In the end, Robert Griffin III proved to be mortal after all.
With the Redskins early 14-0 lead evaporated and the compromised quarterback valiantly — but vainly — struggling to lead his team to a comeback in the fourth quarter, Griffin’s injured right knee finally gave out on him.
After a bad shotgun snap, Griffin tried to sharply plant on the knee to chase the fumble — one of the very few times all day he attempted a truly natural play instead of a measured attempt to protect the joint. As everyone saw in the stadium and on countless television replays, the knee simply buckled under the strain of Griffin placing full weight on it and attempting an athletic play.
Face down in the muck of FedEx’s embarrassing turf, Griffin couldn’t even continue to make a play for the ball, which was lying at the Skins five yard line for a Seattle defender to fall on, giving the Seahawks the field position to once and for all end the Redskins day — and season.
Eventually, Griffin made his way off the field under his own power, but his day was done.
Many observers thought Griffin should have been replaced at halftime after an ineffective second quarter, when it became apparent that the Rookie of the Year candidate had re-aggravated his knee injury, devoid of any burst when rushing the ball and simply unable to play his game, which had carried the Redskins to this point of the season.
It’s a fine line when a player insists he can still help his team despite injury. Watching from the stands and at home on television it’s easy to play doctor. On the field, after all the Skins have gone through this season going from 3-6 to winning the division at 10-6, Griffin emerged as the unquestioned leader on this team.
Griffin’s exuberance to continue to play may have affected head coach Mike Shanahan’s decision-making, when all signs on the field indicated Griffin was compromised and his continued play could result in further injury to the franchise player.
“If you can play, you play,” Griffin was quoted in the locker room following the loss.
But adrenaline and pressure sometimes mask the honest truth: Griffin was obviously not the same player after he took a tumble limping to the sidelines on a second down play just before the Redskins second touchdown. It was obvious he’d re-aggravated the injury, and his play afterward was nothing like it was before.
The noticeable limp. The incapacity to plant while throwing. The indecision when he couldn’t tuck the ball and run when pressured. After Griffin limped through the second quarter, unable to play at even a fraction of his Pro Bowl caliber talent, the Shanahans would have been justified in making the switch right there and turning to Kirk Cousins in the second half.
But they did not do that. They stuck with Griffin until he could go no longer. Griffin is the unquestioned leader of the team and sometimes coaches have to ride with their stars, regardless of the circumstances.
After the game, Mike Shanahan reiterated that if the doctors thought that the damage could be elevated by Griffin continuing to play, he’d have lifted him. But he also admitted to being talked into letting Griffin continue by his prized pupil, with Griffin assuring his coach he was playing through pain, not injury.
It was a bitter conclusion to the Redskins first playoff game since 2007. Shanahan’s decision to ride with a compromised Griffin will be dissected until — and probably through — next training camp.
But it shouldn’t overshadow the remarkable second half of this Redskins team, the progression of Griffin and fellow rookie Alfred Morris, the Pro Bowl season from Trent Williams, recovering from his late season suspension last season to become an anchor for this team at left tackle, and the amazing seven-game win streak that gave the Skins their first division title since 1999.
While it may be dark now at FedEx Field and Redskins Park following this loss, there should be many bright days ahead for Robert Griffin III and the rest of this Redskins team.
Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief and Washington Nationals Page Editor for District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Washington Capitals and Washington Wizards. Previously, he wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network and spent four years in commercial radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP.