Twice now Robert Griffin III has reduced FedEx Field to silence — the kind that comes not from awe but from the awful sight of him being knocked out of a game. Against Atlanta, he suffered a “mild” concussion, if there is such a thing. Sunday, with the Baltimore Ravens in the house, it was a sprained knee. Which raises the question: What will it be the next time?
Because there will be a next time. In football, there’s always a next time, especially for a quarterback as peripatetic as Griffin. And now that he’s established himself as a potentially great QB, not just an entertaining one, the target on his back is even bigger. Of course, you have to catch him first.
Late in the fourth quarter, on a 13-yard scramble to the Washington 40, the Ravens did — in the person of Haloti Ngata, their mammoth defensive tackle. The physics weren’t in Griffin’s favor. Ngata, after all, weighs 330 pounds, and when he crashed into RG3’s knee, the rookie screamed. So, silently and not so silently, did many Redskins fans in attendance. It was the type of collision that produces torn ligaments, dislocated kneecaps, all kinds of medical calamities.
Fortunately for the home team, his knee turned out to be only sprained, just as his concussion turned out to be only “mild.” And miraculously for the home team, backup Kirk Cousins made three huge plays in the final 45 seconds to send the game to overtime, where Richard Crawford’s long punt return helped the Redskins win it, 31-28.
Still, there’s concern in nation’s capital this week, because these things keep happening to The Man Who Has Revived the Franchise. At some point, Redskins Nation fears, The Man Who Has Revived the Franchise might need to be revived himself — if he continues to tempt the fates, that is.
With three weeks to go, Griffin has 112 rushing attempts; that’s the most for an NFL quarterback, through 13 games, in 40 years (Bobby Douglass, 1972 Chicago Bears, 127). Some of RG3’s runs are by design in Mike and Kyle Shanahan’s cutting-edge offense, and some are sheer improvisation. When he was hurt against the Falcons and Ravens, he was trying to “make a play,” as he put it, trying to salvage something from a disintegrating situation.
The designed runs and option pitches certainly can be called more sparingly, so Griffin isn’t subjected to as much abuse. That’s totally within the coaches’ control. But you can’t stop RG3 from being RG3, nor should you want to. Those scrambles are a form of self-expression. They’re a part of him, what makes him different from other QBs, what makes him special.
Joe Perry, the Hall of Fame back, once told me, “Running is mostly instinct, and you can’t teach instinct. It’s God-given. It’s like a fingerprint.” The same, I suspect, holds true for quarterbacking, particularly when the pocket is collapsing. In those instances, it’s just a swirl of competitiveness and adrenaline and athleticism.
Problem is, when a QB takes off downfield, it’s just Him and Them. There’s no security detail to run interference for him (the way there was for Griffin after the game), no chauffeur or designated driver. He’s in the wild then, surrounded by Bears, Bengals, Jaguars and other fierce creatures, all of them determined to put him on the ground as firmly as the rules allow — and occasionally more firmly than the rules allow. What can you say? It’s football.
Some would take issue with the Redskins’ willingness to let Griffin return to the game briefly after he first limped off. But this is Just Football, too, and its culture of playing through pain — because there’s always going to be pain. If it was at all possible to get back on the field, RG3 was going to get back on the field. But when it became clear to him, after a few more plays, that he might be doing more harm than good, to himself and his team’s prospects, “I knew I needed to get out at that point,” he said. “At some point, you have to do what’s right for the team.”
It’s no different for London Fletcher, who has been straddling the active/inactive line for several weeks. As one of the Redskins’ leaders, he wants to be out there. As a player with a lengthy consecutive-games streak, 237 and counting, he wants to be out there even more. As a player nearing the end of his career, a player who isn’t sure how many more shots he’ll have at the playoffs, he wants to be out there even more. And so he summons whatever needs to be summoned every Sunday and suits up. Will he pay for it later, in aches and pains and perhaps regrets? What do you think? But this is the life he has chosen.
Robert Griffin III didn’t ask to be Robert Griffin III. He just is. And he’s doing a bang-up job of it (in every meaning of that expression). Let’s face it, he might be one of those players who, because of the way he plays, doesn’t last as long as other guys. If that’s the case, we should enjoy him while we can — instead of trying futilely to cover him with bubble wrap. His talent is a blessing, something to be celebrated even if it sometimes can be a curse.
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Dan Daly has been writing about sports for the Washington Times since 1982. He has won numerous national and local awards, appears regularly in NFL Films’ historical features and is the co-author of “The Pro Football Chronicle,” a decade-by-decade history of the game. Follow Dan on Twitter at @dandalyonsports –- or e-mail him at email@example.com.
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