Quarterback's knee gives out in fourth quarter
He asked him a question and kept hearing the answer he wanted. So Redskins coach Mike Shanahan left quarterback Robert Griffin III in the game. Even as the rookie limped around the end on runs. Even as he hobbled to the corner on a bootleg play. And even as the Redskins' offense failed to move the ball.
Griffin was his guy. He was staying in. And he did -- until Griffin's knee buckled while he tried to catch an errant snap in the fourth quarter of Washington's 24-14 playoff loss to Seattle at FedEx Field. Finally, Griffin did not return, and he eventually needed an MRI on his knee. But that's what it took to get him out of the game.
"He said, 'Trust me, I want to be in there and I deserve to be in there,'?" Shanahan said, "and I couldn't disagree with him."
But Shanahan later admitted, "We weren't the same team. There's no question about it."
No, there wasn't. Once Griffin reinjured his right knee on the second drive of the game, the Redskins started to change. They couldn't build on a 14-0 lead. The Redskins gained 129 total yards on their first two drives but only 74 on their final eight combined.
When Griffin's play changed, the Redskins did as well. The offense could not sustain drives -- they had to ditch a lot of their play-action game because of Griffin's immobility -- to protect a defense that eventually surrendered 380 yards, including 224 rushing. Griffin completed six of nine passes for 68 yards and two touchdowns on the first two drives.
Griffin hurt his knee on the second drive, throwing back across his body as he scrambled to the right. He limped back to the huddle, and two plays later he threw a touchdown pass. On the next eight drives, he completed four of 10 for 16 yards and an interception.
That's why the decision to keep him in until his knee finally gave way left Shanahan open for second-guessing.
"Very tough decision, and you've got to go with your gut," Shanahan said. "I'm not saying my gut is always right. I'll probably second-guess myself."
But Griffin and his teammates did not join that chorus.
"My job is to be out there if I could play," Griffin said. "The only time I couldn't play is when I went down, and I took myself out of the game. That's the way you have to play it. I don't feel me being out there hurt the team in any way. I'm the best option for this team, and that's why I'm the starter. ... I think I put myself at more risk ... but my teammates needed me out there, so I was out there for them."
"If he feels he can play through that pain, you let him do that," Redskins special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander said. "Guys earn the right after he's done that throughout the year. ... He's a grown man. If he wants to play through some pain, I have a lot of respect for that."
Said Redskins tight end Logan Paulsen: "He gives us the best chance to win, and that's how the team feels. He's our starter and the guy we believe in. ... When he started the game, I thought, wow, [Griffin] was close to 100 percent. Until he took a couple shots and obviously he wasn't 100 percent, and then I started noticing he had taken a step back."
Griffin's passes sailed more in the final two-plus quarters that he played, perhaps because he could not plant and throw as he normally does. But Griffin said that wasn't an issue; the bigger issue was exploding as he ran.
"He was kind of just galloping," Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner said.
Said Shanahan: "You could tell after our first quarter that he wasn't exactly the same. But I have a lot of players that aren't exactly the same."