LANDOVER, Md. – The heart of the Washington Redskins lay on the cold, damp turf of FedEx Field late Sunday afternoon. And in the sick quiet that 80,000 people can make when the savior of their autumn has been broken, tight end Logan Paulsen heard a voice.
"Help me up," said Robert Griffin III, suffering the pain of his just sprained right knee. "I've got to get to the huddle."
So Paulsen did. And as the quarterback who has brought the Redskins on this unlikely playoff run hobbled around the grass, Paulsen realized that Griffin could barely walk. His mind raced.
"What is the right thing to do here?" Paulsen asked himself.
They will talk about this game for decades around the Beltway. They will tell the story about the team that was all but beaten by the Baltimore Ravens. They will speak of how Griffin tried to run for a first down before the Ravens' 340-pound defensive lineman Haloti Ngata tumbled on top of him, twisting his right knee. They will never forget how RG3 came back in the game after missing one play and tried to lead a game-tying drive while limping down the field. And they will see forever how backup Kirk Cousins threw a touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon, then dove over the goal line for the two-point conversion that brought overtime and eventually a 31-28 overtime victory.
But will this also be the day where Washington last sees RG3 in all his brilliance: the dazzling blend of throwing and speed that has made him the best new quarterback in the NFL? Because his hobble through the Maryland fog screams how precarious life is for a running quarterback in professional football, especially one who is trying to reinvent the way the position is played.
Griffin has twice this season come off the field after having been crumbled by a tackler. The first, a concussion delivered by the Atlanta Falcons, was supposed to change his priorities, teaching him to slide away from tackles or run out of bounds. But there were less than two minutes left on Sunday afternoon the Redskins (7-6) needed 19 yards to get a first down. RG3 had 13 and was looking for more. However, he didn't have time to slide and there was no room to duck out of bounds. Instead, he lunged forward and faced the wrath of Ngata.
Later, Griffin would hobble to an interview room, stumble up to the top of a podium and laugh when he remembered the pain he first felt.
"I screamed," he said.
"Like a man, of course."
He might have been the funniest injured quarterback the NFL has ever seen. When asked about the instant examination doctors gave on a table set up next to the bench, Griffin said: "I don't know if any of you have been to the doctor …"
And after the gathered reporters – all of whom had presumably been to the doctor in their lives – finished laughing, RG3 grinned.
"I'm good for one [joke] a game," he said.
He even laughed when he said he feels the "positive vibes coming my way," and added: "I'll definitely be praying during the MRI."
Early reports indicate that Griffin's MRI results revealed nothing more serious than a sprain. Still, something more dangerous lurks behind the glow of the league's most exciting quarterback. RG3 has a fearlessness that coaches and teammates love. Everything this season has been about proving there is nothing he can't do, whether it's outrunning safeties or firing long passes with barely an effort. These first 13 games of his have been astounding to watch. But there is also a price to pay for beating the game. Eventually the game gets you.
Griffin has amazed throughout his first pro season, pushing a running and passing style that has never quite been tried in the modern game. And now he must hope the brace he wore late Sunday afternoon is only for a couple of days, not a matter of weeks.
Even as he smiled his way through Sunday's news conference, he seemed hit with a sobering reality that maybe he isn't as invincible as he wants to believe. He talked of staring at the stunned doctors and trainers after he initially came out of the game and saying he wanted to keep playing. He was sure he was fine. But after heaving a 22-yard pass to Garcon, landing on his right leg and feeling that leg buckling in the wet grass, he knew he wasn't healthy. And yet there was nothing he could do at that point: the clock was running, he couldn't get off the field.
Paulsen watched Griffin stumbling down the field and was struck with a thought: "Is he being extremely courageous or dumb?"
The elation that pulsed in the Redskins' locker room following another improbable victory in the run from 3-6 to the doorstep of the playoffs was tinged with concern. Griffin was gone to the X-ray room for a long time after the game. And even upon reporting the X-rays were encouraging – that the sprain is just a sprain – he engaged in an awkward dance with his clothes while trying to get dressed Sunday evening. He sat on chair dressed in a t-shirt and warmup jacket, staring at a pair of warmup pants, and trying to figure out how to pull them over his sore right knee.
Two lockers away, Cousins wore a flannel shirt and huddled over, talking on the phone. It was such a contrast that an observer couldn't help but wonder if the team will belong to Cousins for the foreseeable future.
The players respect Cousins. Many like him and admire the dedication he has put into learning the offense. Cousins, Paulsen, tight end Chris Cooley and a couple of scout team players stay on the field after every practice and run through every one of Griffin's plays just in case the backup will have to use them in games. Cousins goes as far as to call out the names of the plays so he gets used to shouting them in the huddle. He even shouts them in the same voice he would use if he was in a stadium filled with screaming fans.
But the Redskins didn't trade three first-round picks for a decade of Kirk Cousins. They wanted RG3. They wanted everything he has been the first 13 games of this season that has defied all logic. And now everyone must wonder: Just how long will RG3 be able to be RG3?
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