Midnight crept closer and, finally, Robert Griffin III found a place that 49ers defenders couldn’t accost him.
The Redskins quarterback stood behind a podium in the half-full interview room at FedEx Field as the final minutes of Monday night disappeared. He invoked demons and God. Dodged questions. Tried to explain the failed season.
But even the podium offered little protection to Griffin after the 27-6 embarrassment against the 49ers laid bare the franchise’s woes in front of a national television audience.
The 23-year-old’s meandering explanations sounded stale. Hollow. Defensive.
“They just want to look at the record, but as players we can’t do that,” Griffin said. “We can’t step out and look at our record and say, ‘this is who we are.’”
But the Redskins are 3-8. Not by a fluke. Not because of key injuries. This is who they are.
Griffin won’t say the words, but the hardy supporters who survived the punt-fest in near-freezing temperatures know the truth that’s been clear for weeks. The Redskins aren’t a good football team.
In the back row of the interview room, Griffin’s father, Robert Jr., listened to each word. The father visited his son in the locker room after the game. Any postgame locker room visitor, much less a parent after their son’s worst game of the season, is unusual.
The words, though, don’t matter as much as the quarterback behind them.
An obsessive parsing of each utterance by Griffin occupied the previous week — does he use ‘I’ enough? should he say ‘we’ more? — distracted from the real issue. Same for incessant questions about leadership and, as if he’s a politician instead of a football player, on his base of support in the locker room.
These are the unanswerable, unknowable questions that circle bad teams like buzzards, but, really, serve only to deflect attention from the growing pile of losses.
Griffin’s use of personal pronouns wasn’t responsible for the 30 passing yards — that’s not a misprint — the Redskins managed in the second half.
Leadership (or lack thereof) didn’t slam Griffin to the turf 11 times, several of the hits coming after he hung onto the football too long.
Griffin’s postgame press conferences didn’t make cornerback Josh Wilson blow coverage after coverage against most any 49ers receiver who lined up against him.
The quarterback’s national endorsement deals didn’t prompt coach Mike Shanahan to admit San Francisco dominated the Redskins on Monday night as much as any team in his four years running the organization.
This is a team that’s every bit as underwhelming as the record.
A team that looked disinterested. Forget about the opportunity to start to repair the wreck of the season with another month remaining. They looked as if they were playing in the season’s final game.
On one series late in the third quarter, Griffin took an 8-yard loss. He scrambled away from trouble on the next play, then frantically threw the ball away. Facing third-and-18, the white flag came out. Roy Helu took a handoff on a draw. Boos cascaded down.
Or recall a few minutes later, when the Redskins, somehow, someway, remained in the game. But the 49ers drove down to the 1-yard line and, on second down, Colin Kaepernick faked a handoff, rolled right and saw something remarkable. Tight end Vernon Davis stood alone in the end zone, no player within several yards. Touchdown catches don’t come easier.
That sent what remained of the crowd scrambling for the exits. By game’s end, thousands of boisterous 49ers supporters clustered toward the field and cheered their team thousands of miles from home.
No amount of postgame psycho-babble from Griffin about choosing to get better can fix the problems, as if greatness was simply a decision, rather than a function of roster riddled with holes and players, including himself, who aren’t improving.
But Griffin’s words are a sideshow to the season. What happens on the field is what matters, where a team is spiraling to oblivion where not even a podium can slow the fall.