I understood when the Redskins left Robert Griffin III in after he got hurt the first time. The Redskins led 14-0 following a touchdown pass two plays afterGriffin hurt his knee. He hobbled back to the huddle and delivered a touchdown pass to tight end Logan Paulsen.
I understood when they kept him in after halftime. It was tough to know where Griffin was truly at because the Redskins had such lousy field position. They started one drive at their own 3-yard line; the other at their own 6. Tough to tell just how much his knee was bothering him; they could never get him on the edge in those situations.
But then Griffin limped around left end on a nine-yard run. It wasn’t a matter of him pulling up – as I thought he did vs. Philadelphia. It was a matter of him being unable to run well. And then he didn’t look good running the bootleg, getting sacked on a play where he had escaped trouble numerous times in the past and it was clear: the Redskins’ offense was going nowhere with an injured Griffin in charge. He struggled to throw from the pocket — his passes were high, perhaps because he couldn’t plant the same way though he said that wasn’t the case — and he wasn’t a threat to hurt them on the ground consistently. If a quarterback can’t run and is struggling in the pass game, it’s a bit difficult on an offense.
“I’m sure if he were 100 percent it would have been a different game,” Seattle corner Richard Sherman said.
He did not mean to say the Redskins would have won, but that the game would have played out differently. The Redskins scrapped their quarterback run game; they couldn’t run as much play-action. The boot game was not working. All the stuff that they did early en route to two touchdown drives.
“That’s a good percentage of our offense that we can’t run as effectively as we’re used to doing,” tight end Logan Paulsen said.
They couldn’t build on their lead; they couldn’t be aggressive the way they have been in other games. They had to enter survival mode and that’s tough against a team like Seattle.
“If you noticed earlier when we were rushing the passer, everyone was worried about him getting out and containing him,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “After we saw what he was doing and how he was moving, I tried to encourage the guys to not be worried about breaking containment and running like crazy. …It was hard to watch Robert Griffin III today. It was hard on him and he was freaking gallant as can be.”
There’s no doubt during the game I felt they should take Griffin out. It was the failed bootleg right before the failed snap/injury that convinced me. Griffin couldn’t protect himself. Actually, the nine-yard run was bad, too.
Others were probably convinced earlier. I’m slow to the trigger because I get having faith and confidence in a player even when he’s not completely right. I didn’t have a problem with Griffin playing the past couple games. It wasn’t about him playing hurt, it was about him getting worse in this game and then not being able to help. Yeah, Seattle’s defense is good but the Redskins played into their strength by being unable to move them around with misdirection as much as they had in the past.
And I know Griffin told Mike Shanahan he was good enough to play; but I’m not sure what else he would ever say. Guys like Griffin always will think they’re good enough to play.
“He’s a tough dude,” tight end Logan Paulsen said. “He’s a man of steel.”
And men of steel think they’re invincible on the field. At some point the only person who must answer that question is the coach himself. If you want to hear the answer you want to hear, then ask the player. Especially one you already know is stubborn. You’ll almost always get the affirmative from a player such as Griffin. You have to ask yourself the harder question. If you’re honest, you’ll probably hear the answer that you don’t want.
But you make $7 million a season to know more than the players. Players always want to play and say they can. The coach needs to sometimes do the thinking for them. It happens every week. You don’t need to baby a player; that’s the last thing Mike Shanahan should do. But you do need to see that a guy can’t protect himself and he’s facing a defense that is coming after him hard. The offense had gained a total of 38 yards in the second and third quarters combined with a quarterback that couldn’t move. I’d have a hard time taking out a player such as Griffin because he’s a special talent. Guys like that do magical things, even when hurt. But after a while it became apparent there was no magic left.
The problem is, this game came on the same day Dr. James Andrews told USA Today that ”I’ve been a nervous wreck letting him come back as quick as he has. He’s doing a lot better this week, but he’s still recovering and I’m holding my breath because of it.” What doctor wouldn’t be nervous, I suppose, right? Maybe Andrews says that about other athletes he’s worked with; I don’t know.
And it came in the same week in which the Redskins admitted Griffin’s LCL would not allow him to be himself for a little while, though that was probably obvious too. Other doctors with experience treating knee injuries told friends to watch for the knee buckling; that’s what eventually happened. Still, Griffin had been cleared so it’s not like he shouldn’t have been playing. But at some point he needs to be protected from himself. Of course he would have been upset; he was upset when told he wasn’t going to play vs. Cleveland, too.
But there’s gray area in this decision as well. There’s the mindset of a player who turned himself into the No. 2 overall choice in the draft because of his approach. He’s stubborn. He’s competitive. He’s driven. Every one of those qualities helped him excel; each one kept him in the game Sunday. The reason why he’s so good is because he’s willing to subject himself to anything – endless hours of conditioning; extra hours at the office – to succeed. No one should be surprised that he’ll play through anything as well.
There’s honor in the eyes of his teammates for what Griffin did Sunday night. Remember the grief Jay Cutler received when he couldn’t play in the playoffs because of a bad knee? There’s no way Griffin would have received the same because he’s proven himself (as had Cutler, by the way).
What Griffin did Sunday will resonate for years with these teammates, especially if we later found out the knee was far worse than we realized. There won’t be a guy in the locker room who won’t do anything for him. You just hope that Griffin did not sustain some sort of injury that will require months and months of rehab.
“I’m not worried about him,” Lorenzo Alexander said. “He’s a grown man. If he wants to play through some pain, I have a lot of respect for that.
“Hopefully next year he won’t have to run as much and stay in the pocket more. And use his legs only when he needs to.”
“He’s been battling the last few weeks with a hurt knee,” Will Montgomery said. “He doesn’t want to come off the field. He’s a great leader for us and he wants to win…. He’s not a guy that will want to come out but it looked like he wasn’t 100 percent. We’ll take a 75-percent Robert any day of the week. Instead of running a 4.3 40 he ran a 4.9 40. He did a great job for us.”
That’s the thing. Pro athletes are wired differently and the great ones even more so. They already do things regular folks, like myself, can’t explain or always comprehend. Even when you’re around it all the time. We look at them as being crazy for putting their bodies through what they do; they view it as normal. We see coaches as being nuts for working 100 hours a week; they see it as normal. Their culture is different and sometimes difficult to understand.
So the players did not second guess Shanahan for keeping Griffin in, even as many others did. They simply viewed Griffin as doing what others have done all season: play hurt. Griffin goes out of his way to prove he’s no different than anyone else and his way of doing that today was by playing hurt.
“We’re all competitors, we all want to play, we all know what’s at stake,” tight end Logan Paulsen said. “But for him I feel like it’s kind of another level. Having seen what he went through in the Baltimore game and the kind of pain that he was in….It takes a lot to take himself out and I think that’s where the coaches have to make a smart decision for him.”
Ah, but what did Paulsen think of Shanahan’s decisions?
“I mean, he’s our guy,” Paulsen said of Griffin. “He’s the starter. And I feel like he gives us the best opportunity to win. Not to take anything away from Kirk [Cousins], but he’s the starter for a reason. And the team, the coaches, myself, we all feel that he’s the best guy to give us the opportunity to be successful.”
But I have a feeling that if they had taken him out earlier, the players would have understood. Griffin had proven himself long before Sunday.