LANDOVER, Md. -- The brace on the knee of Robert Griffin III was so big it could wrap snuggly around an oak tree. He was gimpy, uncomfortable, and sluggish. He had been quickly transformed from one of the elite weapons in football to a sitting duck. Target practice for a Seattle defense that smelled quarterback blood and took advantage to win its first road playoff game in three decades.
None of that seemed to matter to Redskins coach Mike Shanahan. Due to one of the worst coaching decisions in recent NFL postseason history, Shanahan -- in a horribly stupid, terribly dumb piece of coaching malpractice -- left a helpless Griffin in the game. He didn't stand a chance.
On the second drive, the already tender knee was again injured, the first of several times on the day. "My knee kind of buckled," said Griffin. "Scared me a little bit."
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He added: "I don't feel like me being out there hurt the team in any way."
Griffin is a competitive monster. He's also delusional. This is what competitive monsters sometimes are. Griffin took a massive beating as a stadium and national television audience simultaneously shouted to take Griffin out of the game. Having guts is one thing. Stupidity is another. Everyone could see that Griffin's bum right knee had transformed him into a car crash dummy. Everyone, apparently, except Shanahan.
Then, disaster struck. Late in the game, Griffin's knee turned awkwardly (again). This time it was as if you could see the ligaments and joints crunching and twisting in real time, the way Earth and buildings shift during a tremor. It was a shock this hadn't happened before that moment. The medical staff removed Griffin and he was out of the game.
This is one of those instances when a play, a moment, eclipses the contest, even a playoff game like this one. This dilemma has plagued coaches, and the sport, since football's birth. How long do you allow an injured, tough player to be, well, injured and tough, before protecting that player from himself?
This was an easy test to pass yet Shanahan failed miserably. Washington lost to Seattle, 24-14, for one reason and one reason only: the complete mismanagement of Griffin by Shanahan. Griffin should have been benched at halftime (at the latest), and the fact Shanahan didn't do it was terrible judgment.
In an epic and rambling postgame press conference, Shanahan essentially agreed, stating he should have pulled Griffin sooner.
Said Shanahan: "... very tough decision and you have to go with your gut. I'm not saying my gut's always right but I've been there before."
He later added: "I'll probably second guess myself especially [about] the second half ... I think everybody could see after the first quarter that he wasn't exactly the same."
Everyone, it seemed, except Shanahan.
"It's obvious to everybody he wasn't a hundred percent," said linebacker London Fletcher.
"It was hard to watch RG3 tonight," said Seattle's Pete Carroll.
"That's an awkward conversation," said Griffin, asked about how the in-game injury discussion went. "The head coach asking if you're OK and you saying you're OK."
"If he had pulled me out," said Griffin, "I would have been highly upset."
The medical staff looked at Griffin when the Redskins were leading 14-0 and cleared him to play but this isn't necessarily about medical issues. It's about effectiveness issues. Coaches are paid to make these kinds of decisions for the betterment of the team and Shanahan didn't make the right one.
There was proof at almost every part of the game that Griffin shouldn't have been on the field. On one deep pass that right knee clearly had difficulty generating stability and power on a deep ball that was intercepted (despite Griffin saying it didn't). The football floated lightly into the sky with no power as if it was thrown by Mark Sanchez in a tropical storm.
One of the game's mighty arms had been weakened by an injured wheel. One of the league's Supermen had become ordinary. On a run in the fourth quarter, going to his left, Griffin ran like a pregnant yak.
Griffin should be applauded for his naked perseverance but there's no way Griffin was even 50 percent. Washington jumped to a 14-0 lead, true, but did so mostly on a stiff running game, and as the physical, scrum-filled contest went on, Griffin was battered like a piñata, his game deteriorating by the second. Keep in mind, also, that backup Kirk Cousins is no Joe Webb.
Seattle took advantage of Griffin's inability to make basic runs and throws, eventually scoring 24 unanswered points, and outgained Washington 271 yards to 38 in the second and third quarters. The Seahawks were basically able to ride their defense and sit back and enjoy the insane clown show put on by Shanahan.
The handling of Griffin came under intense scrutiny even before the game when the Washington team physician, Dr. James Andrews, told USA Today that he never got a chance to examine Griffin after the initial injury. Shanahan said he and Andrews did have discussions about the injury after the game which is not exactly a denial of Andrews' remarks.
This was one huge mess and marred what was a fantastic finish to the season by Washington. Griffin was determined and tough, if not wrong.
While Shanahan was horribly mistaken.