With his team down, 38-10, with roughly 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter, Mike Shanahan walked up to Robert Griffin III as the Kansas City Chiefs‘ offense had returned to the field, and the coach told the quarterback that he planned to take him out.
At that point, Shanahan believed that the game had been lost, and that given the poor field conditions, there was no reason to subject Griffin to risk of injury.
“He just came and talked to me before the last series that I was in and told me if they scored, the game was out of hand and there was no way we could win it,” Griffin recalled after the game. “So he was going to pull me out.”
The Chiefs wound up missing a 34-yard field goal attempt, so Griffin returned for one more series — the last of the third quarter. He got sacked on the first play, scrambled 18 yards on the next, then, after a short run by Alfred Morris, Griffin threw back-to-back incompletions, and the possession ended with a Sav Rocca punt.
Kansas City then scored on a 17-yard run by backup running back Knile Davis to go up 45-10, and when the Redskins offense returned, quarterback Kirk Cousins trotted out with the group and received a cheer from the small crowd that remained.
“It was tough,” Griffin said. “I understood. You don’t fight that. As a competitor, you don’t care what’s going on on the field or what the score is of the game. You want to finish the game with your guys. That was tough, but I understood. You still have to sit there and do everything you can to help Kirk Cousins [go] out there to perform, move the ball and score. I thought I would try to do that effectively.”
It marked the first time of his young career that Griffin had been benched for a reason unrelated to injury. As a rookie, concussion against Atlanta knocked him out and opened the door for Cousins. Then later in the season, Griffin’s initial knee injury — at the end of a scramble versus Baltimore — caused the Redskins to turn to Cousins. Then he left the playoff loss to Seattle with torn ligaments in his knee. This season, Griffin took a hard hit late against Denver and as a precaution, Shanahan held him out of the final minutes of that game as well.
But Griffin had never been outright benched.
Griffin gave Cousins a word of encouragement before he took the field, and spoke to him after each offensive series after that.
Cousins proved unable to provide the spark that the Redskins needed, however. He faced the same protection issues that Griffin experienced, and like Griffin, threw some errant passes and had receivers drop others.
Cousins finished the game with seven completions on 16 attempts for 59 yards. He was sacked once and fumbled on one play, but tackle Tyler Polumbus recovered it.
Cousins said that he always prepares as if he will enter games at some point, and although he didn’t encounter success on Sunday, he drew positives from the showing.
“First of all, I really benefit from getting reps. Just playing. Even if I had thrown a pick on every play, it still would’ve been a good thing to be out there, playing,” Cousins said. “I did some good things, did some things I want to improve upon. But the fact that I could put some stuff on tape, go back watching, be hard on myself, watch it, that’s always a positive coming away from a game.”
Shanahan declined to say if Griffin would reclaim his job for next week’s game at Atlanta.
“We’ll talk about all that later,” he said. “I would say that about anybody at any position. We’ll talk about that. We’ll look at injuries. We’ll look at where we’re at and what direction we’re going.”
Asked if he had concerns about his job security, Griffin said, “No. That’s not an issue.”
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● Full coverage of the Redskins’ coaching situation and the loss on Sunday.
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