left and can't make the playoffs.

In other news, strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh and backup linebacker Sean Lee, who both suffered concussions in Sunday's win over the Redskins, said they have passed the neurological tests needed to practice.

* Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin concedes the Steelers were mistakenly awarded a first down on a 9-yard run by Rashard Mendenhall during their 22-17 loss to the Jets on Sunday.

On first-and-10 from the Jets 35 early in the second quarter, Mendenhall gained 9 yards to the 26 yard line. After momentary confusion as the chain crew began moving the sticks, referee Peter Morelli's crew put the ball down at the 25 and signaled a first down.

The statistics crew hastily awarded Mendenhall a 10-yard carry - an extra yard that wound up giving him a 100-yard game. The Steelers went on to score a touchdown on Ben Roethlisberger's 9-yard pass to Matt Spaeth.

Tomlin said the Steelers benefited in that situation, but added that the spotting of the ball is always tricky.