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Rex Grossman still starting QB

ASHBURN, Va. -- Barry Cofield is concerned that the Washington Redskins season could get "historically ugly." One thing that sure isn't neat and pretty: the way Mike Shanahan explains his quarterback changes.

The coach who clumsily evoked "cardiovascular endurance" while benching Donovan McNabb a year ago meandered his way Monday through the surprise switch from John Beck to Rex Grossman.

Grossman started Sunday against the Miami Dolphins and -- according to Shanahan -- will keep the job for the upcoming game against the Dallas Cowboys as the Redskins (3-6) try to break a five-game losing streak.

"Rex is going to be our quarterback," Shanahan said. "When you go with a veteran quarterback, it's pretty easy -- because usually that situation stays pretty much status quo. Unless there's an injury during the week, Rex would be the quarterback. But crazy things could happen. He could go down during the week."

The disclaimer is a must -- because it was a week ago that Shanahan said "Yeah, we're going to stick with John" when asked who would get the call against the Dolphins. Instead, he had Beck and Grossman both take first-team snaps during the week and informed the team on Saturday that Grossman would start for the first time since Oct. 16.

Shanahan explained the change of heart on Monday with 90-second answer that even included a reference to a turf toe injury suffered by Niles Paul -- a rookie receiver with only two catches this season -- as one of the reasons to go with a more experienced Grossman.

Further questioning revealed more telling read-between-the-lines answers: Beck basically played himself out of the job with subpar performances in back-to-back games, and Grossman might have claimed the job back even sooner had he not been hospitalized with pneumonia three weeks ago.

Beck threw three interceptions, took 11 sacks and led only one touchdown drive in a 23-0 loss to Buffalo and a 19-11 defeat to San Francisco.

"I'm not going to go into a lot of detail in that," Shanahan said, "but I think that speaks for itself."

Regarding Grossman's illness, the coach said: "I'm not going to go through all the possible scenarios, but any time anybody has pneumonia, it usually lingers for a few weeks."

Shanahan no doubt is treading carefully because he infamously said before the season that he would stake his reputation on both Beck and Grossman as quarterbacks. Now he's benched both of them in barely more than half of a season, and he says Beck -- who is 0-7 as an NFL starter, including 0-3 with the Redskins -- was hurt by the offseason practices that were cancelled during the lockout.

"I like John's talent," Shanahan said. "I like what we have in John, but I'm always going to do what I think is in the best interest of the team to win."

The question now is whether either quarterback gives the team a chance to win, especially as the injuries kept mounting. Shanahan praised Grossman's confidence, poise and overall play in the 20-9 loss to the Dolphins, but the fact is that the Redskins failed to score a touchdown against a team that had previously won only one game. Washington hasn't scored a first-half touchdown or held a lead since Oct. 2.

Grossman certainly looked more comfortable than Beck while completing 21 of 32 passes for 215 yards, but he also had two interceptions -- including a brutal fourth-quarter pick inside Miami's 10-yard line when the Redskins were driving with a chance to take the lead.

"Everybody says, 'Well, you only had nine points,' but nine points obviously goes to a collective group," Shanahan said. "But I thought Rex played well."

Quarterback play aside, the Redskins have reason to feel snakebit. Third-round draft pick Leonard Hankerson got his second NFL start Sunday and had 106 yards receiving -- but he dislocated his right hip and tore the labrum in the fourth quarter. He will become the fourth Redskins offensive starter to go on season-ending injured reserve, joining tight end Chris Cooley, running back Tim Hightower and left guard Kory Lichtensteiger.

Receiver Santana Moss and left tackle Trent Williams have also missed multiple games with injuries, and Shanahan said right tackle Jammal Brown is a "long shot" to return this week after sitting out Sunday with a groin injury. Backup defensive lineman Kedric Golston is also out for at least a week with a knee injury.

And, of course, everyone on the roster is suffering from losing.

"There's no guarantee that we can win another game," veteran defensive tackle Cofield said. "We just don't have a team on our schedule that's just going to lay down and let us beat `em. If we don't play better, then there's no reason to expect to win any games. The ball's just not going to bounce our way, and so it could very ugly. It could get historically ugly.

"Hopefully guys are fearful of that, and hopefully guys focus in and just come together and do whatever it takes to get a win -- because if we don't, then it's going to be a very very long winter."