WASHINGTON (AP) — On one hand, it seems harsh to deny John Beck the Washington Redskins starting quarterback job based on his performance in the first half of the final preseason game.
Beck wasn't playing with the starting receivers or running backs, and his 21 passes represent just a sliver of his body of work in the context of the thousands of balls he's thrown in practice since the start of training camp.
On the other hand, Beck had the golden opportunity he has wanted for so long. With Rex Grossman given the night off, Beck could have seized the moment and claimed the job outright with a solid performance, leaving all doubters behind.
He didn't come through. Playing against the second-string defense of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Beck's night was as much pedestrian as promising. The numbers from Thursday's game say one thing — 10 for 21 for 108 yards and an interception — but Beck's words said it so much better.
"I would have liked," he said, "for it to end on a higher note."
The decision now falls to coach Mike Shanahan, who said after the game he will review film and come up with a decision in the next few days. There's no telling when he plans to reveal his choice — he has previously said he might wait until just before kickoff against the New York Giants on Sept. 11. For practical purposes, however, he needs his starter in place on the practice field Wednesday, when the final preparation begins for the season opener.
If Shanahan wants to give the nod to Grossman, the case is simple. Grossman had the better numbers in preseason. He's more experienced. He makes quicker decisions — which is important if the offensive line isn't up to scratch. Overall, the offense seems to have a better rhythm under Grossman.
But Shanahan could also go with Beck without too much of a stretch. The coach could say Beck was better in practice. He could argue — rightfully — that Beck is still a largely unknown quantity, that the Redskins need to see what he can do over a full season and then plan accordingly for next year.
Beck's ceiling is unknown, while Grossman has a body of work that includes 40 touchdowns and 40 interceptions. Beck has kept the competition close even though Grossman has played in the offense a year longer. Beck is more mobile, which means he's better in the rollouts Shanahan likes to run — and also can better escape the pressure when the line is breached.
For that matter, Shanahan can pick Beck by saying it's the coach's prerogative to choose whomever he wants, although that would lend credence to the suspicion that many have held all along, that he favored Beck from the start. Notably, while Beck went out of his way not to make any excuses about his play against the Bucs, Shanahan didn't hesitate to cite mitigating factors, particularly the decision to start a mixture of first- and second-stringers.
"Any time you don't go with your first units, and you try to separate people, wide receivers, running backs, offensive linemen — sometimes it gets a little ugly," the coach said.
It's almost over. Only a few more days of suspense. At least the auditions in front of half-empty stadiums are done.
"I will always believe that I can be a starter in this league," Beck said. "In the quarterback position, there are going to be ups and downs and plays that aren't going to go the way you think they should, but that's part of the quarterback position. I've just tried to continue through that and just give myself a chance.
"What's going to happen, I don't know because I'm not the one making the decision. I'm just going to continue to do my best and show that I believe I can do the job. It's kind of a tough spot because you just don't know."
Follow Joseph White at twitter.com/JGWhiteAP