It was a complex, multilayered emotion that coursed through the packed stands of FedEx Field early Sunday evening, in the waning moments of the Washington Redskins’ first home playoff game in 13 years. It contained elements of the predictable despair that would greet a loss in any Redskins’ playoff game, rare as such games are of late. But it also had dark undercurrents of something closer to dread and anger, spawned by two critical questions that are as yet unanswered:
Is Robert Griffin III going to be okay? And did the Redskins compromise their franchise quarterback’s health and long-term future in the fourth quarter of their 24-14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the first round of the NFL playoffs?
An afternoon that began with so much promise — with the burgundy-and-gold carrying its seven-game winning streak into the franchise’s first home playoff game since 2000, then sprinting to a 14-0 lead behind Griffin, its brilliant rookie signal-caller – ended in about as ugly a fashion as possible: with the Redskins losing a slim fourth-quarter lead and watching their franchise cornerstone crumpled on the battered turf, holding his injured right knee.
The most successful and captivating Redskins season in a very long time is over, and where there ought to have been a silver lining of hope — for a future tethered to the 22-year-old Griffin, who has lifted the Redskins to unimaginable heights in his first season — instead, as 84,325 fans headed for the parking lots, there was only concern for that same future.
And there were questions, lots of questions. Chief among them: Should an obviously hobbled Griffin have been in the game at all when his knee finally buckled in the fourth quarter? And if Griffin was insisting on staying in, as he later said, should someone have overruled him?
Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan, who ultimately made the decision to allow Griffin to continue playing Sunday, despite visual evidence that suggested he was compromised, acknowledged afterward that it was a “gut” decision, but one that he based upon multiple conversations with Griffin.
“He said: ‘Trust me. I want to be in there, and I deserve to be in there.’ And I couldn’t disagree with him,” Shanahan said. “You have to go with your gut. I’m not saying my gut was right. . . . I’ll probably second-guess myself.”
Said Griffin: “Mike asked me if I was okay, and I said yes. I’m the quarterback of this team. My job is to be out there, if I can play. . . . I wasn’t coming out of that game.”
Griffin was expected to undergo an MRI exam Sunday night to determine the severity of his injury. Four weeks ago, in a regular season game against Baltimore, Griffin suffered a grade-one sprain of his lateral collateral ligament; since returning to action two weeks later, he has worn a bulky brace on the knee to protect him from further injury.
For winning 10 regular season games and its first division title in 13 years, for reeling off seven straight wins after a 3-6 nadir at midseason, for recapturing the hearts and imaginations of their beleaguered fans, the Redskins’ reward was this — the franchise’s first home playoff game in 4,751 days.
But the lasting image of this game will be of Griffin, in obvious agony on the turf after his knee buckled under him in the fourth quarter, unable to maneuver himself to the loose ball that rolled just out of his reach — a fumbled snap that ultimately was recovered by the Seahawks. In the moments that followed, Griffin’s Redskins teammates kneeled in prayer while the team’s medical personnel tended to the fallen superstar.
“You’re talking about the franchise quarterback, a guy who has made so many plays to get you to this point,” said veteran linebacker London Fletcher, backing Shanahan’s decision to leave Griffin in the game. “If he tells you that he can [play], you have to rely on the player at that point in time and let him [play].”
A half-hearted chant of “R-G-3! R-G-3!” went up from the stands, as Griffin finally rose to his feet and, brushing off the offers for a shoulder to lean on, walked off the field on his own. The next time Griffin set foot on the field of play, he was walking towards midfield, surrounded by cameras, as the final seconds ticked off, to congratulate his Seahawks counterparts.
“The sky’s the limit for this team,” Griffin said later. “It’s just truly exciting, even though today is a very dim day.”
Even as the Redskins were sprinting to a 14-0 first-quarter lead — the entire stadium singing along in a full-throated rendition of “Hail to the Redskins” after each of their two touchdowns — there were already signs that Griffin was in trouble. On a rollout pass play near the Redskins’ sideline late in the first quarter — two plays before the second touchdown pass — Griffin appeared to plant awkwardly on his right leg, and he yanked off his helmet in agony as he rolled around on the ground.
Griffin, and by extension the Redskins, were never the same afterward. He was less RG3 than RG1/3, and there would not be another singing of the fight song, as the Seahawks reeled off 24 unanswered points.
The Redskins were helpless, and so were their fans. There were gimpy knees and sore shoulders on the sideline, and bruised hearts and crushed souls in the stands.
One and all will forever wonder whether the Redskins would have won with a healthy Griffin, or with a quicker move from Shanahan to replace Griffin with backup Kirk Cousins earlier in the game.
Those were only a few of the questions being asked Sunday night, as a stream of cars headed out of FedEx Field’s parking lots toward the Beltway, as heads hit pillows across the region, and as the second-guessing was only beginning.
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