The magic that helped the Washington Redskins rebound from a 3-6 start, reel off seven consecutive victories and reach the postseason for the first time in five seasons ran out, painfully, Sunday evening against the Seattle Seahawks.
The Redskins fell, 24-14, at FedEx Field after they mounted little offense after the first quarter as star rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III aggravated his right knee injury and was unable to finish the game.
The matchup in front of 84,325, the largest postseason home crowd in team history, featured rookie of the year candidates Griffin and Russell Wilson, the Seahawks’ dynamic quarterback in the Redskins’ first home playoff game since the 1999 season. It also had two of the league’s top three running backs in Washington’s Alfred Morris and Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch.
But with Griffin ineffective after he apparently reinjured the sprained lateral collateral ligament in his right knee in the first quarter, the game instead became a defensive struggle.
Ultimately, the Redskins yielded.
“It was a fun run,” said Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan, whose team was left for dead at the bye week, owning a 3-6 record, but won seven straight to capture their first NFC East title since 1999. “I’m very disappointed today. You always want to play your best football during the playoffs. We probably had our best first quarter. After that first quarter, we just didn’t seem to get things done.”
The Redskins led 14-13 at halftime. After a scoreless third quarter, Seattle broke through with a 27-yard touchdown run by Lynch, who took a handoff, bounced off a would-be tackler and barreled into the end zone after receiving a downfield block from Wilson.
Wilson then completed a two-point conversion pass to tight end Zach Miller to give Seattle a 21-14 lead with 7 minutes 8 seconds left.
Things then went from bad to worse.
Still limping badly, Griffin took the field with his team in need of the heroics that he had supplied throughout the season. But his balky knee betrayed him. Griffin was sacked for a 12-yard loss when he couldn’t summon his 4.4 speed or elusiveness as he tried to roll to his right and avoid linebacker Bruce Irvin.
On the following play — second and 22 from the Washington 12 — center Will Montgomery’s shotgun snap was low. As Griffin scrambled after the loose ball, his knee buckled. The quarterback went down in a heap and Seattle tackle Clinton McDonald recovered the ball at the 5.
As Griffin writhed in pain on the ground, athletic trainer Larry Hess, his assistants and team orthopedic surgeon James Andrews rushed onto the field. Redskins defensive players took the field and dropped to a knee to pray for their injured quarterback.
Griffin eventually rose to his feet with assistance, but walked off under his own power. He shook hands with defensive end Doug Worthington, then hobbled off while giving a salute to fans who applauded and chanted “R-G-III.”
Shanahan met Griffin at the sideline. The quarterback put his arm around his coach, said something and retreated to the bench.
Four plays later, the Seahawks settled for a 22-yard field goal by Steven Hauschka and took a 24-14 lead. Five minutes and 35 seconds remained.
Backup quarterback Kirk Cousins took the field, charged with directing a comeback, but completed only 2 of 6 attempts as he was harassed by defenders each time he dropped back to pass.
Frustrations flared at the end of the game as left tackle Trent Williams engaged in a scuffle with Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, shoving him with an open-handed blow to the face before the two were separated.
Then the Redskins left the field, done for the year.
The ending seemed unlikely as the game began. When the Redskins erupted for touchdowns on their first two possessions and took a 14-0 lead, it looked as if Washington would end its inability to get past Seattle in the playoffs.
Griffin directed a nine-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a four-yard touchdown pass to Evan Royster, then led an 11-play, 54-yard drive capped by a four-yard touchdown toss to Logan Paulsen.
But Griffin didn’t emerge from the second scoring drive unscathed.
On first and goal from the 4, Griffin rolled to his right and attempted a pass across his body to wide receiver Pierre Garcon in the end zone.
The pass fell incomplete, and after planting on his right leg, Griffin fell and got back up, limping badly. He hobbled as he returned to the huddle and for the next two plays as well, including the touchdown pass.
After throwing that pass, Griffin was knocked to the ground on a late hit by Irvin, who drew a penalty. After returning to the sideline, Griffin and members of the team’s medical staff, including Andrews, retreated to the examination shed behind the bench.
Griffin emerged several minutes later and joined offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, Cousins and inactive quarterback Rex Grossman on the bench before tossing a couple of warmup passes.
Griffin returned to the game, but the next offensive series lasted only four plays, ending when he underthrew a pass to Paulsen, appearing unable to plant his back foot.
The quarterback and Shanahan both said the knee injury didn’t affect Griffin’s throwing ability, however. And both said despite Griffin’s diminished mobility, he gave his team the best chance to win.
“I don’t feel like me being out there hurt the team in any way. I’m the best option for this team, and that’s why I’m the starter,” Griffin said.
Shanahan said: “I talked to Robert, and Robert said to me, ‘Coach, there’s a difference between being injured and being hurt. I guarantee I’m hurting right now, but give me a chance to win this football game, because I guarantee I’m not injured.’ That was enough for me. I thought he did enough for us this year to have that opportunity to stay in the football game.”
But Washington’s offense went cold from then on. In the first quarter, Griffin completed six of nine passes for 68 yards and two touchdowns. In the remaining three quarters, he completed just four of 10 passes for only 16 yards, was sacked twice and managed only nine yards on two carries.
Meanwhile, Seattle’s attack grew stronger.
“We never felt we were able to get off the field on third down and dominate them,” said linebacker Lorenzo Alexander. “. . .We had opportunities to make them punt the ball, and we didn’t capitalize on those opportunities.”
More on the Redskins:
Summary: Seahawks 24, Redskins 14
Boswell: Seeing the NFL at its best, worst
Takeaway: No reason to hang their heads
Photos: Griffin’s injury
Photos: Scenes from the stadium