With Colt McCoy sidelined after aggravating an injured nerve in his neck, Coach Jay Gruden has put his struggling Redskins back in the hands of Robert Griffin III, the quarterback he disparaged earlier in the season, naming him Washington’s starter for Saturday’s game against Philadelphia.
In announcing his decision Monday afternoon, Gruden adopted a considerably more supportive tone than he had just 24 hours earlier, after Griffin failed to engineer a victory in relief of McCoy against the New York Giants.
Rather than enumerate missed opportunities, Gruden cited the positives of Griffin’s performance in the 24-13 defeat, in which he completed 18 of 27 throws for 236 yards and one touchdown. Evoking the improvisational skills of his rookie season, Griffin also ran for what appeared to be another touchdown, launching himself airborne into the right corner of the end zone, as time ran out in the first half. The score was negated when a video review showed he’d lost possession, making it a touchback rather than a touchdown.
Gruden said Monday he liked the energy Griffin displayed on the field, as well as several of the running plays he made when other options closed down. Gruden singled out Griffin’s first-half passing efficiency (9 of 15 for 140 yards) as something to build on. And he vowed, as coach and offensive play-caller, to “build around his strengths,” acknowledging that doing a better job protecting Griffin in the pocket was part of that.
Griffin was sacked seven times in three quarters Sunday, bringing his total to 28 in limited duty this season.
For a coach who appeared to have given up on Griffin’s ability to transform himself into a serviceable pocket passer, what was striking Monday was Gruden’s expressed willingness to invest in the success of the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner, in whom Washington’s front office has invested even more.
“I’d like to see him improve, yes, and he has got every chance this week against the Philadelphia Eagles to take this position and run with it,” Gruden said. “I’d like to see him have some urgency about him and play well and hopefully there won’t be much of a debate if he does well.
“So moving forward, this is Robert’s team right now against the Philadelphia Eagles. . . . Hopefully we will have a good game plan for him to give him a chance to succeed and to win. And then from there, we’ll just take it one game at a time and make our judgments and our conclusions after that.”
McCoy, 28, was devastated by the turn of events that in a split-second put the brakes on a career resurgence. After signing with Washington as a free agent in the spring, McCoy rose from third-string to starter as Griffin struggled with injury and Kirk Cousins struggled with turnovers. McCoy had hopes of cementing his status as the Redskins’ starter with a strong finish to the 2014 season.
But on Washington’s first series against the Giants, he disappeared under a heap of defenders on a four-yard scramble up the middle of the field.
Gruden knew the moment McCoy attempted his next throw — a throw he never misses in practice but one that fell woefully short Sunday — that the injury was serious.
He didn’t play another snap. Gruden said Monday that McCoy would return to the doctors and specialists he had seen after suffering the initial injury against St. Louis and repeat the rehabilitation process.
The possibility remains that McCoy could be placed on injured reserve, depending what upcoming tests reveal, which could create an open spot on the roster.
Monday’s announcement represented Gruden’s fifth change at the team’s most important position this season. Griffin started the first two games. Kirk Cousins took over after Griffin dislocated his left ankle. After five starts, Cousins was replaced by McCoy, who led two come-from-behind victories but yielded to Griffin once he was healthy. Then, after three consecutive losses, Gruden benched Griffin for McCoy, whose injury created the opening for Griffin’s return.
The constant churn has handicapped Washington’s offense. The running game hasn’t been the asset it was the past two seasons. And the irritation among wide receivers is palpable, evident in DeSean Jackson’s slow walk back to the huddle against the Giants.
Sunday’s defeat brought Washington’s record to 3-11 and its losing streak to six; only Tennessee has lost more consecutive games (eight).
The latest loss, however, wasn’t entirely on Griffin or the offense.
Washington’s defense allowed rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. three touchdown receptions; a fourth was negated by penalty.
The team was penalized 10 times for season high 135 yards — some infractions, the result of spirited play; too many, a result of sloppiness. And though Washington trailed by 11 points with 2 minutes 28 seconds remaining, it appeared to many Redskins fans that Gruden conceded on that final drive rather than attempt a field goal and try an onside kick rather than punt when the drive fizzled.
Asked about his decision-making, Gruden reiterated he was concerned Griffin was injured when he lay motionless after getting sacked a seventh time.
“I didn’t have another quarterback to go to,” Gruden said, “so I just let the clock run out and called it a day.”
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