Redskins vs. Seahawks: Know when to fold ‘em

He'd play even if he were on crutches
He’d play even if he were on crutches

It is the obligation and duty of the fan to view a football team and its star players through the gauzy lens of hero worship. Fans can be irrational. Fans can demand the risky play, the razzle dazzle, the bold gamble. Fans can imagine that a hobbled quarterback can somehow grit his teeth and lead the team to an improbable victory, like a character in a movie.

But that’s not the head coach’s job. The head coach is supposed to be the realist, the impartial director of events, the one who knows the odds. The head coach gives the command to kick the field goal rather than go for it on fourth down. The head coach must use his brain and not his gut to make the tough decisions.

On this edition of Redskins Monday Morning Quarterback, we ponder the consequences of Mike Shanahan’s apparent hero worship of Robert Griffin III. Shanahan succumbed to the charisma of the superstar. The coach made the wrong call. The Redskins might have lost anyway — the Seahawks looked great, and they’re led by another phenomenal rookie QB, Russell Wilson — but with Griffin playing on one leg the Redskins had no chance.

RGIII is the real deal — not just smart and athletic, but blessed with the intangible skills and mental toughness to become a Hall of Famer. We just saw what a Hall of Fame rookie season looks like. No one comes into the league and throws just 5 interceptions in a 16-game regular season (surely that’s a record in the passing era of football). But as great as Griffin is, he can’t play on crutches, even though he’d probably insist that he could do so.

We all saw clear as day what happened last night at FedEx Field. Griffin got injured late in the first quarter, just before he threw his second touchdown pass. He was rolling right, all the way to the sideline, and attempted a pass to Pierre Garcon, and as he planted his leg something went awry in that already injured knee. And he was never the same.

Yet he kept playing, and Shanahan kept believing in him. Griffin insisted that he could keep going. You know how many yards passing Griffin had after his injury? That would be 25, according to Boz’s column (which, I now see, shares my dismay over Shanahan’s decision-making). The Redskins never scored again, or even put a scare into the other team’s end zone. When Griffin gained 9 yards on one run he hobbled along like someone running in a sack race.

After the game, Griffin insisted that the way he played while injured hadn’t hurt the team. But everyone saw the truth, and it was never more excruciatingly obvious than on the final, awful play of Griffin’s night, when his knee buckled sideways. If your stomach can take it, look at today’s paper and the front of the  Sports section (the great John McDonnell as always capturing the key moment). Griffin hurt himself reaching for a bad snap, and the Seahawks recovered on the Redskins’ 5-yard-line. Game over, in effect. Season over.

Let’s all hope Griffin’s injury isn’t as serious as it looked. We now have 8 months of second-guessing to endure. Shanahan himself, in his post-game news conference, said he’d probably second-guess his decision to keep Griffin in. That was a rare note of implied contrition from Shanahan, who normally projects extreme confidence in his abilities as a coach.

It was a great season, all told. Cross your fingers, Griffin will be fixed up good as new and there will be more seasons like this to come.

But let this be a lesson to us all. You gotta know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em. It is not a mistake to fold a weak hand. Nor is it heroic to stay in the game and pray that you pull an inside straight. There’s a name for the poker player who goes on gut instinct all the time: The pigeon at the table.

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."
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Joel Achenbach · January 3, 2013