Robert Griffin III exhaled deeply and saluted the crowd as he walked off the field in the fourth quarter Sunday night. His sprained right knee, aggravated in the first quarter, finally gave out. It gruesomely buckled, brace and all, when he tried to pick up a low shotgun snap rolling on the ground.
Fans cheered their hero, the face of this resurgent Washington Redskins franchise, as he exited the stage, knowing they’ll have to wait at least through the offseason to watch him work his magic again.
Griffin’s early knee injury turned the thoroughbred quarterback into a gimpy also-ran. It kept the Redskins‘ offense in neutral and allowed the Seattle Seahawks to come from behind for a 24-14 playoff victory that ended Washington’s historic season.
The fallout of the loss and Griffin’s re-injury immediately landed on coach Mike Shanahan’s shoulders. He and Griffin defended the decision to let Griffin continue playing despite the results on the scoreboard, and despite the re-injury that sent Griffin for an MRI exam Sunday night.
“I thought he did enough for us this year to have that opportunity to stay in the football game,” Shanahan said. “It’s always a tough decision when to pull a guy and when not to. He said, ‘Trust me. I want to be in there, and I deserve to be in there,’ and I couldn’t disagree with him.”
Washington totaled 129 yards and averaged 6.5 yards per play on two touchdown drives to begin the game. Griffin was injured on the third-to-last play of the second drive.
“We weren’t the same team,” Shanahan said. “There’s no question about it.”
Then why leave Griffin in the game?
“You got to go with your gut, and I did,” Shanahan said. “I’m not saying my gut is always right, but I’ve been there before. In different situations, I get to know Robert better and better as time goes on. I’ll know how stubborn he is. He’s a competitor, and I’ll probably second guess myself.”
Griffin told Shanahan he was hurt, but he distinguished between being hurt and being injured. It’s an accepted distinction in the football world. Being hurt means playing through pain. Being injured means sitting out.
“I don’t feel like me being out there hurt the team in any way,” Griffin said. “I think I did put myself at more risk by being out there, but every time you step on the football field … you’re putting your life, your career, every single ligament in your body in jeopardy. That’s just the approach I had to take towards it. My teammates needed me out there, so I was out there for them.”
It worked against the Redskins, as it turned out.