Fed up with ongoing offensive ineptitude and determined to squeeze out a couple more wins in a season that has rapidly unraveled, Washington Redskins Coach Jay Gruden felt he had no choice but to maintain accountability and give Robert Griffin III the hook.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday for the first time since he made his decision Tuesday evening, Gruden explained his thinking, expressed confidence in new starter Colt McCoy and stopped short of closing the book on RGIII in Washington.
“We’re searching for answers on offense, number one. And it starts at the quarterback position, quite frankly,” said Gruden, whose offense has mustered only one touchdown in each of the past two outings and has been putrid on third downs. “Colt was 2-0 as a starter — really 1-0, but he came on in relief in the second half of the Titans game — and due to our recent struggles offensively, I thought I’d try a change at the helm.
“I know it seems like it, but we’re not trying to pin all the problems offensively onto Robert. But we just feel like Colt deserves another opportunity, being that he had a lot of success as a starter.”
In a game and a half of action this season, McCoy completed 36 of 42 passes for 427 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He also rushed for a score.
In Week 7, he took over for a struggling Kirk Cousins and led Washington on a second-half comeback in a 19-17 win over Tennessee. The following week, he helped Washington to a 20-17 overtime victory at Dallas on “Monday Night Football.”
Griffin took over the following week, returning from a six-game absence after dislocating his left ankle.
But the Redskins lost at Minnesota, at home against Tampa Bay and at San Francisco — and Griffin’s numbers have steadily declined. The frustrations mounted among coaches and in the locker room.
So Gruden made the switch.
“When you’re preaching production, when you’re preaching accountability and all that stuff, it’s important that you hold everybody to the same standard,” the coach said. “Like I said, I know Robert can play better. I know we can coach him better. But the bottom line is we didn’t get much production from the offense with him as the starter, and that’s why we had to make a change.”
During Wednesday’s practice, McCoy assumed the first-team reps, and Griffin handled the normal allotment of snaps for a second-string quarterback.
Griffin was approached with interview requests in the locker room, but he declined.
However, as he left the locker room, he said “I’m fine. I’ll be strong.”
Gruden insisted the book is not closed on Griffin’s career. He said he hopes the benching serves as a source of motivation while also affording the quarterback the opportunity to watch and learn.
But Gruden stopped short of saying Griffin remains in the long-term plans of the franchise.
“I think as a man and a competitor, Robert does have a future in the NFL. But I’m not going to predict it. I’m not going to stand up here and say we’re going to sign him to a 15-year contract or we’re going to trade him or whatever. I’m not going to predict it. All I’m doing is coaching the quarterbacks I have the best way I know how. And that’s all I can do. As far as the future, the next year, the year after that, Bruce Allen and myself and Mr. Snyder and the staff, we’ll talk about what’s in store.”
For now, Gruden is worried about Sunday’s opponent, the Indianapolis Colts.
McCoy will try to reignite an offense that generated only 77 net passing yards at San Francisco.
A third-round pick of the Cleveland Browns in 2010, McCoy once was viewed as that team’s savior but had his career derailed by a concussion and uneven play. He spent last season in San Francisco and signed with Washington this year.
Gruden said he envisions McCoy starting the remaining five games of the season.
Although he understands this is an opportunity to revive his career while also helping the Redskins dig their way out of this 3-8 hole, McCoy said he aims to simply play the role of game manager, not superhero.
“For me, as a quarterback, I think Jay expects us to make the right decisions with the football, get us in the right plays when he asks us to get us in those plays versus blitz, versus different coverages that we see, go to the right place with the football — just make good decisions.
“The way I approach it, we have great receivers, we have great tight ends, good running backs. Our running game has picked up over the last few weeks, which I think is a big positive for us. I just want to go out there and distribute the football, be smart, score points.”
Meanwhile, the other 51 Redskins players — many of whom learned of the decision late Tuesday night via media reports and then received word from Gruden in a meeting Wednesday morning — took the news in stride.
“Coach said from day one he’s going to put us in the best situation and he’s going to do what’s right for the team,” fullback Darrel Young said. “And that’s what he feels is right for the team right now, so that’s the direction we’re going.”
Wide receiver Santana Moss, the elder statesman of the team who has played with 10 starting quarterbacks since coming to Washington in 2005, agreed.
“With the quarterback, things are a little different because the quarterback is the team, he’s the offense, he’s everything,” Moss said. “And when you go through something like we’ve been going through with our quarterback situation this year, either from the missed time of injuries or one quarterback doing a little more than the other or one having done much more than the other, we just have to roll with the punches.”