I respect, almost revere, you guys as fans. At least the way you acquitted yourselves this season. FedEx Field was a madhouse yesterday—good enough to galvanize a 14-point lead—and that's been the norm. You guys were, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the five best fan bases in football this season.
Please don't ruin it now.
A quick recap before we go any further: Four weeks ago, Robert Griffin III hurt his knee on a vicious hit by Haloti Ngata. The next week, backup Kirk Cousins admirably led the team to an easy win at Cleveland. Griffin returned the following week, and although markedly not 100 percent, helped Washington win two must-win games against Philadelphia and Dallas.
On Sunday, sporting a humongous knee brace, Griffin led Washington to two quick touchdowns. At some point during that second drive, however, he re-aggravated his knee and never looked the same. Washington squandered the lead, failed to score for the rest of the game, and late in the fourth, Griffin went down for good.
Which brings us to the debate we're presently having: Should Mike Shanahan have relieved Robert Griffin III after the first hit—the one that he never looked the same after?
From a football perspective, the answer is probably yes.
That is, on a pure "who gives the team a better chance to win" basis, Kirk Cousins—healthy knee and all—probably should have been under center.
If Mike Shanahan is guilty of anything, it's that: coaching malpractice. What he's been accused of in the fallout of yesterday's game has been so much more.
He's being accused of moral malpractice.
There's a notion being bandied about Washington that Mike Shanahan endangered his player—and, more importantly, a human being—because he was trying to win a football game. That he cared more about the numbers on the scoreboard than the cartilage in Griffin's knee.
Which is absurd. This wasn't Kreese telling Johnny to sweep the leg; this was Johnny telling Kreese everything was hunky dory.
Griffin even admitted as much, saying:
"I’m the quarterback of this team. My job is to be out there if I can play. The only time I couldn’t play was when I went down. I took myself out of the game."
From where I'm sitting, that hardly sounds like a man being cajoled into playing by his megalomaniacal superior. That sounds like a starry-eyed rookie who thinks himself invincible.
But the most interesting part of this kerfuffle, for me at least, was pointed out by The New York Post's Brian Costello:
Interesting dichotomy in city of Washington. Nats sat Strasburg thinking of future. Skins played RGIII thinking of present.— Brian Costello (@BrianCoz) January 7, 2013
This summer, Stephen Strasburg insisted he was healthy, but the Washington Nationals shut him down anyway. They were proactive about his future and Washington fans cried bloody murder.
On Sunday, Robert Griffin III insisted he was healthy and the Redskins obliged. They pushed their luck with his future and Washington fans ended up crying bloody murder once again.
Who knows what would have happened if Strasburg had been allowed to toss 200 innings this year? We can't see the outcome of that alternate universe; for all we know, he would have blown out his arm.
These decisions are too grand to be made in absolutes. They need to be made on a case-by-case basis, after all the evidence has been processed. On Sunday, after Robert Griffin III told Mike Shanahan his knee was viable, Shanahan decided that in this case, playing him was the right move.
It's easy to play armchair head coach, especially with hindsight on our side. It's easy to accuse the coach of malpractice after seeing Griffin's knee bend like a piece of flubber. It's easy to call for Shanahan's head on a spike knowing what we know now.
But the honest to God truth is ... well ... I would have done the exact same thing.