MINNEAPOLIS — As the clock pushed 11 p.m., Robert Griffin III’s back pressed against a closed door in a narrow hallway.
A tangle of television cameras and misplaced elbows and microphones strained to pick up each quiet word from the Redskins quarterback. The words tried to explain how a season once cloaked in promise ended up in a white cinder block hallway under the Metrodome with blue-shirted workers hauling away boxes and off-duty police officers swapping jokes and a discarded game program trampled on the ground.
The dome is scheduled to be demolished in three months but the woeful Vikings helped speed up a similar fate for the Redskins’ season with Thursday night’s 34-27 victory.
Once again, they sit at 3-6.
Once again, they tried to invoke the magic that followed last season’s start.
“If anybody needs something to believe in,” Griffin said, “look at last year.”
The problem is that this isn’t last year, no matter how many times the tired comparison is mentioned in the locker room. That’s why the quarterback tried, without much success, to explain how the Redskins lost to a team that had just one win, played without six starters and feature a quarterback rotation that seems to be drawn out of a horned Vikings hat each week.
Forget that the game came down to the final play, Griffin’s fourth-down fade pass that Santana Moss caught out of bounds and, afterward, left the veteran limited to monosyllabic answers.
No, the Redskins blew a double-digit lead. They blamed the referees. They were carved up by turnover machine Christian Ponder, then backup Matt Cassel after Ponder injured his left, non-throwing shoulder. The NFL’s 29th-ranked pass defense, missing three starting defensive backs and beset by a startling inability to tackle, still battered and bruised Griffin all game long.
Remember the windy locker-room pledges that a corner had been turned following each Redskins victory this season? That rampant mistakes had been fixed and, finally, we would see the true capability of a roster that had once been a trendy pick to advance deep in the postseason? That delusion ended once and for all in the climate-controlled dome.
The same missed tackles. The same undisciplined play that drew personal fouls by Chris Baker, Perry Riley and Darrel Young among scuffles throughout the game. The same head-scratching special teams misadventures that included a botched fake punt (wiped out by another penalty) players didn’t know was on.
And the Vikings punished Griffin all game long. They contacted him to the ground 17 times, including two shots that knocked off his helmet and several others that induced winces. Nothing slowed the onrushing horde that, at times, blew through the offensive line as if it didn’t exist.
In one fourth-quarter sequence, the Vikings sacked Griffin for 10-yard losses on second and third downs. They threw Griffin around like a rag doll and, somehow, the quarterback popped back up after each new indignity. The shots made the dome even louder, but, really, hurt to watch. The flurry of body blows made you wonder when the one will come that he won’t be able to rise from.
“We just had some misfires at the end,” Griffin said.
The quarterback, as he is wont to do, fell back on cliches and vague answers about the absent protection. You know, being popped 17 times is part of football. You know, the Vikings wanted to put him on the ground. You know, this happens. The same old lines players give when they have no easy answer.
That’s fitting for the Redskins.
What, exactly, occurred between the relentless choruses of “Skol Vikings” to provide a shred of hope this season will turn around as the last one did?
The truth is that this 3-6 has little to do with last year’s go-round. Throwing out the seven-game win streak that followed last season is nothing more than a desperate grab at the past to distract from the bleak present. Sure, there is talent on the 53-man roster. Potential, even. But the pieces haven’t fit together in any sort of consistent way, hamstrung by errors too frequent and numerous and fundamental to be dismissed.
“We just need it all to come together and get it all to click for us,” Griffin said. “The only way to do that is to keep pushing forward. What’s a man to do when he goes to work but puts his all in every day? Sometimes he comes up short.”
That’s the answer nine games into the season. Nine games of false hope. Nine games of disappointment that has been capped, for the moment, by face-planting against one of the NFL’s worst franchises.
After Griffin finished, the glum-faced quarterback passed two blue folding chairs and a discarded plastic bag as he returned to the locker room that resembled a morgue. The door closed behind him.