An athlete who has experienced nothing but success on the field and on the track is for the first time enduring mounting criticism as he struggles to find his form following a major injury and now a shocking 0-3 start for his team.
It’s not unexpected. The NFL can humble even the brightest star and few shone as Griffin did for most of last season. Eventually, his ACL and PCL ligaments tore apart in a Jan. 6 playoff loss to Seattle.
Griffin might be back on the field after a grueling offseason recovery, but little slack is given at this level from fans, media, coaches or teammates. Performance is what matters and all involved say Griffin is healthy, if clearly still lacking the explosiveness he showed so often in college at Baylor and through the first three months of last season.
“It’s part of the process. It’s part of being a quarterback in the NFL,” Griffin said Wednesday. “Things are going to happen. You’re going to have to deal with the scrutiny and be able to face it or overcome it. That’s just what it is.”
A torn ACL early in his redshirt sophomore season at Baylor in 2009 set the tone for the next two years, in which Griffin set school passing records, led the Bears to a 10-3 season as a senior in 2011 and won a Heisman Trophy. All of that led to Griffin being the second pick in the 2012 NFL draft. Until the last eight months, that first knee injury was the most adversity Griffin had faced in his career.
There was progress Sunday in a 27-20 loss to the Lions. The Redskins‘ offense was more productive on third downs in that game. It moved the ball well at times and Griffin, who rolled out of the pocket more often than in the first two losses to Green Bay and Philadelphia, completed 32 of 50 passes for 326 yards.
In the end, a key interception and fumble, both inside Detroit’s 20-yard line, proved Griffin’s undoing. He must rebound quickly Sunday at Oakland or see Washington’s playoff hopes completely extinguished. Only one NFL team has ever reached the postseason after starting 0-4.
“I know one thing is that [Griffin is] a competitor,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “And when you get down, where you don’t have a great game, he’s going to do everything he can do to give himself the best opportunity to be successful. That’s what he does. He’s a hard worker and hopefully he’ll play his best game of the year this weekend.”
Griffin took more heat this week for his ungainly head-first slide attempt that led to the crucial fourth-quarter fumble against the Lions. How is it possible for an elite athlete to look so uncomfortable at a basic quarterback skill? Griffin says there’s an easy answer, but one without a perfect solution.
“The problem is I’m not a great slider,” Griffin cracked. “I know how to slide, but I don’t know how to baseball slide and I think that’s what [critics are] talking about.”
Griffin noted that it’s harder to work on proper sliding techniques during training camp or a normal practice week because football pants are slicker than the shorts players usually wear on non-game days. He did joke that he’d gladly take lessons from Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper.
At the very least, Griffin was glad Washington finally put itself in position to win with the game against the Lions at FedEx Field, with the score tied at 17 early in the fourth quarter. That wasn’t the case heading into the second half against either Green Bay or Philadelphia, where the Redskins were hopelessly behind by halftime.
It’s a start. Now, they have to finish a game like that one this weekend against the Raiders or the level of scrutiny and criticism for them all, not just Griffin, will grow to a howl. It’s part of the business they’ve chosen.
“When we don’t have success there is going to be criticism,” Griffin said. “You’ve got to be able to stand tall, look the criticism in the face, look that adversity in the face and let it know that you’re not going anywhere.”