Given the chance to do it again, Robert Griffin III might look at it differently.
With 24 seconds left in the second quarter of the Washington Redskins’ eventual loss to the Minnesota Vikings a week ago, the quarterback took the snap in the shotgun and gave a brief glance at his wide receivers downfield. The Redskins faced second-and-goal from the Vikings’ 13-yard line, and with nothing open but the middle of the field, Griffin took off running.
He made it 12 yards, just to the foot of the goal line, where he was greeted by four Vikings defenders: linebackers Erin Henderson and Chad Greenway, cornerback Marcus Sherels and safety Robert Blanton. His head, his chest, his shoulders — all were hit hard, and as Griffin slowly peeled himself up off the Metrodome turf and sauntered back toward his teammates for the third-down play, he was saved by a timeout.
Griffin has been followed by questions about his durability since he entered the NFL before last season, and those voices were only amplified after Griffin tore two ligaments in his right knee in a playoff game in January.
Now that he appears to have fully regained his mobility, rushing for an average of six yards per attempt over the last five games, the concern has returned. Officially, Griffin was hit 13 times by Vikings defenders, but the stat sheet was kind. There were easily a dozen more plays on which Griffin took some kind of shot, yet each time he stood up, shook himself off and rejoined his teammates in the huddle.
“I’ve always been able to take a shot,” Griffin said Wednesday. “You’ve just got to load yourself up in the offseason to get ready for those kind of hits. Big boys play at this level, and they’re gonna hit you as often as they can. It’s our job to make sure we can limit those hits.”
Griffin acknowledged that scramble up the middle of the field likely wasn’t the wisest decision, but he maintained that if he hadn’t slipped on the artificial turf while trying to cut upfield, he would have made it into the end zone.
Yet that’s exactly the type of play Griffin, and his coaches, said leading into the season that he would try to avoid. What’s the use of Griffin sacrificing himself to gain an extra yard or two, they reasoned, without the outcome of the game hanging in the balance?
With the ensuing timeout, the quarterback and offense were able to regroup, and Griffin completed a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Logan Paulsen on the next play from scrimmage.
Griffin attempted to stem the hits early in the game, especially after Vikings defensive end Jared Allen leveled him as he carried out a zone-read fake on a handoff to running back Alfred Morris on the second play from scrimmage. The Redskins showed a zone-read look on 17 other plays; after the first, Griffin was reminded to put his hands up and show defenders he didn’t have the ball to avoid getting hit.
“After you hand the ball off, if you put your hands up where they see you don’t have it just like we did during the game, they can’t hit you,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “It’s that simple.”
But he continued to take shots, even when not running. In the third quarter, with 13:43 remaining, Griffin was hit in the left leg by lunging defensive tackle Kyle Williams on a throw that fell incomplete to wide receiver Joshua Morgan.
And in the second half, Griffin took four hard sacks, with Williams at least helping drop the quarterback on three of them.
“You know, I think it’s part of the game, and also, I think it’s part of his game,” said right guard Chris Chester, who played a role in allowing two of those second-half sacks. “He’s a guy that likes to get back there and try to make some plays, and it’s usually a good thing for us, but as a result, he’s going to get hit. It’s the nature of the game.”
Even after the offseason he endured, with the surgery, the six-month recovery and the workouts while on his honeymoon in France, Griffin said he doesn’t think at all about the impact the hits will have on his future.
It wasn’t even a thought last month, when Griffin was sacked by defensive tackle Terrance Knighton in the third quarter of a road loss to the Denver Broncos. He did not return to the game following that hit, which caused his left leg to bend awkwardly beneath him but left him only with soreness.
“Bottom line is, I can’t be taking those amounts of hits — in any of those games or in any games in my career,” Griffin said. “You don’t want to be hit that much, and a lot of the great quarterbacks don’t get hit that much. It’s not just [the protection] — it’s me, it’s a lot of things that go into that, and you’ve got to get better at it.”