Criticism of Robert Griffin III has gone too far

The Post Sports Live crew discusses quarterback Robert Griffin III's performance in the Redskins loss to Philadelphia and whether there's any reason back-up Kirk Cousins should start instead. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)
Mike Wise
Columnist November 24, 2013

Enough already with the woodshed treatment of a guy anointed as a savior in cleats and chinstrap mere months ago. This isn’t constructive; it’s piling on for the sake of ratings and page views.

In this week’s nuclear national referendum on the career of Robert Griffin III, the star quarterback is now said to be a lousy field general, unable to sufficiently put enough blame for a bad football team on himself.

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

“He needs to stop pointing the finger and pulling the thumb,” ESPN’s Mark Schlereth chastised, actually pulling his thumb toward himself in an it’s-on-me, coach-speak kind of way. That was one of 92 panel discussions this week focusing on the regression of all things Robert, who said his receivers couldn’t get open on a play in which he threw an interception that sealed defeat in Philadelphia last Sunday.

What a 180, no?

Two weeks ago Griffin was “returning to form” and last fall he was a “heavenly godsend.” Today he is but a “an unfit leader,” a coach-killer in training and way less of a great young quarterback than, say, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson, his much more mature peers whose teams are a combined 17-5 this season.

It’s open season on not just his play but his character. Coach Mike Shanahan spoke to The Post’s Mike Jones on Sunday expressly to defend Griffin from an NFL Network report about the quarterback’s alleged insecurities.

U.N. sanctions are surely next.

Please. Let the 23-year-old be a 23-year-old.

Enough with this tired RG-Me angle. It’s intellectually lazy and has nothing to do with the sophomore slump of a second-year quarterback whose team has just three wins in late November heading into a potential Monday night massacre against the 49ers at home.

The truth: If Luck and Wilson were to switch uniforms with Griffin prior to the opener, you know what they would be with this defense, special teams and minimum-protect offensive line? Oh, about 3-7, give or take a sack.

And instead of the plot being about Griffin, the me-myself-and-I QB who can’t galvanize the locker room because he points fingers, it would be about Wilson or Luck, too quiet and humble to ignite the troops — and, really, when is Washington going to have some real star power behind center?

Griffin deserves demerits for a lot of things this season. Trying to be Indiana Jones too much in the open field; overthrows; game-ending interceptions; talking in passive-aggressive code all season about Coach Mike Shanahan, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and his mostly pedestrian receiving corps; oh, and courting fame in the offseason more than Miley Cyrus and Snooki.

But other than returning from major reconstructive knee surgery — no small feat — and his on-field miscues, this is the exact same guy who led Washington to a division title a year ago. The difference? No one wanted to interpret his words and mannerisms negatively in 2012 because of the infatuation that developed after that heart-racing honeymoon of a rookie season.

This isn’t about him any more than it’s about the regression of London Fletcher or the brain lock of Brandon Meriweather or the over-selling of another roster by Shanahan; it’s about the record, about the inferior people assembled around Griffin and the fact that the quarterback always has to shoulder the most blame.

Two things gleaned in this business over the years:

First, players who win for their respective teams become “good guys,” meaning media members and fans extrapolate character traits that make sense of an athlete’s success and endear them to us. When those same players get beat like a drum, they become “bad guys,” and someone like Griffin goes from having a healthy ego and great self-esteem and confidence a year ago to a megalomaniac who can’t bring himself to take responsibility for his own failings.

I was talking to John Wall about this a while back. Wall spent a day with Griffin at Baylor in 2009, when Griffin was asked to shuttle the young basketball recruit around. The Wizards point guard could relate because, like Griffin, he was expected to lead and win very young — with not very much help.

“You win and you’re looked at as the newest, best thing around,” Wall said. “You lose and it’s, ‘Damn, why’d we spend all this money on this guy?’ Or ‘Why we’d give up all those draft picks?’ You know there are things you can do to get better and work on your game, but you also know after a while it’s not about you — it’s a perception people need label you with because of how your team is doing.”

Oh, and the second thing gleaned over the years: There is no handicap for youth in sports. None. Especially in Washington, where we give our youngest stars the keys to the franchise usually two minutes after we give them their lockers.

It’s as if Shanahan drafted Griffin, he immediately bedazzled and the assumption became, “Just add water, mix and win.”

No. This is a more complicated recipe, involving the need for better ingredients on the line, in the secondary and at wide receiver. Until that happens, it’s time for Griffin’s misguided critics to stop pointing the finger at the QB and pulling the thumb toward themselves for expecting him to take the public blame his superiors should have fessed up to long ago.

For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.

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