Now that the dust has settled a bit and the public has learned of Robert Griffin III’s injuries to his LCL and ACL, there is an outcry against the Redskins’ organization—coach Mike Shanahan in particular—regarding its decision to leave the quarterback in the game.
Dan Graziano from ESPN feels that Griffin should have come out of the game.
Grantland’s Bill Barnwell also says that RGIII played way too long.
Graziano and Barnwell are in the majority of people who think that the Washington Redskins coaching staff and medical staff left their sensational rookie quarterback on the field too long, but I believe that it was the right call.
Ignoring the unfortunate news that Griffin’s injury requires surgery to repair both ligaments, playing him gave the Redskins the best chance to win. I do not believe Mike Shanahan is an evil man—unless we are talking about his unpredictable history with starting running backs when it comes to fantasy football—so the decision to let him play was based on the confidence he had in his quarterback. Playing hurt is part of the job. The NFL is a brutal game, and injuries happen regardless of how careful teams/players are.
RGIII played hurt but effectively, while he guided the Redskins to an NFC East title since coming back from a sprained knee against Baltimore on December 9. Fellow rookie Kirk Cousins filled in admirably at the end of that game and also the following week against Cleveland, leading the Redskins to victory both times.
Despite Cousins’ positive contributions in Griffin’s absence, leaving him on the bench this past Sunday for most of the game was the proper decision.
He lacked the athletic burst that made him such a threat to run all season. While not 100 percent healthy, Griffin exerted himself to his physical limit, including his second touchdown throw of the game, two plays after tweaking his knee when defenders forced him out of the pocket.
After taking a 14-0 lead, the Redskins were not able to sustain long drives, and the Seahawks fought their way back and eventually took the lead, 21-14, with 7:08 left in the game. On Washington’s ensuing drive, a low snap caused Griffin to scramble for the ball and led to the buckling of his right leg. Seattle recovered and kicked a field goal to make it 24-14 with less than six minutes to play.
The Redskins’ pistol/read option offense has been so successful this year because of the threat of Griffin and tailback Alfred Morris’ ability to run the ball. With Cousins, the rushing attack is not as potent and defenses could focus on the pass, especially when they’re up by 10 points like Seattle was.
Again, Cousins did play well against Cleveland, but keep in mind that it was preparing to face Griffin that week, as the Redskins kept quiet about who their starter would be.
At this point in the game, it was obvious that Griffin could give no more, as he and Mike Shanahan begrudgingly nodded towards each other with an arm-around-the-shoulder on the sidelines.
For those who think Cousins would have performed better had he been put into the game earlier, I would argue that Seattle’s defense would have shut him down as well. He was put into the game down two scores and asked to do too much against an opportunistic Seahawks team who finished in the Top 10 in the NFL in both rushing (sixth) and passing (10th) yards allowed.
In his press conference, Griffin said that earlier in the game, he told Coach Shanahan that he knows the difference between being hurt and being injured and that he was hurting earlier.
If a player, despite being hurt, gives you the best chance to win and has proven that he can still compete at a high level, which he has in previous games this season, then you have to go with him.
Even his teammates felt that Griffin staying in the game was the right call:
"Robert's our starting quarterback, if he can go at 60 percent, he's better than half the guys out there. He could barely run the last three weeks and he's still hard to catch," WR Santana Moss said.
Robert Griffin III told Coach Mike Shanahan that he was okay going into the fourth quarter despite his gimpy right leg. Regardless of what Dr. James Andrews said or didn’t say to Shanahan, Griffin went back on the field.
He is a tough and charismatic leader. Only he knows how his leg feels. His doctors can offer their opinions and the coaches can use that information to decide on his playing status, but ultimately, it was the coach’s decision to leave him in.
Could Andrews and Shanahan have handled the situation better? Probably. But we cannot fault them for evaluating their prized draft pick and Pro Bowl rookie quarterback for a serious injury and then allowing him to retake the field because they deemed him fit.
If Washington had won the game with Griffin gutting it out the way he did, everyone would be praising his effort and the coaching staff’s decision to stick with him.
On the other hand, can you imagine the backlash that the coaches/organization would have received had Griffin been benched in the second quarter (when he first appeared hobbled) and they lost with Cousins, but then have RGIII say he was healthy and could have played? This was lose-lose situation for Shanahan and their staff.
This is a lesson the local Washington Nationals (the Strasburg shutdown) should learn from, as it clearly looked like the Redskins realized that these moments are fleeting. The playoffs don’t happen that often for some teams.
Washington's baseball and football teams took drastically different approaches and ended up with the same result. What’s the moral? You try your hardest to win each and every year, hopefully without sacrificing the health of your players.
The good news is that it appears Griffin will recover in time for the 2013 season opener, and I believe no matter where you stand on this debate, we can all agree we look forward to his return.