A lot of people in Washington are still favoring their right legs as they struggle to rehab from sympathetic Grade 1 sprains of their lateral collateral ligaments — even if they couldn’t locate their LCLs with an arthroscope and a flashlight. When Robert Griffin III hurts, all of Redskins Nation takes an Advil. That’s a step up from the Dramamine necessary to watch the continual replay of that hit, or the Pink Russians — Pepto Bismol and vodka — needed to watch every game since the bye week.
This week, Washington Redskins fans are sitting by the fireplace or gazing out their windows, waiting for that jolly old elf — no, not Santa, Mike Shanahan (Shanta?) — to deliver a Nero-like thumbs-up or thumbs-down on Griffin’s status for Sunday’s crucial game against Cleveland.
My guess is that this is a done deal, that RGIII will play Sunday, that he’ll get clearance from a team of physicians, a gaggle of trainers and a cadre of coaches. When he says they’ll have to pry the football out of his cold, lifeless hand — or words to that effect — I don’t know about you, but I believe him. He’s very convincing.
He’s also very confident, and has an athlete’s belief in his physical ability, but that doesn’t make him reckless. As the season progressed, the coaching staff adapted its play-calling to put him in fewer dangerous situations. And Griffin has responded to advice that he put himself in fewer dangerous situations. He still needs some convincing that those sidelines really are his friends. But from Game 1 of his amazing rookie season, he has gotten after officials for what he has felt were late hits or illegal hits to the head. This is not a guy with a death wish. He wants a long career, and he knows that’s going to require some effort on his part.
The challenge of coaching Griffin is figuring out how to apply just the right amount of tension on those reins. That’s also the challenge of being Griffin. Yank him back too much, and he’s no longer Robert Griffin III. And without him, the Redskins cannot make the playoffs. That’s no knock on Kirk Cousins; I’ve already praised his performance Sunday to the skies. The Redskins can win with Cousins. But I don’t think they can win all three. And although just thinking about the playoff permutations has given me a Grade 3 sprain of my brain, I think, realistically, they need a sweep.
I might be tempted, assuming Griffin gets the all-clear sign, to start Cousins on Sunday in Cleveland and have Griffin ready to come in. That might throw off the Browns a bit (and anyone who believes the Browns are going down without a fight is mistaken), save some strain on Griffin’s knee and give Cousins some more game experience.
Can the Redskins lose to the Browns and still be in the playoff hunt? Sure. But all along it has seemed that they need to win the division. To do that, they need the Giants to stumble. (They didn’t seem the least bit clumsy last Sunday when they beat the Saints by 25). The Giants’ remaining opponents are Atlanta, Baltimore and Philadelphia. They could lose any of those games, of course, but it’s also completely possible that they win all three. The Giants know when to expend energy and when to hibernate.
The easiest path for the Redskins — among a difficult set of paths — would be to win three and hope the G-Men lose one. They would then be tied with 10-6 records. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head competition, and that’s a split. The second is division record, and that would give the Redskins the division title.
Lose to the Browns, and things get more complicated. At the start of the season, optimistic Redskins fans marked this game with a “W” but the Browns have steadily gotten better. They’ve won three straight — although two of their victims were the Raiders and Chiefs, which is nothing to brag about (says the Chiefs fan).
A loss doesn’t eliminate the Redskins, but it gives them a tougher row to hoe. They need Griffin. Is it do-or-die, backs-to-the-wall, hell-bent-for-leather cliche time? No. But if the Redskins can turn a 3-6 start into a playoff berth — even a one-and-done playoff berth — they will have pulled off something special. Should they risk Griffin’s health for that? No. But if doctors give him a green light, don’t expect the Redskins to hit the brakes.
For previous columns by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.