Reporting David Elfin
There’s still no official word on the severity of the latest injury to Robert Griffin’s right knee. Which means that the debate about Mike Shanahan’s decision to keep him in the wild card game against Seattle when he wasn’t himself and wasn’t productive will keep raging.
“Robert’s our franchise quarterback,” Shanahan said today while deferring revealing the diagnosis until Griffin undergoes a thorough physical with Dr. James Andrews. “I’m not going to take a chance on his career to win a game.”
But of course, that’s exactly what Shanahan did yesterday. After Griffin III re-injured his sprained right knee while planting his leg on a throw less than 12 minutes into the game with Seattle – and two plays before he put the Redskins up 14-0, Washington’s latest great debate ignited. Shanahan stuck with Griffin, initially without even consulting his vaunted trio of doctors.
About that time, I received a text from a longtime friend who has been watching the Redskins for more than four decades. As much as he wanted his team to win a playoff game for the first time in seven years, my buddy thought the visibly ailing Griffin should’ve been benched for fellow rookie Kirk Cousins.
However, Shanahan wasn’t alone in willingly risking Griffin’s health by continuing to play him against the NFL’s stingiest defense.
“My job is to be out there if I can play,” Griffin said after the game during which he had 80 yards before the initial re-injury, just 25 more until he departed with 6:19 remaining. “I don’t feel like me being out there hurt the team in any way. I’m the best option for this team. That’s why I’m the starter. The knee didn’t affect me trying to throw, [but] it was hard to explode off it while running.”
The play him or rest him argument exploded in hindsight when Griffin was unable to move to try to reach an errant snap as he lay on the field with hope, and time, running out on the Redskins in the fourth quarter. He was unable to finish the game and Washington’s season was finished.
“It’s a very tough decision,” Shanahan said after the 24-14 loss. “You have to go with your gut. I’m not saying my gut is always right, but I’ve been there before. … When you’ve got the belief in a guy and you feel that he can play at a certain level and the doctor is telling you he’s OK to go in, then you gotta do what you think is right. … Everybody could see after the first quarter that he wasn’t exactly the same. I’ll probably second-guess myself … should you have [taken him out] earlier? You always do that, especially when you don’t win. We weren’t the same team [after Sunday’s initial injury]. There’s no question about it.”
Indeed, after Griffin’s second touchdown pass, the Redskins, who owned a monstrous 129 to minus-2 yardage advantage, were outscored 24-0 and outgained 382-74.
Whether Washington’s offense would’ve been much better in the second, third and most of the fourth quarter with Cousins will remain a matter of conjecture since the Redskins were down 10 when he took over at his own 18-yard line with just 5:32 remaining.
The fourth-round draft choice had been a superb reliever and top-shelf fill-in starter during Washington’s seven-game run to its first NFC East title since 1999, but Griffin’s teammates believed that, even hurting badly, he still gave them the best chance to win.
“Robert’s our quarterback,” said veteran receiver Santana Moss, the senior member of the offense after 12 NFL seasons. “If he can go at 60 percent, he’s better than half the guys out there. He could barely run the last three weeks and he [was] still hard to catch. He still made the throws we asked him to. Now we have a lot of questions about it because he re-aggravates his leg and we lost. He was healthy enough to go out there and play. The stuff we ask him to do, if he was able to do half of that, then he wasn’t injured. You look back at the last three games, he was getting better every week. You can see how he ran in practice. You can see how he walked. But [because] of the game we play, you [still] have a great chance of re-aggravating something if hit the right way or [you] land the wrong way.”
Shanahan usually comes off as cold compared to say, Seattle’s Pete Carroll. But Shanahan handled Griffin’s situation more with his heart than with his head because he knows that the rookie was chiefly responsible for the 180 in the organization’s outlook from two months ago. The coach said today that the goals for 2013 have changed with winning the NFC East now the standard.
However, it’s Griffin’s very centrality to the Redskins’ long-term hopes that should have prompted Shanahan to pull Griffin and not let him risk serious injury to an already ailing joint.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin