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Sam Donnellon: Seems like McNabb having same old woes with Redskins

ST. LOUIS - Close your eyes and let the mind transport through time, through space, through things of that nature.

Donovan McNabb and the Redskins fell to the St. Louis Rams, 30-16, yesterday. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Donovan McNabb and the Redskins fell to the St. Louis Rams, 30-16, yesterday. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)Read more

ST. LOUIS - Close your eyes and let the mind transport through time, through space, through things of that nature.

"It just seemed that every time we got in the huddle, the clock went down to 18, 15 seconds," Donovan McNabb was saying after his new team was upset by the St. Louis Rams, 30-16, at the Edward Jones Dome yesterday. "We have to eliminate that from being a factor and get up to the line of scrimmage and just execute."

It was a four-quarter walk down memory lane, right down to trying to discern the percentages of blame. There were red-zone woes. There were delay-of-game calls and a timeout called on a first-down play and glaring ineptitude on third-down plays. There were mixups on snap counts and more than a few occasions where the Washington Redskins hurried from their huddle to get to the line of scrimmage.

And there was Donovan at the end of the mess talking about his team "getting on the same page" and "cleaning some things up" and deflecting talk of next week's homecoming as "just another game."

Only when he was asked about walking into Lincoln Financial Field for the first time as an opponent did he abandon the facade, albeit briefly.

"I can't even fathom that right now," he said. "Right now I'm just focusing on this game and trying to correct the mistakes we made in this game. So I'll worry about it in the week to come."

After rushing for 115 yards in a first half they ended with 13 unanswered points in the second quarter, the Redskins ran the ball just five times and gained just 1 yard in the second half.

What happened to the running game? None of the principals seemed to know. Not the running backs who stopped running and blocking, not the quarterback translating the plays.

"You're asking the wrong person," fullback Mike Sellers said. "I'm just a pawn in the game."

The coach, Mike Shanahan, blamed ball possession for the change in strategy. After falling behind early in the third quarter, the Rams, behind rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, had the ball nearly twice as long as Washington, running off scoring drives of 12, 11, nine and seven plays.

Speaking of Bradford, Shanahan said, "Quarterbacks get paid a lot in this league for making third-down plays."

He was not taking a shot at his own guy. I think.

And maybe he shouldn't have. Because the percentages were not in his favor coming in. The Redskins' offensive line was a concern coming into the season, the running game suspect, too. Washington stockpiled old running backs in the offseason, suckering McNabb into this chide shortly after he was traded.

"It starts with the run game," he said back then. "I know probably a lot of you coming from Philly don't know much about that run game. But we will run the ball here."

Washington ran the ball 17 times yesterday, averaging 6.8 yards a carry. The Rams ran it 37 times, averaged 3.6 yards. Bradford completed 23 of 37 passes for 235 yards, finished with almost identical statistics to his Pro Bowl counterpart, with this one exception: The Rams converted seven of 16 third downs and were 2-for-2 on fourth down.

The Redskins made one of 10 third downs.

Their leading rusher yesterday, Ryan Torain, had been activated from the practice squad earlier in the day, 3 days after one of those old running backs, Larry Johnson, was released.

So there were plenty of reasons other than McNabb for the upset. McNabb showed some touch in fact, especially on those troublesome out passes. He even used his feet once to scramble for 26 yards, and dropped his shoulder to drive a guy out of bounds after a fumble. He did throw a meaningless pick at the end, and, yes, the red-zone mess, where they settled for field goals on all three trips, starts with the ball in his hands.

At the end of the day, though, this was about an entire team looking for its footing, a team whose defense couldn't get off the field and an offense that made enough big plays but not enough small ones. It all looked and sounded so familiar, right down to his insistence that next Sunday, against his old team with a national television audience watching, would not have any added meaning.

"I've always said that this is just a normal game," he said. "And in this situation obviously for us, it's a must-win. Coming off two losses like we've had these past 2 weeks no matter who we're playing. We've got to be able to come out and execute and come out with a win by any means necessary."

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