This makes two weeks in a row now I’ve felt sorry for Robert Griffin III. I wept for him in Pittsburgh — metaphorically speaking, of course — when Washington Redskins coaches thought it would be a good idea to send him out for a long pass. (He got crunched by the strong safety, old friend Ryan Clark, for his trouble.) And I shed more tears for him Sunday when the team’s brain trust asked him, on fourth down, to run for a touchdown from the Carolina 2.
It’s not easy to feel sorry for someone who has it all — fame, fortune, brains, personality, good looks. In fact, it’s almost unfair. There are so many less fortunate folks, after all, deserving of our anguish. But this is Griffin’s first time around the NFL block and, well, somebody has to look out for him. The Redskins don’t always seem to.
Mike Shanahan, in a rare admission of culpability, said he felt like a “dumb” you-know-what after the aborted bomb against the Steelers. He and offensive coordinator/son Kyle should be equally embarrassed about running a veritable single-wing play on the goal line against the Panthers, with Griffin cast in the role of Bronko Nagurski. There was no deception, no run-pass option, just a shotgun snap to RG3 — essentially the tailback in the formation — and a failed fourth-down attempt to sweep the right side. In the end, there were just too many opponents to block.
We all know what happened next. Carolina drove 98 yards to increase its lead to 14-3 just before the half, and the Redskins never caught up.
It wasn’t until after the game we learned that Griffin was dealing with “some sore ribs,” according to the coach, from a hit “early in the first quarter.” He’d even been X-rayed for them to make sure nothing was broken. Which raises the question: If your franchise quarterback hurts his ribs in the first quarter, why would you have him run a sweep from the opposition’s 2-yard line in the second quarter? There wasn’t anybody else on the roster capable of doing that? How about Alfred Morris, the league’s fourth-leading rusher?
Before the season, I wondered openly whether RG3 might hit a wall at some point. Lots of rookies do, the 16-game NFL season being so long, and Robert seemed particularly susceptible because the last 12 months have been such a whirlwind for him. Think about it: He had to deal with all the Heisman Trophy hoo-hah. Then he had to deal with all the second-pick-in-the-draft stuff. Then he had an extremely busy offseason, getting a crash course in the Shanahans’ offense and, in his spare time, marketing himself to the hilt.
It’s only natural he might begin to wear down late in the year. Especially when you consider the enormous responsibility he’s had to shoulder offensively — passing, running and yes, even trying to catch a pass. You’d think the coaching staff would be more sensitive to this. I mean, it hurts that Pierre Garcon and Fred Davis have been out of the lineup, sure, but it doesn’t give you license to dump so much in the lap of the rookie QB.
Griffin has 81 rushing attempts in the first nine games. Only one quarterback since 1960 has had more (Bobby Douglass with the Chicago Bears in the early ‘70s). At times, RG3 looks as much like a crash-test dummy as he does the Face of the Franchise.
Sunday it was his ribs that ached. After the Atlanta game it was his head (thanks to his first NFL concussion). Who knows which body part will be heard from next? But he isn’t shying away from contact, that’s for sure. Indeed, he feels a responsibility to put “it on the line every single play,” he said, because that makes his mates “want to put it on the line every single play. It’s more about inspiring guys, no matter what the score is, no matter what the down or distance is.”
The past two games his passing hasn’t been quite as sharp (even with all the drops in Pittsburgh). Is that a sign of Hitting the Wall, or is it just the normal ebb and flow of a season? We’ll find out shortly, after this much-needed bye week.
When he walked out of the interview room Sunday, though, after his fourth loss in five games, his body language was different. He seemed tired, perhaps even discouraged — like a man who had just come face-to-face with reality. For Robert Griffin III, this is how it is now, this is his life. The Redskins are 3-6 and seven games remain.
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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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