It was all so easy, so seamless and so breathlessly positive a year ago for Robert Griffin III. He went from being a Heisman Trophy winner and a college football hero at Baylor to being the face of the franchise and the team-saving rookie quarterback of the Washington Redskins.
All of that is beginning to feel like such a long time ago. A year ago this week, Griffin led Washington to a runaway victory over the rival Philadelphia Eagles, sparking a seven-game winning streak that earned the Redskins their first division title in 13 years.
As they prepare for Monday night’s game against the San Francisco 49ers, the Redskins are struggling with a 3-7 record that has them in last place in the NFC East division.
Griffin, still less than 11 months removed from reconstructive surgery on his right knee, has failed to duplicate the on-field exploits that won him the National Football League’s offensive rookie of the year honor in 2012. He is not quite as quick on his feet and his uncanny passing accuracy of a year ago frequently has failed him. What’s more, the young man whose engaging personality and candor were celebrated last season suddenly finds himself under assault from media observers, fans and teammates.
It’s all been quite a comedown for the 23-year-old quarterback. “This is the first time in his life he’s been really criticized,” former Redskins tight end Chris Cooley said Wednesday. “This is the first time in his life people haven’t believed in him.”
The latest blow came from veteran wide receiver Santana Moss, who said his teammate should “stand up and say ‘me’ or ‘I’ ” more often when discussing his play on the field, the implication being Griffin too frequently deflects blame onto others.
“If we’re going to win games, we need to win games with our guy saying, ‘At the end of the day, I didn’t make a play,’ regardless of if it wasn’t him, and that’s how I feel,” Moss told 106.7 The Fan Tuesday.
Moss’s remarks followed equally harsh critiques by some of the greatest names in Redskins history. Hall of Fame quarterback Sonny Jurgensen, the team’s longtime radio analyst, said during the broadcast of Sunday’s 24-16 loss to the Eagles that Griffin should be benched because of his poor play. Darrell Green, the Redskins’ Hall of Fame cornerback, said on Showtime’s “Inside the NFL” last week that Griffin isn’t the team’s leader.
“I think that’s the problem,” Green said. “I think it’s super important to have leadership and I don’t think he really is the leader.”
Speaking to reporters after Sunday’s game, Griffin said the interception that he threw in the end zone on the Redskins’ final offensive play came when he tried but failed to throw the ball away while backing away from oncoming defenders and with no open receivers. Griffin added that the Eagles seemed to know precisely what the Redskins were going to do on offense — a remark that was taken as a slap at the play-calling of the Redskins’ coaching staff, most prominently offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
Former Eagles safety Brian Dawkins said on ESPN radio Wednesday that he “cringed” when he heard Griffin’s postgame comments.
“He immediately pointed the finger to somebody else,” Dawkins said. “The first thing that came out of his mouth was, ‘The receivers didn’t get open.’ And then, ‘I got pressure, if I’d have taken a sack . . . ’ You’re throwing your receivers under the bus. You’re throwing your offensive line under the bus.”
“In that situation,” Dawkins added, “you just say, ‘You know what? I made a bad play. That was on me. I have to get the ball out of the back of the end zone, no matter what’s going on around me, no matter what’s going on with my teammates.’ ”
With the controversy over Griffin’s play — and his standing in the locker room — threatening to spiral out of control, the Redskins closed ranks Wednesday, with many players playing down the severity of the problem and several prominent veterans rising to Griffin’s defense.
Griffin and Moss said they spoke, and both said everything had been smoothed over. Moss said he’d been attempting to send a message to all of his teammates to use language in public comments that won’t lead to a perception of discord.
“I read a quote and it said, ‘Moss says RGIII needs to take more responsibility for losses,’ ” Moss said. “That never came out of my mouth. I said that if I’m put in the situation, as a leader, I will stand up and say, ‘me, I,’ and that’s what I said.”
“We don’t have no divided locker room at all,” Moss added.
Griffin said that he and Moss are “on the same page.” He said he “wasn’t trying to take any shots at anybody” with his comments Sunday and he “would take it back” if he could. Griffin said he accepted blame for his throw on the late-game interception.
“You just have to shut it all out,” Griffin said. “And I have had to deal with criticism in my life. I dealt with two 4-8 seasons at Baylor. It’s nothing like this at this level in the NFL. But you just can’t look at that stuff. You have to come to work and put your phone away. You can’t look at any of that stuff out there. The means to get news nowadays, there are so many different ways to do it. You can’t look at it. You’ve got to block it out, never change who you are as a person, as a player, as a teammate, and just keep pushing forward.”
Coach Mike Shanahan said he doesn’t “have any questions about [Griffin’s] accountability and leadership,” although he added he could understand what both Moss and Griffin were saying.
“It’s a growing experience,” Shanahan said. “It’s not easy. I think it’s the toughest position to play in all of sports. Usually Robert is dead on with everything. It comes very natural to him. But what doesn’t come natural to anybody is going through the trials and tribulations you go through after winning and losing. It’s tough. . . . It’s a constant learning experience.”
Mike Jones contributed to this report.