- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

We didn’t realize it at the time, but in early August, Richmond was the crossroads for two NFL franchises for this season.

It was where the New England Patriots began their march to the Super Bowl, where they will face the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

And it was where the air went out of the football for Washington Redskins and Robert Griffin III.

It was the highlight of training camp in Richmond — the Patriots coming to town to spend three days training with the Redskins. Crowds filled the Bon Secours Redskins Training Center for a chance to get a first-hand look at the Patriots excellence that led to three Super Bowl titles and five AFC championships — and a preview of a sixth.

“Watching a consistent playoff team like the Patriots will be a good thing for everyone in the building,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said.

But it only served to illustrate the problems facing this Redskins team this season — and the divide between Gruden and Griffin.

Even to the casual observer, the differences between the two organizations were obvious. The Patriots and Brady ran a precision offense, and practiced with a no-nonsense approach — a stark contrast to the Redskins‘ struggles in drills during the three-day dual practices.

Granted, the Patriots were under the direction of a quarterback in Tom Brady and a coach in Bill Belichick who had been working together since 2001, and the Redskins were trying to install a new offense with a rookie coach and a young quarterback still recovering from reconstructive knee surgery. And granted, the Patriots may have been using deflated balls.

But it was the first time — after an off season of promises from Griffin of “the movement” and “catching your dream” — that it was false promise and the dream was about to become a nightmare.

ESPN dropped this bomb in a series of notes about the Patriots-Redskins practices:

“One of my biggest takeaways from Patriots-Redskins joint practices was surprise that Robert Griffin III didn’t look like the best quarterback on his own team. In fact, I thought Kirk Cousins was better than him, from the perspective of running the offense, fine-tuned mechanics and how decisively the ball came out of his hand. I wondered if I was alone, and then heard the same sentiment echoed by some others in the Patriots organization.”

That measured about 100 PSI out of the Redskins inflated hopes for 2014.
It became the theme of the dual practices — the failings of Griffin, not just compared to Brady, which everyone recognized was unfair, but compared to Cousins. It became a source of friction behind the scenes — perhaps the first time that Gruden and company came to the realization that Cousins, not Griffin, was the guy they wanted under center.

The public criticisms of Griffin’s play began during the Patriots-Redskins dual practices.

“He just has a stubbornness to him sometimes in practice,” Gruden told reporters after one practice. “He doesn’t like to throw the ball away.”

He told the Boston Globe that, “I can’t put handcuffs on a quarterback. He’s got to play the game the way he plays it. But we’ve got to make sure he understands situational football, understands it’s OK to throw the ball away, to protect the ball at all costs, but be yourself and make some plays.”

“He’s so athletic that he thinks he can keep a lot of plays alive, and maybe he can,” Gruden said. “But I think there’s a point in time where he’s got to not make a bad play worse. That’s something we’re going to preach and eliminate the negative plays.”

And another Gruden quote from the Patriots‘ invasion of Richmond:
“He’s an entertainer, and he’s out there to entertain,” Gruden said. “But he’s also got us riding on his back when he makes those decisions that will make us cringe.”

Belichick made it clear in Richmond he never “cringed” when it came to his quarterback. He also made it clear that he and Brady are on the same page — always.

“As a head coach, you want your quarterback to be able to control the team, the way you see it, [the way you] want it controlled when he’s out there on the field,” Belichick told reporters. “The last thing you want is to be looking out there and kind of have the feeling of, ‘What’s going on? What are we doing? This isn’t what we want.’ That isn’t where you want to be.

“I’m fortunate I haven’t had that feeling very many times — rarely have I ever had that. So being on the same page with a quarterback, whatever it is you’re trying to do, whether it’s strategy, plays, where the ball is going to go on a play — when we call a play we get a certain defense, we know where the ball should go on that play. That’s part of it, too. Tom does a great job of that.”

Sounds like there isn’t much that Brady does that Belichick doesn’t know about.
Maybe NFL investigator Ted Wells should go all the way back to Richmond for his “Deflategate” investigation — the crossroads for two franchises going in different directions, perhaps by deceit for one and dysfunction for the other.

• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.


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