It was an innocuous question, one Mike Shanahan could've answered any number of ways. Instead, the Redskins coach who found himself the target of criticism in January for letting his already-hobbled rookie quarterback continue playing on what would ultimately lead to a torn ACL, championed Robert Griffin III's recuperative powers with a remark that will likely lead to more criticism.
In an interview with NFL Network's Kimberly Jones, who began by asking "How's [RG3] doing, do you check in with him?" Shanahan offered this: "Oh, yeah. He's at the facility, rehabbing all the time. He'll set a record for coming back because that's how hard he works."
And it's those six words at the beginning of the last sentence -- "He'll set a record for coming back" -- that make it seem like Shanahan has learned nothing these last three months.
It all started Sunday night, Jan. 6, when Shanahan faced the media following the Redskins' loss to the Seahawks in the wild-card round. On the game's second drive, Griffin was slow to get up and it would've surprised no one had the coach turned to rookie backup Kirk Cousins, who had played well in spot duty during the regular season.
Instead, as Shanahan would explain, RG3 convinced the coach he was good to go -- right up until his knee gave way two quarters later and his season ended with him writhing on the FedEx Field turf.
"(During the game) I talked to Robert and Robert said to me, 'Coach, there's a difference between injured and being hurt," Shanahan said at the time, justifying his decision to stick with his hobbled quarterback. "I guarantee I'm hurting right now, gimme a chance to win this football game because I guarantee I'm not injured.' So that was enough for me."
"I thought he did enough for us this year to have that opportunity to stay in the football game," the coach continued. "It's always a tough decision, when to pull a guy, when not to. But I talked to him at halftime and I had to feel good about him to go back in. And I told him we're gonna run the football and you're gonna have to prove (it) to me. As I said before, he said today, 'Hey, trust me. I wanna be in there and deserve to be in there.' And I couldn't disagree with him."
The result: a torn ACL and an offseason full of rehab.
But this wasn't the first time Shanahan had been questioned for how he handled his star quarterback.
In Week 14, Griffin suffered a sprained knee against the Ravens. He returned briefly before the pain forced him to the sidelines for good. But according to team doctor and noted orthopedic specialist Dr. James Andrews, RG3 was never cleared to go back in the game.
"[Griffin] didn't even let us look at him," Andrews told USA Today at the time. "He came off the field, walked through the sidelines, circled back through the players and took off back to the field. It wasn't our opinion. We didn't even get to touch him or talk to him. Scared the hell out of me."
Andrews' remarks contradicted what Shanahan said after the Week 14 game.
"We had Dr. Andrews on the sideline with us," the coach said back in December. "He's the one that gives me the information. It's way over my head. I'm just telling you what he said. We felt very good with the news."
Andrews would call the mix-up a communication problem -- "Coach Shanahan didn't lie about it, and I didn't lie about it," the doctor said several weeks later -- but it raised questions about how far coaches and players are willing to go to win.
While Shanahan would be better off saying nothing, Andrews should probably heed the same advice.
Two weeks ago, the doctor called Griffin's recovery "superhuman," comparing it to Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who returned from an ACL injury in December 2011 to rush for 2,097 yards last season.
"They have an unbelievable ability to recover, where as a normal human being may not be able to recover," Andrews said moments after conceding, "I've been real mum on talking too much about RG3. He wants his recovery to be fairly private."
To Shanahan's credit, he often qualifies remarks about Griffin's rehabilitation with the understanding that the quarterback won't return to the field "until he's 100 percent." The coach said that last month and reiterated it last week.
It's just that that message sometimes gets lost in the other, inane Shanahan sound bites that lead to second-guessing and predictable Twitter ridicule:
If Mike Shanahan were coaching Louisville, Kevin Ware might've started today.— Norman Chad (@NormanChad) April 6, 2013
The reality is this: Griffin may be making superhuman progress in his rehab but there's a reason the Redskins currently have four quarterbacks on the roster (including the recently signed Pat White and Rex Grossman). No one -- RG3, Shanahan or Andrews -- knows when Washington's franchise quarterback will be ready to return to action. Until then, it's probably best to say nothing. Unless Shanny really is angling for some kind of award for RG3's speedy recovery.