ASHBURN, Va. — The flecks of gray in the stubble on London Fletcher’s cheek made the statement superfluous when he explained why he’s started taking some plays off.
“I’m not 24,” he said with a chuckle.
The 38-year-old Washington Redskins linebacker who has made a career of always being there suddenly wasn’t there on Sunday, at least not for every play. In his record-tying 243rd consecutive game — and after playing every defensive snap in Nos. 241 and 242 — Fletcher rested for eight of 67 plays in the loss to the Detroit Lions.
Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s significant. Age was bound to catch up with Fletcher one of these days, and he had been a nonfactor the previous week, with only one tackle and one assist against the Green Bay Packers. He’s the captain of the worst defense in the NFL, a unit allowing 488 yards per game, so things couldn’t get any more dire with backup Nick Barnett on the field for a bit.
“I knew I wanted to run to the ball better, be around the football a lot better, just do a lot more things than I had done the previous two ballgames,” Fletcher said Wednesday. “And if that means I’ve got to give Nick a few snaps, it helps me, it helps us. It helps us try to win a ballgame, and that’s something I’ve got to do. They’re not giving out trophies for playing a lot of snaps.”
More vague is the circumstances as to how it all came about. Coach Mike Shanahan indicated Monday that it was a coaching staff decision — “We’ve been talking about giving London a few plays off,” Shanahan said — but Fletcher said Wednesday it was totally his own idea, to the point that the only people he told in advance were Barnett and linebackers coach Bobby Slowik.
“I decided to take myself out,” Fletcher said. “Nobody said anything to me about coming out of the ballgame. Just because I wanted to play 100 percent, 100 mph the whole game, and it’s tough to do that if you’re going to try to play 100 percent of the snaps also.”
Shanahan then muddled things a little more, saying that Fletcher gets to makes the decision as to which plays to sit out as the game progresses. The coach added generically: “We encourage people that, if they feel like they need a break, to take themselves out.”
Fletcher said the breathers will become probably be a part of the routine going forward, including this week, when the Redskins visit the Oakland Raiders and he passes Bill Romanowski for longest consecutive games streak by a defensive player since the 1970 merger.
Asked about breaking the record, Fletcher said: “I won’t say I haven’t thought about it. … Hopefully if I’m able to get out there on Sunday and play, it’s something I can look back (on) and think about.”
Fletcher’s evolving role took some of the usual Wednesday glare away from his offensive counterpart, Robert Griffin III, whose weekly news conference focused on topics such as swagger and sliding.
“It hard to have that swagger sitting at 0-3,” Griffin said. “But I don’t think the team has lost its sense of confidence. We know how close we are, we know we can turn it around, and we’re built to get out of this hole just like we were last year.”
Griffin hasn’t played up to expectations since returning from major knee surgery, but he said he doesn’t regret making an ESPN documentary about his rehab, or anything else he did to add to the hype. He referenced Peyton Manning, who was featured in a documentary this week about the Manning family.
“He has a documentary, and he’s going off this year,” Griffin said, “and no one criticizes that.”
Griffin had a momentum-shifting fumble in the fourth quarter against the Lions when he lost the ball while diving head-first instead of sliding. He worked on sliding during training camp, but he said he doesn’t practice it now that the regular season is underway.
“The problem is I’m not a great slider,” he said. “I know how to slide. I don’t know how to baseball slide.”
Asked if he would take lessons from a baseball player, he said he’d welcome Washington Nationals slugger Bryce Harper.
“I’m definitely up for that, Bryce,” he said. “So, yeah, we can do that if you want to, buddy.”
Notes: TE Jordan Reed (bruised right thigh), LB Brandon Jenkins (sprained right ankle) and K Kai Forbath (strained groin) didn’t practice. Forbath hasn’t fully tested his leg since he was hurt two weeks ago. “It’s hard to tell unless you kick a ball,” he said. … TE Fred Davis (sprained right ankle) was limited. … T Troy Kropog was signed to the practice squad. He replaces T Xavier Nixon, who was signed to the Indianapolis Colts’ active roster.
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