Redskins vs. Panthers: Robert Griffin III enters bye week at a loss

November 4, 2012

He is the quarterback of a last-place team, a 3-6 unholy mess of a team, and Robert Griffin III has 14 days to contemplate that ugly reality. What to do for the bye week? Go home to Texas for a spell, to get away from the angst and the criticism? Or stick around and push that boulder up the hill a few more times until the Washington Redskins’ next game?

“I have no idea what I’m going to do,” Griffin said following Sunday’s disquieting 21-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers. “But I promise you I’ll come back and I’ll be a better quarterback the second half of the season for us, for this team. And preferably, everybody comes back with the same mind-set.”

The limitless promise and excitement stirred up by that opening week win at New Orleans, the surgical precision of the game-winning drive at Tampa Bay in Week 4, the electricity that surged through FedEx Field during the dismantling of Minnesota in Week 6 — it all feels like ages ago now.

Back then, Griffin, the Redskins’ rookie quarterback, could seemingly do no wrong, and even when other parts of the team were falling apart around him, there was a feeling that as long as Griffin had the ball in his hands, the Redskins’ high-powered offense always had a chance.

But now, after back-to-back offensive duds — a 27-12 loss at Pittsburgh, followed by Sunday’s debacle — Griffin’s passes are sometimes missing their marks, the notion of the Redskins being able to overcome their personnel shortcomings has been debunked, and Coach Mike Shanahan is talking about using the rest of the season to evaluate players for next season.

Griffin, however, sent his teammates a message of positivity and perseverance as they headed into the bye week.

“After the bye, I think you’ll see a different team,” he vowed. “. . . The media will say your record is what you are. But I just don’t feel that our record is what we are.”

Griffin’s numbers Sunday were good, not great: 23-for-39 passing for 215 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions, and perhaps a half-dozen errant throws that never gave his receiver a chance. His two worst passer ratings of the season have come in the last two weeks: a 72.8 at Pittsburgh, and a 74.2 against Carolina.

But the lasting image of Griffin from Sunday’s loss was not a throw, but a run — Griffin sacrificing his body for a first down in the fourth quarter, launching into a wall of Carolina defenders and getting helicoptered in the air.

What was he thinking there?

“Get the first down,” he said. “Guys see that — they see their quarterback putting it on the line every single play, [and] it makes them want to put it in on the line every single play. So it’s more about inspiring guys to go out, and no matter what the score is, no matter what the down and distance is, we can make it happen.”

If it was inspiration Griffin was going for, it worked.

“You don’t see too many quarterbacks giving themselves up like that,” said fullback Darrel Young. “He competes. It’s what he does every play. Even when we’re down, he comes in and says: ‘C’mon, guys, this is what we need to do. We can do this.’ Eighteen seconds left on the clock, and he’s like, ‘We’ve got a chance.’ He’s special.”

But the toll on Griffin’s body may be adding up. On Sunday, one hard hit left him limping slightly for the next couple of plays. Another shot to the ribs sent him to the team’s medical staff after the game for an X-ray, which came back negative. At his locker afterward, he undressed and dressed gingerly, a single band-aid about where his left kidney resides.

Outside the interview room late Sunday afternoon, he kissed his mother, hugged his father and scrolled through messages on his phone. The bye week had just begun. There was nothing else that needed to be said, and Griffin had nothing but time on his hands.

Dave Sheinin has been covering baseball and writing features and enterprise stories for The Washington Post since 1999.
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