The Washington Redskins did the right thing when they sat RGIII against Cleveland, the week after the Baltimore game in which he injured his right knee. They did the right thing in the weeks that followed by altering their offensive game plan to fit RGIII’s new and temporary limitations. Now Coach Mike Shanahan is getting buried in criticism for not having pulled the kid in Sunday’s playoff loss to Seattle despite being obviously injured. I think some understanding of both men is in order.
What if the kid had been able to rally the Skins to a game-tying touchdown? Would the critics still be piling on Shanahan? Doubtful- which says to me a lot of this outrage is less about RGIII and more about a decision that may have cost the Redskins the game. And the outrage comes chock-full of hindsight. Who knew a bad snap from center would cause Griffin to awkwardly hyperextend the knee again on the god-forsaken mud hole that passes for turf at FedEx Field?
From a competitive standpoint, I think most will agree RGIII should have been pulled in the 2nd half after a 9-yard run out of bounds in which he basically dragged his right leg along like it was hanging by a thread. That looked alarming. But Shanahan is nothing if not loyal. The most compelling argument RGIII made at half-time to convince the coach he should keep playing was his insistence that he had earned the right to stay in there and give it his best shot. To me that’s indisputable. The kid, through most of 15 games did everything humanly possible to earn the right to stay in there.
But was it misplaced loyalty? Does the Head Coach have an obligation to overrule a competitive player who will always say he’s healthy enough to play whether he is or not? Yes and Shanahan admits it. He says he trusted his gut on this but that his gut isn’t always right and that he would, indeed, second-guess himself over the decision.
Even RGIII admits he endangered himself when he continued playing after having tweaked the knee just before his 2nd TD pass in the 1st quarter. But this was the playoffs. You think RGIII was the only player out there playing hurt? When Kirk Gibson came in to pinch-hit for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the bottom of the 9th inning of a World Series game when Gibson could barely stand, much less walk, did people think that was abusing the athlete? Of course not. Because he hit a homerun that won the game.
It turns out RGIII is not indestructible but is, in fact, all too human. Both in his stubbornness and his physical health. Mike Shanahan is human too. I would argue, if anything, he put his loyalty to his QB above the strategic dynamics needed to win that game. And in retrospect- yes- he made the wrong decision. But I don’t think he deserves to be vilified or fired for it.
Everyone will learn from this and especially RGIII and Mike Shanahan, There is a point where steely determination and sheer grit begin to provide diminishing returns. RGIII will learn to be a little less reckless. Coach Shanahan now knows there will be times where he’ll have to stop RG from being his own worst enemy.
What I can’t stop thinking about, is the cruelty of fate and the vulnerability of even the most talented and ferocious of athletes. I will never forget the Skins game against the Minnesota Vikings this year when Griffin scored on a 78 yard touchdown run. His Olympic-class speed was breathtaking to behold. It was the longest scoring run by an NFL quarterback in 16 years. Griffin piled up 138 yards rushing that day.
And then I picture the botched snap from center on Sunday when the same gifted athlete could not bend down and pick up a dropped football without collapsing in a heap on the muddy turf.
Because of his work ethic and desire, however bad this knee injury turns out to be- it will be overcome. He may never be able to run again like we saw with astonishment this season- but he will be back and 80% of Robert Griffin III is way better than 100% of most others.
But painful lesson, indeed, for both he and his coach. None of it should take away from the amazing, ridiculously unexpected result of this Redskins season when a 22-year-old man/child led a 3-6 team to a divisional title through guts, leadership, and, yes, ironically, the kind of unflinching toughness that ultimately cost them in the end.
I’m in favor of a lack of stability at the Quarterback position. That’s right. Especially if you root for a very average football team that has no proven QB- forget this business about establishing consistency at the position. I say shuffle ‘em in and out like a revolving door.
Everybody in Redskin nation is waiting for Wednesday to see if Washington Head Coach, Mike Shanahan, will appoint John Beck to succeed Rex Grossman, who, regrettably, is one of those people who thinks he’s much better than he really is.
After throwing four largely inexplicable interceptions against the Eagles Sunday, in his post-game comments, Grossman blamed his receivers for two of them. And then he said he has faith in himself even if the fans don’t- even if the coaches don’t. See, I would argue the fans and the coaches are key constituencies. Take them out of the equation and all you have left, really, are your wife and your dog. Lose the fans and the coaches and I would consider it a big red flag.
Rex has taken much criticism over the years because he has a tendency to give the ball to the other team, which goes against the basic principle that you try to score more points than your opponent. He pretty much averages two turnovers in every single game he’s ever played. If he’s not throwing passes directly into the hands of surprised but grateful defensive players, he’s coughing the ball up like my cats pass hairballs. Actually, statistically, Grossman is even worse this year than his pedestrian career average.
Here’s another analogy. In college football, coaches change quarterbacks like my girlfriend changes outfits prior to a night out on the town. A lot. The NFL should be no different, especially if, like the Redskins, you only have mediocre quarterback talent to choose from in the first place. And if truth be told, my girlfriend has better outfits than the Redskins have good quarterbacks.
So if your quarterback throws an interception that’s not his fault, a defensive player has made a great play or your receiver accidently tips the ball to the defender- he should get a mulligan. But the first time he appears to have mistaken the colors of the uniforms and hands the bad guys a gift- like Grossman did repeatedly Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles- take him out. In with the next guy. If he sucks, pull him out too and go to the third guy. If he sucks, and you don’t have a 4th guy, go back to the 1st guy. One of them is bound to get hot sometime.
I would not favor this strategy if we had a real quarterback. I do understand the virtues of stability. If you’re John Elway, you get to throw a few bone-headed interceptions- but only because you’ve thrown twice as many touchdowns. But Rex Grossman? John Beck? Jonathan Crompton? Completely replaceable and interchangeable. Hockey does it with goalies. Baseball does it with pitchers. And the Redskins ought to do it with their quarterbacks. Especially these quarterbacks.
“I understand this game. I understand how it works.” The words of Redskins head coach, Mike Shanahan after Sunday’s losing but inspired effort against the Cowboys. If only he understood diplomacy and basic human decency as much as he understands football.
The much-maligned Rex Grossman threw four TD passes as he rallied the Redskins from a 20-point 3rd quarter deficit. He also threw two interceptions and fumbled but he did seem to validate the coach’s suspicions that Donovan McNabb was a square peg in a round hole. If you check your brain and instincts at the door and just follow Kyle Shanahan’s game plan- it seems to work. At least it did for one game.
So chalk one up for the system. Who the heck brought McNabb in here in the first place? Fire that guy. The guy who gave up precious draft picks for a player the head coach was forced to give up on. Oh- Mike Shanahan did that.
Couldn’t he have benched McNabb earlier in the week? Did he have to humiliate the guy who was introduced to us all as the second coming just a few months ago? Do we need all this damn drama all the damn time?
Now if he could just find 11 Rex Grossman’s who fit into the 3-4 defense…because the current squad doesn’t have a clue. And this crystallizes what is really going on here. The Shanahan’s have systems for both the offense and the defense. They are completely unwilling to change or alter their systems for the talent they have. It’s the only way to explain why they took a top-10 defense and turned it into the single worst defensive squad in the NFL. It’s the only way to explain why 6-time pro-bowler, Donovan McNabb turned out sub-par. They never let him be Donovan.
So how long before we reach the promised land? Well, we have a very stubborn Shanahan clan that does it their way. If their system works, we’ll only know with their guys, not the players from previous failed regimes. All they have to do is stock up the team with their 47 guys. At about 7 draft picks a year, this could be a lengthy process.
It seems to me that in a transitionary period, you implement what you can of your “systems” and compromise a little bit to maximize what you do have in your personnel. This is a foreign concept to Team Shanahan. The result- another lost season. And probably at least two more before this rebuilding process begins to show results.
And I still like Donovan McNabb. I like his intelligence and his style and his temperament. I think he could have worked here if the Shanahan’s had just let him be. If the next team he goes to gives him that latitude, he may well end up being one of the many, many cases of players let go by the Redskins who end up reborn and rededicated somewhere else. I’ll be rooting for him.
As for the “my way or the highway” Shanahan’s- good luck. I’ll root for you guys too. But the cheering would feel a lot better if you could exhibit a little class to go along with all the football smarts.
I’m trying to find the method behind the madness. When Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan benched his star quarterback for his back-up, Rex Grossman with 2 minutes to play and the Skins behind by six, he sent a message- but to what end and at what cost?
Let’s face it, Donovan McNabb has been inconsistent. He looks horrible at times and then all of a sudden connects on a 50 yard bomb. Regardless of how bad he played Sunday, he was the guy you wanted in there to lead the team on the final drive.
But I understand Shanahan’s impatience. The previous two drives were maddening. McNabb threw an interception into triple coverage when the Skins had a five point lead and were trying to kill clock. The next series was 4 and out and ended with an inglorious sack. Forget what Shanahan said after the game that Grossman knows the terminology and the playbook better. He simply had had it with McNabb.
Remember, this is a guy who coached John Elway in his prime and walked away with two Super bowl victories. He knows a great quarterback when he sees one and McNabb for as much as a leader as he is and for as much as his raw skills can produce sudden lightening- he’s no John Elway. Shanahan has seen the kind of quarterback is takes to win it all.
In retrospect, it seems Shanahan was willing to sacrifice one-sixteenth of the season to make a point. Besides being disillusioned, he might have been trying to light a fire in his star quarterback for the rest of the season. In baseball, you can sacrifice one contest and it’s not that big a deal since you play 162 games. But you only have 16 chances for victory in an NFL season. That was a mighty big sacrifice in order to make a point.
Now facing a bye week, there are two full weeks of second-guessing ahead of us. Two weeks for players to consider what it is that occurred with their on-field leader. Two weeks of shaken confidence to rebuild and fix.
And in that sudden, rash, seemingly emotionally-based decision, it also sealed the end of the McNabb era in Washington. There is no way that man is coming back to Washington having been dissed by his coach and with an offensive line that is so porous, McNabb may not physically survive another year in the nation’s capital.
Maybe three years from now, it will all make sense- after the Skins have rebuilt around some new free agent quarterback or a whiz-kid draft pick. Then we may realize that in that first year of the Shanahan era, McNabb was never meant to be the savior, just the stop-gap solution that made the team semi-respectable.
But right now, it seems like a petulant decision that may end up costing the Redskins what confidence they have, a possible playoff spot, and in McNabb, a pretty classy guy who will likely join Shanahan some day in the Hall of Fame. Probably the only place in which they will ever be able to peaceably coexist.
They certainly aren’t going to dominate the NFL, but “finding a way to win,” as Coach Shanahan described Sunday night’s victory over the Cowboys- has been a lost art for the Redskins for about 15 years. What they lack in talent they seem to be making up in character.
– The Redskins did not win the game because of luck or a bad call. Tony Romo would have been flat on his back spitting his teeth out like chicklets if Cowboy substitute offensive lineman, Alex Barron hadn’t mugged Skins linebacker Brian Orakpo. That’s why Romo completed the pass.
– It’s nice to see the other team doing stupid things, like the inexplicable Dallas screen pass with 4 seconds left in the 1st half that was supposed to somehow turn into a 64-yard miracle play. Well, ok, it was a miracle when DeAngelo Hall stripped the ball and recovered the fumble he caused and cruised into the end zone. Just not the miracle the Pokes were looking for. Nice front-flip, DeAngelo.
– I like the burgandy and gold uniforms. They were discontinued in 1991 because Skins GM, Bobby Beathard thought after two decades, they had grown rather boring. This was the home uniform under George Allen. The colors Jurgenson wore.
– Amendment to the old rule that you never take points off the board. When the Skins accepted a Cowboy’s offsides penalty after hitting a field goal- it made sense to keep the drive alive. What you’re not supposed to do- is blow a chip-shot field goal by making a bad snap.
– They blew some coverages in the 4th quarter that turned into near disaster, but, overall, the Skins defense is tough and aggressive. See the Baltimore Ravens for teams that won a Superbowl with no offense and a great defense.
– Mike Shanahan is a true leader. My life as a football fan has often revolved as much around the head coach as the players. Only reason I’m a Redskins fan is because I discovered in 1969, that I really wasn’t a Packers fan- I was a Vince Lombardi fan. As soon as Lombardi came to DC- that’s when I started rooting for the Redskins. Mike Shanahan is the kind of no-nonsense, character-first Head Coach that is easy to root for. What the Redskins have lacked for years, is a coach who demands hard work, loyalty and discipline. Vince Lombardi, Joe Gibbs and George Allen had those qualities. Cannot say the same for the parade of losers that have run this team other than those three. Shanahan is right up there in my book.
– I don’t expect the Skins to make the playoffs, but 8-8-0 is a hell of a lot better than 4-12-0. Really- as a long-suffering Skins fan, all I ask is that the team leave us with at least a little dignity. Mondays are always better when you don’t have to come back to work wearing a paper bag over your head.
Who were those guys wearing Redskins jerseys last night at Fedex Field? Somebody call the cops because there’s been a massive kidnapping. About 80 guys pretending to be football players have been abducted and replaced by 80 guys who seem to know what they’re doing.
I know, I know, it was just an exhibition game- the first one, at that. And against a Buffalo Bills team that’s not the greatest club in the NFL-but still. 42-17?
OMG- we have a real quarterback! Two, actually! And old Donovan McNabb; he not only read defenses and completed clutch passes- he had SPEED. He did stuff like outrun defenders.
Back-up Quarteback, Rex Grossman was even better; 61% completetion rate, 2 touchdowns and a 122.5 passer rating. Do you realize both those QB’s have started Super Bowls?
What is going on here?
And unlike me, if you actually have a life and went out on a Friday night and missed the game…you need to know about this rookie named Brandon Banks. His 77-yard punt return for a touchdown was positively electric. It was apparently not a fluke either because he did that sort of thing all the time in college. And Coach Shanahan says the kid is actually a great reciever too.
Ah, Coach Shanahan. Mike Shanahan. I love this man. Not only does he inspire, not only does he know what he’s doing, not only has he whipped this previously sorry lot of a football team into shape…he succeeded in humiliating Albert Haynesworth throughout training camp! That alone makes him my hero. Albert played nose tackle last night, by the way. That’s the position he hates so much he was willing to risk becoming the most villified player in the NFL by dissing his own team most of the summer.
In his post-game press conference, Shanahan didn’t gush for a single second. I may not realize it, but he seems to totally understand this really was just one lousy exhibition game…and he pointed out all the stuff the Skins did wrong in their thrashing of the Bills and somberly stated there’s still a lot to work on. OMG- a ball coach who’s a leader of men!
But wait- there’s more.
We have a defensive coordinator in Jim Haslett who’s a former head coach- and he looks damn well like he knows what he’s doing too! The Redskins intercepted, like, two passes!
And let’s not forget Mike Shanahan’s son, Kyle. He’s the offensive coordinator and play-caller. Dad said he would never hire his son until he had proven himself with other football teams. So the kid took over the Houston Texans offense last year as the youngest offensive coordinator in the game and turned them into the #4 ranked unit in the NFL. At 30, he’s four years younger than Donovan McNabb- but damn if he doesn’t lool like he knows what he’s doing too!
And as for Daniel Snyder, the Redskins owner who presided over the decade-long destruction of one of the legendary teams in football; the guy whose team banned fans from bringing signs to games, sued their own fans in the middle of a recession when they couldn’t pay up for their season tickets, that released blocks of said tickets to web-site scalpers…my I-hate-Dan-Snyder meter is beginning to ever-so-slowly turn toward “ambivalent.” Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever turn ambivalent over Daniel Snyder.
Damn. I may have to find a new villain.