Sunday could be the first day of the rest of Rex Grossman's life. Or the last day of his current one.
That's why there are no meaningless games in the NFL. Some part of every game means something to somebody, even (and maybe especially) for teams out of playoff contention and looking hard at the people who may be part of their future.
Grossman makes his third start at quarterback on Sunday for the Redskins, whose group goals can properly be called modest. They'd like to win a second consecutive game, they'd love to avoid a second consecutive season in which losses stacked up in double digits, they'd enjoy not finishing last again in the NFC East.
They'd relish winning at home, a phenomenon far too rare, winning against a division rival, going into an uncertain off-season with the feeling that the changes behind them bode well for tomorrow. They know they've lost five consecutive games to the New York Giants.
For Grossman, there's more. Much more. Once a No. 1 pick of the Chicago Bears, once a starter in a Super Bowl, he's back at the helm of an offense as the starting quarterback for the first time, really, since 2007. He played well enough in a 33-30 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, mixing the sublime (four touchdown passes) with the ridiculous (three turnovers). He played less impressively in the 20-17 overtime win against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
This, then, is the rubber match. And maybe the one that tells the coaching staff whether it can move forward with Grossman or needs to look elsewhere in 2011.
"I felt pretty good in the first game as far as going through my reads and everything," Grossman said. "The second game, I think I tried to do a little too much at times. But for the most part, experience definitely helps as far as your emotions, your reactions to certain situations. I don't have a ton of game-time experience in this offense. To be in a road game with a team trying to make the playoffs and a tense atmosphere and running the offense at the same time, the experience can only help."
Head coach Mike Shanahan said earlier in the week that Grossman lost a little focus and edge when he threw an end-zone interception against the Jaguars late in the first half.
The Redskins led 10-7 at that point and Grossman had them moving efficiently and quickly. He opened the drive with a 13-yard pass to Santana Moss, went back to Moss for 38 and then handed the ball to Ryan Torain, who rushed for 12 yards to the Jaguars' 17.
The Redskins found little comfort in the red zone in their first 14 games and the 15th proved no different. Grossman threw for Moss on the left side of the end zone but Derek Cox intercepted and a replay challenge by the Redskins granted them no relief. A turnover instead of a touchdown. A three-point lead at halftime instead of a 10-point bulge.
Grossman said the interception didn't derail him but the changing tenor of the game altered his approach. He got a little conservative in his judgments, playing more conservatively than his nature (and the coaches) would dictate.
"I think at some point in the game it kind of turned into a little bit of a defensive struggle and I played a little bit more cautious than I normally do which affected some plays that I normally make. Trying to protect the lead, trying to make sure not to make the mistake," he said. "I need to just go play and execute the offense and not worry about the situation in less it's a crucial situation and just be smart. I started playing a little bit too cautious too early. I didn't feel like the pick affected me."
Judge for yourself. Grossman completed eight of 16 passes for 80 yards (with at least four dropped) before the interception, then threw three more incomplete passes to end the first half eight of 20. He wrapped up the game at 19 of 39 for 181 yards.
Following the interception, the Redskins had the ball seven more times in regulation time and punted on six, scoring a touchdown on the other. The final series of the game, in OT, began at the Jags' 14 after Kevin Barnes' interception, and ended with Graham Gano's 31-yard field goal three plays later. No heroics there at the end for Grossman, just two handoffs before the Redskins kicked.
"When I play my best, I'm just out there having fun and playing smart and executing the technique I should and not worrying too much about the situation," Grossman said. "And I thought I played to the game, trying to conserve a victory rather than putting the game away if I just played the way that the coaches have asked me to. But for the most part, we did offensively just enough, barely, to win the game, and we can do a whole lot more and I can learn from that and get better."
Grossman has completed 48 of 89 passes for 548 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions in his two starts and the few moment played in relief of Donovan McNabb at the end of the loss to the Detroit Lions. He has lost two fumbles. His passer rating: 77.4. McNabb's? Only a hair lower, at 77.1. Neither is particularly good, though Grossman's statistical sample is much smaller.
Grossman spent one season with the Houston Texans under their offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, and then followed him here as a free agent. While his time in Houston gave him a chance to begin learning the offense, he got few opportunities to execute it as Matt Schaub's backup. Now his time here may hinge on what he can achieve, starts are precious and just one remains. He's rebuilding a career and a reputation, trying to secure his future.
Sunday. The Giants. Last stop or first step?
"All three of these starts have been very critical. I feel like I've played at an extremely high level since OTAs (Organized Team Activities) and last week I was just a little bit off. So this week I need to take another step forward to solidify this whole year for me and be proud of everything I've done," Grossman said. "I'm excited and looking forward to the challenge."
Larry Weisman, an award-winning journalist during 25 years with USA TODAY, writes for Redskins.com and appears nightly on Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet. Read his Redskinsblitz blog at Redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman