DENVER — It was far from a perfect game. In truth, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III was just trying to survive. In the end, he did not.
With the game against the Denver Broncos long over and Washington down 17 points late in the fourth quarter, Griffin was smashed to the turf by nose tackle Terrance Knighton and lay injured for several minutes. He eventually walked off the field under his own power, but only after his left knee had caught in the turf with 5:43 to go.
It was a scary reminder of Griffin’s torn right knee ligaments suffered in the playoff loss at home to Seattle last January, though he was seen giving a thumbs up to teammates on the sidelines after being examined by team medical personnel.
“The knee feels fine,” Griffin said. “[Knighton] came in and landed all 300-plus pounds of his self on my leg. I think it just scared me.”
Griffin said he felt fine after being examined by the doctors and was ready to return to the game. But the score, by then out of hand, dictated he remain out. Griffin said there are no scheduled tests on Monday to re-examine the knee.
It was a bitter end to a 45-21 loss. Griffin overthrew one receiver after another in the first half Sunday. He was hit seven different times and on Washington’s first four possessions couldn’t push the ball inside Denver’s 45-yard line.
Such a start was a perfect recipe for a blowout at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, where the Broncos and quarterback Peyton Manning feature the NFL’s best offense.
That didn’t happen until the game finally slipped away in the fourth quarter. The Broncos scored 38 unanswered points in the final 24 minutes of play. But a better performance from Griffin might have had the Redskins well ahead before that avalanche buried them.
“There were a lot of missed opportunities and if you’re going to beat Denver you’re going to have to play one of your better games,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said when asked about Griffin’s spotty play.
The major bright spot for Griffin was Washington’s final drive of the first half. His defense had done well enough to keep the score 7-0. It was time for the offense to pay it back.
Griffin led a dominant 16-play, 95-yard touchdown drive that consumed 7:03. Manning never had a chance the rest of the half, watching helplessly from the sidelines and then taking a knee on the one play left to him.
With Griffin primarily in the shotgun and Washington running its no-huddle attack, the Redskins worked the ball methodically down field for the tying score. Griffin again wasn’t perfect. Far from it. He missed three throws on the drive and almost got tight end Jordan Reed hurt on a wild, high pass over the middle.
With the drive stopped and the Redskins ready to kick a Kai Forbath field goal, the Broncos inexplicably had 12 men on the field. The penalty gave Washington a first down and Griffin pounced, delivering one of his most confident throws of the day to Hankerson.
Griffin’s numbers weren’t awful in the first half. He was 10-for-17 for 80 yards with that touchdown pass. But those first four drives were ugly. He was saved by teammate Pierre Garcon once after a remarkable one-handed catch on a pass that sailed and with a defender draped all over him.
On a third-and-1 at the Denver 44 late in the first quarter, Griffin wasn’t ready for the snap from center Will Montgomery. Instead of continuing a drive, the play was dead on arrival for no gain as running back Roy Helu fell on it. The Redskins had to punt again. It was an inauspicious start redeemed only by that final drive.
Then came the key moment: Denver had tied the game at 21 on the first play of the fourth quarter. Griffin, on an uneven day, on the road with a hostile crowd bearing down on him, needed an answer. He didn’t have one.
Instead, a pass to a wide-open Josh Morgan over the middle was too far behind him. A significant gain became simply an incomplete pass. The next play was a long bomb to Garcon, who had a slight step on two defenders. The ball sailed well over his head. On the third-down play, a better throw with defenders in Griffin’s face, Aldrick Robinson dropped the ball. It would have been a first down. It wasn’t.
“There’s always plays out there, but on the football field you only get one chance to really capitalize on what’s taken,” Garcon said. “The best players capitalize, the not-so-great players don’t capitalize.”
Griffin would have one last, realistic chance after Denver took a 28-21 lead. But one play after Alfred Morris fumbled only to see the Redskins recover, Griffin wasn’t so lucky. He was hit in the backfield by Denver linebacker Von Miller and fumbled. Derek Wolfe recovered and the Broncos quickly kicked a short field goal to make it a 31-21 lead. There would be no more chances for Griffin.
In the end, he finished 15-for-30 with 132 passing yards and that one touchdown to Hankerson. But Griffin was a non-factor running the ball with seven yards on five carries. He also fumbled twice, losing one, and was intercepted twice in the fourth quarter.
“It’s always rough to describe how you play after a loss,” Griffin said. “For me, I’ve just got to find a way to do more. That’s the way I approach it.”