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The Prestige: Whats Next for Mike Shanahan's Magic Show?

A month removed from his famous "evaluate" comment, Magic Mike is juggling a high-profile quarterback crisis and the prospect of a playoff berth.

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Scott Halleran

Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called 'The Pledge'. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course... it probably isn't. The second act is called 'The Turn'. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn't clap yet. Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call 'The Prestige'.

- Christopher Priest, The Prestige

The Pledge - "The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man."

We were all right there weren't we? I mean, we watched him say it.

"Now you're playing to see who obviously is going to be on your football team for years to come," Shanahan said after his team's week 9 loss to the Carolina Panthers. "Now we get a chance to evaluate players and see where we're at.

"Obviously, we're not out of it statistically, but now we find out what type of character we've got and how guys keep on fighting through the rest of the season."

I've heard high school coaches of perennial losing teams give better outlook.

The league had caught up with RG3 and the defense couldn't stop your grandmother from crossing the street. The 3-6 Redskins were fading back into their familiar place as an afterthought late in the season as they played meaningless games against opponents still fighting for a playoff berth.

The Turn - "The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary."

Let's just forget for a minute the many dozens of lame clichés I could make about magic and play-action deception and the pistol formation.

The real magic show here is how Jim Haslett has managed to keep his job. And how after all is said and done, Shanahan may garner praise for sticking it out with him when the popular choice would have been to use him as a scapegoat. See: Cam Cameron.

The spin now is that Haslett has patched something together after going basically the entire season without either of his projected starting safeties, a starting lineman and his best pass-rusher. No, the defense hasn't stopped anyone - but the +12 turnover ratio puts the Redskins at 5th in the league. 23 takeaways and 4 defensive touchdowns have helped win games and build confidence in a team that historically never seems to get a ball to bounce their way. Say what you want about DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson-- they've done just about as well as anyone could have with the situations Haslett has put them in...What's Nnamdi Asomugha doing now?

Generating turnovers is the only thing the 3-4 Defense was brought here to do.

Then, as if winning three in a row with a bad defense led by a 75 year old linebacker wasn't enough, Magic Mike did the unthinkable:he sawed RG3's leg in half.


He's a 22 year old rookie with the future of an entire franchise mortgaged on the health of his legs but he still had to take himself out of the game.

"You have to do what's right for the team," Said Griffin. "If I played the rest of that game, I probably would've hurt myself even more. So you have to trust those guys, and trust yourself when you know enough is enough."

If the Redskins lose that Ravens game, or God forbid RG3 seriously hurt his leg -- is Shanahan not vilified for letting Griffin keep playing after watching him barely limp to the sideline?

So while the Ravens and rest of America pondered that question and focused on the replay of RG3's knee being mangled by Haloti Ngata - like watching a brand new Lamborghini get wrapped around a giant Tongan telephone pole - the Shanahans doubled-down on the unthinkable: tying the game with one rookie and winning it with another.

Four wins in a row and now the hottest team to talk about in America.

If the last few minutes of that game wasn't f^%$ing magic, I don't know what is.

The Prestige - "Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call "The Prestige'."

I'll try to refrain from making too many Black Jesus references like my dear friend Fred Davis, but I do find it quite coincidental that our savior quarterback has returned three days after his knee was crucified. *O Come all ye faithful...*

While we like to hear those progress reports coming from angels in Ashburn, the reality of the situation may be different, according to someone a little more familiar with the situation:

"Now we have a little bit tougher task; we have Kirk (Cousins) starting," Pierre Garcon said during a SportsCenter appearance on ESPN earlier this week. "We have to play well around Kirk so Kirk doesn't feel like he has to try to save the team. We have to help him to be as comfortable as possible."

The fact of the matter is no matter who is starting at quarterback for the Redskins on Sunday, we won't know (and shouldn't know) for sure until we get the inactive list at 11:15 AM.

"We truly are preparing as if [Griffin is] playing,"Browns rookie free safety Tashaun Gipson said following practice on Wednesday. "That's the report out of this camp. [The injury] looked a lot worse than what the camp is saying. But you've got to respect what they're saying. They're saying he's going to play. So definitely right now our main focus is preparing as if we're going to see No. 10 [Griffin] out there." []

I'm still in the camp that even a half-speed Griffin is better than a 100% health Kirk Cousins, but at what risk? I don't want to see any further injury to RG3 and I can't help but see the advantage of fielding a quarterback and a scheme that a defense has not prepared for. There is only about a quarter's worth of actual game film on Kirk Cousins and it almost all demonstrates visible poise under incredible circumstances, first against the Falcons and then against the Ravens. He was able to read defenses and move the ball effectively while operating within a traditional scheme that had him taking snaps from under-center and shotgun. If Cleveland is preparing for a Pistol Option attack, switching the exam the night before the test could be a major problem for them.

When it comes to Sunday against Cleveland, taking care of the ball will be the most crucial aspect of the match-up. The Browns have played surprisingly stout defense despite their numbers and lack of offensive production. Even though quarterback Brandon Weeden has thrown 15 interceptions, the Browns can thank their defense for a +8 turnover differential. They average 2.1 takeaways per game on the year (5th in the league) and have averaged 3.3 takeaways in their last 3 games (1st in the league).

Because both teams know the Redskins have to run the ball to take pressure away from the quarterback position, regardless of who the starter is, the decision comes down to a strong case for RG3's decision making over Kirk Cousins. So do you play your star for a must-win game at the risk of rendering him useless for the long haul? Or do you hitch your hopes and dreams on the arm of your understudy?

Year three of Mike Shanahan's third act, hunting for the elusive third Super Bowl. As I see it, he has to win this game (and every game remaining, obviously) to continue his prestige to the fans of Washington, DC. How he handles this quarterback situation and this team over the course of the next few weeks could very well determine his legacy for years to come.

'Tis the Season