Near the end of another absurd week in the star-crossed NFL career of Robert Griffin III, the Washington Redskins quarterback lay on the FedEx Field turf Thursday night, face down, crunched by a 284-pound defensive lineman.
Detroit end Corey Wootton’s hit was merely the final, devastating tackle of a frightful preseason outing for Griffin. When Wootton dove and landed on Griffin as both men scrambled to cover a fumble, it seemed as merciful as it was painful. Finally, the torture could end. Coach Jay Gruden had put his starting quarterback in a perilous position, letting Griffin continue to play behind an inferior offensive line with overmatched backup left tackle Willie Smith protecting his blind side, plowing ahead stubbornly, foolishly, dangerously with a preseason game plan that should have been shredded in favor of preservation.
It was quarterback abuse at its ugliest. Griffin dropped back to pass eight times, and he was hit on six of those attempts, including three sacks. He had one pass batted down, the result of Detroit linebacker Tahir Whitehead overpowering Smith. He got off one clean pass in four offensive series. Griffin took blows that made for gruesome instant videos posted on social media. Nevertheless, Gruden kept putting Griffin back in the game, a reckless series of decisions akin to a seaman who declares he fears no storm.
The ship sank: After the Redskins’ 21-17 victory, Gruden said the oft-injured Griffin suffered a concussion. He also was initially thought to have a stinger injury to his right shoulder, the one he uses to throw.
And the captain went down with the ship: While you should understand Gruden’s desire to get Griffin as much preseason work as possible, the coach was irresponsible and negligent. After two series, it was clear that, with star left tackle Trent Williams not playing, the offensive line was in an atrocious state, so bad that it would be impossible to evaluate the quarterback’s play. After three series, it was clear that Gruden should bow at the feet of the football gods for Griffin being able to walk off the field. Still, Gruden opted to send out his starting quarterback for a fourth series.
“We felt confident in our tackle and our offensive line to try and get something going there with the fourth drive,” Gruden said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.”
Griffin showed impressive toughness, standing in the pocket and attempting to throw accurate passes under siege. He didn’t display any skittish behavior. He rose from every hit, except the last one, without any noticeable signs of complaint. Though Gruden wants to watch the game film before declaring whether Griffin could have avoided any of those hits, he soon will realize there wasn’t much his quarterback could prove on this night, because the conditions weren’t even manageable when the starters were in the game. Despite playing without two of its starting defensive linemen, Detroit simply destroyed Washington up front.
“It’s unacceptable,” rookie guard Brandon Scherff said.
It’s irrational to suggest Gruden hung Griffin out to dry, but for those who might think that way, the coach’s actions are also difficult to defend.
What was Gruden thinking?
For the team to improve, Griffin needs to perform, at least, like a mid-level starting NFL quarterback. After a difficult first season managing Griffin, Gruden must feel some pressure to develop the player he was hired to fix. But the risk of injury — with every Detroit Lion from DeAndre Levy to Phillip Hunt getting free licks at Griffin — wasn’t worth whatever reward Gruden envisioned. You can make up for one lost day in the preseason. You can’t get back the time it will take for Griffin to go through the concussion protocol, return to the field and regain trust that he won’t get killed when he drops back to pass. In all likelihood, Gruden’s decision cost the team the opportunity to play next Saturday’s third preseason game in Baltimore — the most important one, the dress rehearsal for the regular season — with its starting quarterback.
It has been another wild week for Griffin. First, he couldn’t get out of his own way. Then, he couldn’t avoid the Detroit pass rush.
Earlier this week, Griffin found controversy (again) for uttering the phrase “I feel like I’m the best quarterback in the league” during an otherwise innocuous interview with WJLA’s Alex Parker. In context, his words weren’t bad, and the firestorm the remarks created was rather silly. But given Griffin’s history of tone-deaf comments and his stated desire to “talk small and play big” this season, he couldn’t play down the quote easily.
One day, he feels like the best quarterback in the league.
Now, he feels pain. Again.
Somehow, with Griffin, pain is inevitable. His own pain. And the pain of a franchise and fan base that invested so much in his talent.
Consider Griffin’s injury history another reason Gruden should have been more careful. That wasn’t Brett Favre out there getting punished. That was Griffin, who had suffered a significant injury in all of his first three NFL seasons.
When the team was announced before the game, Griffin raced out of the tunnel first, sprinted ahead of his teammates, ran into the west end zone and stopped. Adoring fans screamed and waved their heads. Griffin ripped off his helmet, dropped to his knee and prayed. Then he ran back to his teammates.
Don’t know what he prayed for, but here’s guessing he didn’t ask that his coach not overextend him for no good reason.