Robert Griffin III lay prone on the soggy FedEx Field playing surface on Sunday as the seconds passed. One, two, three … still no movement.
Finally, he stood, woozy and staggering a bit. Athletic trainers arrived. Eventually, they asked him the simplest of questions.
What was the score? What quarter was it? Easy for any lucid person inside FedEx Field on Sunday. But when Griffin could not produce the correct answers, one of the Washington Redskins' greatest fears became reality.
In just his 19th quarter of professional football, Griffin, Washington's star quarterback, had experienced the one — the hit from which he could not pop up from the turf, an impact great enough to force him out of a game.
The Redskins' face of the franchise, the lifeblood of their offense, was concussed. Griffin was just trying to make one of his typical electrifying plays. Instead, he missed the decisive moments of Washington's 24-17 loss to Atlanta, which included two interceptions by his replacement, fourth-round rookie Kirk Cousins.
And so the Redskins (2-3) not only lost another winnable game, they proceed without immediately knowing when Griffin will return to the field.
"Thank you for all the prayers & support," Griffin tweeted at 7:04 p.m. Sunday. "I'm ok and I think after all the testing I will play next week."
Griffin, per NFL protocol, must pass a series of concussion tests before he can resume playing. Coach Mike Shanahan called it a "mild" concussion, so the team is optimistic he won't miss much time.
Whenever Griffin plays again, though, he will be armed with experience the Redskins hoped he would avoid but figured he would acquire at some point. In fact, the hit could very well be a seminal moment in his career.
"We talked about protecting yourself," Shanahan said. "Every game he goes in, he's going to learn, and that's why it takes you two to three years to really feel comfortable with [defenses] that can play in the NFL, to slow the game down a little bit."
Griffin did not speak to reporters following the game, which is in line with NFL protocol for a player who has suffered a concussion. Cousins after the game discussed his interceptions with reporters just a few feet from Griffin's empty locker.
Griffin's exposure to contact has been a major issue as the Redskins learn to deploy their multitalented weapon on the rest of the NFL. He had been contacted to ground 64 times in four games entering Sunday. It seemed only a matter of time before he took the type of vicious hit he absorbed late in the third quarter Sunday.
On third and goal from the Falcons' 4, with the score 7-7, Griffin dropped back to pass. He extended the play by escaping the pocket to the right. He got past defensive end Jonathan Babineaux but slipped as he tried to plant and surge forward. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon drilled Griffin, and his head snapped back into Babineaux.
The Redskins have preached to Griffin the importance of sliding to avoid contact. But with the goal line almost within reach, it goes against Griffin's competitive nature to give himself up on the play. Maybe, then, the hit will benefit Griffin in the long run.
"Hopefully, he's able to come back and not take any more shots like that," linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. "We can't have a guy like him out, and any type of concussion is serious business beyond football. Hopefully, he learns from it by throwing the ball away and not taking shots like that."
The lesson was painful for the Redskins against undefeated Atlanta.
Cousins put the Redskins in front 17-14 with 12:24 left by hitting Santana Moss deep down the middle for a 77-yard touchdown.
The Falcons' defense, however, clamped down. Linebackers were more aggressive keying on running back Alfred Morris with Griffin out of the game, Morris said.
After Michael Turner's 13-yard touchdown run gave Atlanta a 24-17 lead with 2:46 to play, it was up to Cousins to summon some RG3 late-game magic.
And, as if it wasn't already obvious, Griffin proved to be irreplaceable. Cousins threw interceptions on the Redskins' final two drives.
"I wanted so badly to take us down, and I'm trying to do too much," Cousins said. "A couple of the throws got a way from me."
After the result was final, and the Redskins' home losing streak extended to eight, focus turned to Griffin's health.
Washington needs him, and perhaps he'll be better off for it.
"Robert's going to keep on learning, but we've got somebody very special," Shanahan said. "We've got a guy that competes, a guy that tries to make plays every game he goes in. Just like that last play in the red zone: When do you take a dive, when do you throw the ball away? That's all part of the learning experience that he's going to gain as time goes on."
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