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Blueprint of game mismanagement kicked off strange week

Even before Randy Moss was shockingly put on waivers by the Vikings, before the Chargers followed suit with another Pro Bowl player, and before JaMarcus Russell was brought in by the Redskins for a tryout, the week in the NFL had already gotten off to a strange start.

On Sunday, Jets coach Rex Ryan used two early challenges in his team's 9-0 defeat to the Packers, loses both, and then plays the remaining 34 minutes of the game without the ability to challenge any call until the two-mintue warning, when the booth determines reviews.

Then Redskins coach Mike Shanahan benched quarterback Donovan McNabb in favor of Rex Grossman against the Lions, a game in which his team had the ball, down by just six points, with a minute left.

Vikings coach Brad Childress saved the strangest for last in his team's game against New England. In fact, it could be the strangest challenge call in the history of challenge calls (even LSU coach Les Miles was caught off guard).

What is going on in the league?

Matt Slocum / Associated Press
Donovan McNabb's career percentages are similar to those he's accumulated in the final two minutes of games.
McNabb in two-minute offense vs. career
  Comp% Yds/Att TD% Int% Rate
Final 2 minutes 54.5 6.43 5.1 3.2 77.9
Career 58.9 6.94 4.4 2.2 85.9

Two-minute drill sergeant

My first reaction to the benching of McNabb when watching the game was one of shock. I wondered how Shanahan was going to win back McNabb's trust. Then I listened to his press conference, where he first said he made the move because Grossman had a better understanding of the two-minute offense, only to change his tune the next day, saying Grossman was in better physical shape to handle the situation.

Now, I have great respect for Shanahan as a coach and worked for him during the 2007 season. But this move is puzzling, in part, because of the inconsistent explanations provided by Shanahan.

The 'Skins are ranked 23rd in the NFL in two-minute efficiency. They are 31st in both sacks allowed and converting third downs -- essential elements of running a successful two-minute drill. None of these stats have anything to do with McNabb's knowledge or conditioning, but rather the Redskins' inability to pass protect, especially in all pass situations.

So why take issue with McNabb and potentially risk losing his trust? Is this a surprise to Washington that McNabb isn't always best operating in the two-minute drill? Is it surprising to the Redskins that Andy Reid, his former coach in Philly, called all the plays in two-minute drills, limiting McNabb's ability to change plays and thus focusing on execution rather than audibles? The 'Skins were giddy when they first traded for McNabb, but did they really know what kind of player they were building their team around?

McNabb took too much heat from Philadelphia fans, in part because he was never able to win the big game. But also because there were times during the two-minute drill that the offense sputtered under his direction (something some of his former teammates have since acknowledged). In the final two minutes of games over his 156-game career, McNabb has thrown 30 touchdowns and 19 interceptions, completing 55 percent of his passes. Those numbers are only slightly lower than his career averages, which means he's not really a liability in that situation.

So no matter what the rhetoric is coming from the Shanahan camp, the underlying issue is they had a problem with McNabb -- a problem they did not anticipate when they made the trade on Easter Sunday.

With eight games to go, one can only conclude that any extension talk will be hinged to whether Shanahan and his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, feel they can develop their offense around McNabb. No progress is going to be made on a new contract until the landscape is clearer, including the understanding of what other quarterbacks might be available when it comes time to sign McNabb.

Right now there is doubt in the minds of the Shanahans about McNabb. They have not been consistent or forthcoming with the reasons for their lack of faith. So being patient is the right course of action for them, if they can repair what happened in Detroit on Sunday.

McNabb was taken aback by the move, and his body language on the sideline expressed as much. He was angry, he was disappointed, and the competitor in him wanted to run that two-minute drill.

Now, during the bye week, there has to be a meeting between McNabb and Shanahan, and from that meeting there must be a level of expectation placed on the shoulders of the quarterback. Shanahan must be honest, direct and forthcoming. Once McNabb is told what is expected of him, then all that is left is the evaluation of those expectations.

The Redskins' next eight games and all of their forthcoming two-minute drills will let us know clearly whether Washington intends on extending McNabb's contract beyond this season.

The Chilly effect

My email in-box was overloaded with amazement when Childress threw his challenge flag on a clear catch by Patriots wide receiver Brandon Tate early in the second quarter. In reality, nothing Childress does surprises me when it comes to challenging calls, but this challenge might be his worst. If you know nothing about Childress and his game-management acumen, you would quickly conclude, based on this, that he is not a game manager.

And following this ridiculous challenge, the next day Childress went out and cut Moss. Yet only two hours earlier he was telling the media he was content with trading for the high-maintenance receiver.

Friday I will weigh in with my thoughts concerning where the Vikings are headed without Moss and what Moss might be able to do for his new team.

Case of the missing challenges

In the Packers-Jets game, Ryan challenged a fumble by Brad Smith as the second quarter began. The call was close, but from the replay it was clear the ball was coming loose. Nonetheless, Ryan made the challenge. He lost it, then later in the quarter, with fewer than five minutes to go in the half, Ryan made another challenge on a possession call. The ruling on the field was that Packers cornerback Tramon Williams stripped the ball from Jets wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery and possessed it for an interception.

Warner: Perplexed by move
The fallout following the benching of Donovan McNabb has left many confused about the decision, one which NFL Network analyst Kurt Warner says doesn't make sense. More ...

» Sanders: McNabb disrespected
» Video: Was it the right call?
» More: NFL Network blog

It was another close, tough call, but had the ruling been a completion on the play, I doubt if Packers coach Mike McCarthy would have challenged. Because of his decision, Ryan was out of challenges in a low-scoring game, and all I could think about was a close play in the end zone being ruled against the Jets and Ryan not having the ability to make the challenge.

Once Ryan lost his first challenge, he had to be careful with another challenge. There can be no margin for error at this point, especially before halftime. This was going to be a close game, and Ryan would need an ace in his hand. But making the second challenge, he played the next 34 minutes with no help from the eye in the sky.

Later in the game, Charles Woodson intercepted the ball in the same manner that Williams stripped Cotchery, but since Ryan had no challenges, he had to let the call stand, killing one of the best drives for the Jets' offense.

In all games, it doesn't matter when you challenge, but what does matter is being right, especially early in the game.

Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.

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