This is the injury everyone expected and no one wanted. It was just a matter of time before Robert Griffin III got clocked and knocked out of a game. The only question was whether the injury would come on a scripted run or on one of Griffin’s creative attempts to make something out of nothing.
The Shanahans reduced the number of planned RGIII’s runs after watching game film showing him getting pounded week after week. But Griffin wasn’t able to show such restraint. He’s a kid, still, in a lot of ways. He wants to show that he can take a licking and keep on ticking. But that’s a head in his helmet, not a Timex.
So now the debate begins. This was to be the year the Washington Redskins didn’t have a quarterback controversy, yet here one comes. Not a Griffin-vs.-Kirk Cousins debate, but rather a “should Griffin play?” debate.
The locker room, the trainers’ room, the weight room, the front office, the back office, the league office, and offices everywhere, on both sides of the Beltway, will be kicking this around. Hopefully it won’t be a question during the vice presidential debate. You have to draw the line somewhere.
The team knows its chances of winning decrease dramatically without RGIII. That’s just a fact. The team also knows its chances of winning over the long term decrease dramatically without RGIII. He has a great football mind, he has picked up the offense quicker than any rookie quarterback you could imagine — they need to protect more than his legs and throwing arm.
The league is under tremendous scrutiny after its hard-line stance on Bountygate and its professed interest in reducing head injuries amid the slew of lawsuits it faces. Griffin is more than a star in Washington; he’s a star for the league. Everyone will be watching to see how the NFL handles how the Redskins handle this injury. Already the league is fussing over the lack of information released by the team Sunday. There are rules regarding the handling of concussions, and the league will be watching the Redskins carefully to make sure they follow them.
Griffin wasn’t having his best game before Sunday’s injury, but the Redskins were in the game, and if he had not been hurt, who’s to say he couldn’t have engineered another late-game drive for at least a tie and overtime? We’ve learned two things about RGIII after five games: He is tough, and you shouldn’t underestimate him.
At the least, he might have been able to help keep the defense off the field for the majority of the game. The Redskins’ defense — depleted, outmanned and often a punch line, especially the secondary — made the unbeaten Falcons and quarterback Matt Ryan look merely ordinary for the first half and part of the second. The defense was largely responsible for the Redskins’ 10-7 lead after three quarters — enough to make it tough to switch to the Nationals-Cardinals game and stay there.
But even then, there were signs. The Falcons, despite scoring only one touchdown, had amassed 187 passing yards in the first half. They had converted on 60 percent of their third downs. They had controlled the ball nearly double the amount of time the Redskins had.
The Redskins, meantime, had amassed 45 yards passing. They were 0 for 4 on third-down conversions. And their defense was clearly going to spend most of the day on the field unless Griffin got the offense going in the second half.
And of course that didn’t happen. Griffin went out with a “mild concussion,” which is something akin to being “a little pregnant,” and the Redskins’ defense got tuckered out with all that time on the field. The Falcons scored 17 points in the fourth quarter, and that was that.
It’s easy to blame the defense for those 17 points in the fourth quarter. But the lopsided time of possession — 37 minutes 1 second for the Falcons, 22:59 for the Redskins — was too much, period. When your offense only converts on one third down, when your starting quarterback leaves the game . . . the result was hardly surprising.
This is why a lot of people will want Griffin back Sunday. But Sunday’s a long way off. Everyone has to wait for an independent neurologist — not a team doctor — to evaluate Griffin and make a decision. In the meantime, Kirk Cousins needs to get a lot of reps in practice.
And hopefully Griffin has learned from this experience — if he can remember it, that is. He needed to dump off that ball, not run with it. He wants to save every play, every time he has the ball, which is laudable but not a long-term solution to keeping him healthy, and therefore not a good way for the Redskins to win. He may have to be a little less daring on one possession so he can play the next.
Because without him, the Redskins are very ordinary, and any progress they’ve made so far this season is negated. His absence makes everything harder and leaves the Redskins with their traditional fall dance: one step forward, two steps back.
For previous Tracee Hamilton columns, go to washingtonpost.com/hamilton.