How RG3's sophomore season unraveled
DEC 11, 2013 8:02p ET
Robert Griffin III’s season embodied the sophomore jinx. In more than every way imaginable.
After a rookie season of reinventing the quarterback position and leading the Redskins to an NFC East championship, he has been dubbed a healthy scratch for Sunday’s game against the Falcons and the team’s remaining games. He’ll watch Kirk Cousins from the sideline in a sweatsuit with his focus turned to 2014.
“I’m sure everybody knows by now that coach decided to shut me down for the rest of the season,” Griffin told reporters Wednesday.
Head coach Mike Shanahan said he made the decision to prevent any injury to the team’s franchise quarterback. Griffin has been sacked 38 times this season, and been hit an additional 22 times in the last three weeks.
It’s not fair to blame all of the Redskins’ failures on Griffin, though. An underwhelming defense and lack of elite playmakers equate to the dismal performance that has led to a 3-10 record.
So, how did it get here? Griffin spent an offseason rehabbing his surgically-repaired right knee and embracing the newfound fame. Whether he was involved in the latest Adidas campaign, shaking hands with Barack Obama or posing for pictures with Morgan Freeman, it seemed he never turned down an opportunity for the spotlight.
If Griffin is a chess piece in a feud between Shanahan and owner Dan Snyder, he’ll benefit from an early start to the offseason. Let’s take a look at how the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner turned Rookie of the Year turned into a ring in the Washington circus.
Will he play, won't he play?
Seven and a half months after undergoing major knee surgery, Dr. James Andrews cleared Griffin to play. That was after Griffin expressed interest in returning in the preseason. Shanahan planned to ease him back into on-field activity, but the young quarterback had an itch to play.
"I don't think it's a huge step. I just think it's time to get back out there with my teammates," Griffin said in early August about his recovery process. "I've proven I can protect myself and I'm dang near close to 100 percent, so I feel good, and now I'm glad that coach feels the same way."
When Griffin was asked to elaborate, he didn't back down.
"Basically, the parts that I don't understand is that it's been fixed," he said. "The rehab process, or my reintegration into the team has been fixed without any aspect of how I'm doing personally with my knee, with my rehab.
"It's predetermined, and that's the one thing I don't understand. But like Coach said, and he's 100 percent right, I don't have to understand, I don't have to like it, but at the end of the day, if he plays me Week 1 and I'm ready to go, then I'll give him a salute and I'll go play my butt off for him."
Speculation brewed that there was a divide between player and coach and he addressed the issue on Twitter:
An over-the-top, welcome-back party didn’t go to plan. In front of the hometown fans, the Redskins could not keep up with the frenetic pace of Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles offense. Whispers began to emerge if Griffin was the same quarterback. It was his first multi-interception game of his career. It didn’t get better the next week.
Signs of improvement were apparent, but the Redskins defense had allowed an egregious amount of yards and were on pace to be one of the worst. Griffin’s Week 3 performance against the Detroit Lions is best summed up by a 21-yard scramble that ended in a head-first fumble.
"It's the rule. It can be a (bad) rule, but it's still one of the NFL rules, and they said it's a fumble," Griffin said after the 27-20 loss. "So, it's unfortunate, and I've just got to make sure if I dive forward, hold onto the ball. ... It was really unfortunate that we lost the game on two calls, two judgment calls."
Bracing for impact
Say what you want, Griffin never appeared to have the same explosion. Wide receiver Pierre Garcon pointed to other variables than his knee surgery.
“Robert obviously can't run as fast as he did last year because of his knee brace and his knee,” Garcon told ESPN 980.
"When you're walking around with a knee brace or playing with a knee brace, obviously it's slowing you down a little bit. It's just natural. I don't know how much it weighs, exactly, but you always think about it when you have it on there, and it's a constant reminder. It's not gonna let you be the guy you are without the knee brace. When you have something around your knees -- the more equipment you have on, it's obviously distracting you or slowing you down from being as free as loose as yourself without any equipment on."
One day later, Griffin would deny his teammate’s assessment and challenged him to a race.
Hurts his knee in October
The Redskins would go on to win three of their next five games. The wins came against the Matt Flynn-led Raiders, the Bears without Jay Cutler and an overtime clash with San Diego. Griffin did, however, overcome a major hurdle.
"I think mental part of it that I did get over was not thinking out on the field, just reacting," Griffin said after the 45-41 win over the Bears. "And I don't think that was anything to do with my knee, the knee brace or anything else, I just think that was for me mentally playing the game irrelevant of my injury."
Santana Moss offers criticism
A three-touchdown performance for Griffin didn’t prevent a 34-27 loss to the Vikings. He played his best game of the season, but the defense couldn’t hold up. Ten days later, the Redskins played the Eagles. After a 24-16 loss, Griffin had some comments about his receivers not being open, which forced him to throw the ball away. Veteran wide receiver Santana Moss wasn’t pleased.
“If we’re going to win games, we need to win games with our guy saying, ‘At the end of the day, I didn’t make a play,’ regardless of if it wasn’t him,” Moss said on 106.7 The Fan in Washington. “And that’s how I feel. Because that’s what we’re out there to do.
“I don’t need to be going back and forth in the media about who didn’t do this and who didn’t do what. At the end of the day, (if) I was seen with the ball in my hand last, as a quarterback, I’m saying, and if it didn’t get done then, I’m going to let you know it was me. Whether it was me or not, it was me. And I’m going to get better. And we’re going to get better together.”
Niner takes shot — off the field
Playing on Monday Night Football, Griffin had no answers for a stifling 49ers defense in a 27-6 loss. He was sacked six times and hit an additional nine times. The Redskins were 4 of 15 on third down. Putrid. To make matters exponentially worse, 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks said after the game that Griffin isn’t 100 percent.
“I don’t think he should be playing,” Brooks said. “You can see it. Everybody can see it, everybody can see it.”
While Brooks was expressing his thoughts, Griffin met with his father Robert Griffin II in the locker room, sprouting more more conversation.
“He’s a man, he has the heart of a warrior and is going to go out there and play regardless of the circumstance,” Brooks said. “Everybody can see it. Everybody can see it. He shouldn’t be playing.”
A 45-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs saw Griffin complete 46 percent of his passes and sacked another five times. Prior to kickoff, a report surfaced about a divide between Shanahan and Snyder. There is officially nothing left to play for and an every-man-for-himself attitude has arisen.
“Sometimes you have to evaluate, when you’re getting hit repeatedly, you’ve got to take a look at the risk and reward, and with Robert, I thought that his hits were piling up on him, giving him his toll, and I was afraid that we would set him back,” Shanahan said Wednesday.
Griffin has plenty of time to rest and recover. It’s in his best interest to stay focused. He dealt with adversity during his early years at Baylor. The lessons he learned in Waco can definitely apply on the NFL stage. Whoever is coaching the Redskins in 2014 will have a talented, hungry quarterback with everything to prove.