LANDOVER, Md. – Robert Griffin III couldn't run, at least not in any way resembling his usual sprints through the line and into open turf. Robert Griffin III couldn't throw, at least not the deep darts that move the chains and keep defenses honest.
Robert Griffin III couldn't lead the Washington Redskins' offense, not after his knee buckled in the first quarter of this NFC wild-card game against Seattle. A couple plays later Washington took a two-touchdown lead but the deal was done. It would gain just 41 yards over the next two and a half futile quarters with Griffin as quarterback, all but assuring Seattle's 24-14 victory.
Robert Griffin III couldn't do much of anything Sunday except lie, which is what he's been trained to do in situations like this.
Lie to himself that he can still deliver like no backup could. Lie to his coach that this was nothing big. Lie to the doctors who tried to assess him in the swirl of a playoff sideline.So Robert Griffin III lied, which is to be excused because this is a sport that rewards toughness in the face of common sense, a culture that celebrates the warrior who is willing to leave everything on the field, a business that believes such lies are part of the road to greatness.
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"I'm the quarterback, it doesn't matter what percentage I am," Griffin reasoned later. "If you can play, you play."
First off, that's a cliché. Second, he couldn't play. Not well enough to win the game anyway.
And with each snap there was the risk of not just further injuring that valuable knee, but of being injured in a different way because he was no longer capable of defending himself by avoiding a hit in the pocket or scrambling away from a linebacker.
"I did put myself at more risk being out there," Griffin said.
At least that was the truth, although he quickly reverted into more clichés.
"But every time you step on the football field between those lines you're putting your life, your career [and] every single ligament in your body in jeopardy," RG3 said.
[Related: Doctor disputes Mike Shanahan on RG3's knee]
Of course you can be injured at any moment. You can really get injured at any moment though when you can no longer move around and avoid hits.
It was all a lie and that's why rookie quarterbacks aren't supposed to make the call. Coaches are.
Griffin didn't have a coach Sunday.
He had Mike Shanahan, who looked at this mess, looked at each hapless Redskins drive, looked at every painful RG3 step, looked at every awkward, overthrown pass, and instead bought Griffin's weak arguments and then closed his eyes and lied to himself that it would all turn out OK.
Except it didn't. Not on the scoreboard. And not in Griffin's knee, which was eventually done in when he wasn't even capable of bending over and scooping up an errant snap in the fourth quarter. Instead a world-class athlete awkwardly reached until his right knee hyper-extended underneath him.
He wound up in a heap on the turf, clutching that knee while Seattle recovered a gift fumble that led to an easy, game-clinching field goal.
It was the final proof that he never should've been out there. And finally, too late, his day was done.
"If you don't pull him out then, you should get fired," Shanahan said.
Washington was in desperate need of such common sense long before that. It was desperate for Shanahan to pat this eager-to-please wunderkind on the back, show him the bench and insert the very capable backup, Kirk Cousins.
Not just for the future of the franchise, although that would be enough. The Redskins needed it for the present opportunity to win Sunday's game.
Instead it got silly discussions.
"I talked to Robert and he said to me, 'Coach, there's a difference between being injured and being hurt,' " Shanahan relayed later. "He said, 'I can guarantee I'm hurt right now but give me the chance to win this football game because I guarantee I'm not injured.'
"That," Shanahan said, "was enough for me."
That, Shanahan should've realized, was just a young player repeating another baseless cliché he probably picked up from a grainy NFL Films voiceover set to soaring symphonic music.
[Photos: Rough outing for RG3, Redskins]
Shanahan acknowledged later that, "I'll probably second-guess myself" and for that he deserves a measure of credit. He wasn't defiant about blowing it on Sunday.
Still, this wasn't some snap decision in the heat of the moment. This played out over hours, with a halftime even built in the middle. There were five consecutive series of futility for a 60-year-old coach to start trusting his own eyes rather buying the b.s. of a 22-year-old.
"He said to me, 'Trust me, I want to be in there and I deserve to be in there,'" Shanahan said. "And I couldn't disagree with him."
Shanahan is paid to disagree with him. That's his job.
At one point in the fourth quarter Shanahan decided he wanted to test if RG3 could still run, calling for a simple QB keeper. It was, on paper, effective, a 9-yard gain to the left. To see the play, however, was to see one of the greatest rushing machines in the league hobble to the outside, his knee practically wobbling on each step. It was strong blocking and the element of surprise that made it work.
"I asked him about it at that time," Shanahan said. "He said, 'Coach, I could've run faster. Nobody was there. I got  yards. That's not too bad. I promise if I have to do it again I could go faster.
"He gave me the right answer."
That's only because Shanahan was asking the wrong question. Which is to say he wasn't asking any questions at all.
On and on Shanahan's media conference went. The coach even unwittingly explained why he kept hearing the same answers from Griffin, when he took time to praise the very heart and fight of this prodigy and declared that a player who refuses to leave a game is "the type of player that you want." It's a circle of nonsense.
Shanahan was already hit with accusations Sunday from Dr. James Andrews, the famed sports surgeon, about Griffin's original injury against Baltimore on Dec. 9. Shanahan previously claimed that he put RG3 back in that game only because Andrews cleared the player. Andrews disputed that, saying the quarterback wouldn't even let the doctor examine him and he never blessed the return.
"It wasn't our opinion," Andrews told USA Today. "We didn't even get to touch him or talk to him. Scared the hell out of me."
Shanahan seemed to blame it all on miscommunication but it spoke to a sideline in disarray. The player is brushing off doctors? The coach is inventing conversations to the media? Who exactly is in charge around here?
As for the extent of Griffin's latest injury, who knows at this point? An MRI is scheduled Monday. At first Griffin said it didn't feel any worse than the December injury. Then after the game, as things stiffened, he admitted it might be worse.
"I don't know how bad it is," he said.
He didn't know after the game. He didn't know in the game. He isn't supposed to know. He is, as the football system taught him well, supposed to lie to his coach and prove to his teammates that he's indestructible and invincible.
So Robert Griffin III did his job Sunday, only to have Mike Shanahan not do his.
And now Washington can only hope a playoff loss was the worst thing that happened because of it.
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