A few prominent themes of the Redskins season appear to be converging this week. The ongoing difficulty that the team has had getting production out of restive defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth has now intersected with the tendency of head coach Mike Shanahan to give poor excuses for benching high-profile players.
Haynesworth was listed as inactive for Sunday's 31-7 drubbing against New York, which caught more than a few fans by surprise. It became an even more pressing issue throughout the game, as Giants running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs combined for 200 yards rushing. Bradshaw even called Hayneworth's absence a "big help."
As was the case when Shanahan equivocated about his reasons for benching Donovan McNabb late in the Redskins' loss in Detroit earlier in the season, the coach's explanation for benching Haynesworth yesterday was similarly convoluted.
At first, Shanahan told reporters yesterday that the reason Haynesworth didn't play against the Giants was because he missed practice late in the week due to an illness. However, Shanahan later spoke of the matter as though it were a disciplinary issue.
"Well, he didn't practice on Friday. He was sick," Shanahan said. "On Thursday, he didn't have one of his better practices and we weren't sure what the reason was. I'm guessing it's because he was sick because he didn't practice on Friday. Without practicing Friday and with Thursday not having one of his better practices, we kept him inactive."
When asked to confirm a report that Haynesworth arrived late for Friday practice, the coach replied, "Obviously, there's discipline within our team. Sometimes guys are late; guys are late all the time. If they do that, they have to deal with me and the consequences."
It remains unclear whether it was an illness that caused Shanahan to keep the troubled defensive lineman on the sidelines or whether it was simply the coach trying to again take a hard line with a player who's been a headache since even before the season began. Of course, if the latter were the case, Shanahan might be better off clearly saying he is punishing Haynesworth for not complying with team rules, rather than creating another array of conflicting excuses. The defensive tackle said yesterday that he wanted to play.
Few are likely to rail at the coach's decision to bench Haynesworth the way the public and members of the media bristled at the rationale for benching McNabb with the Redskins trailing by one score late in the game against the Lions, but the habit of Shanahan to be deliberately vague or evasive about his reasoning is likely to lead to more criticism as the losses began to mount.