For anyone who watched last weekend’s contest between the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins, it would have been hard to miss the pain through which Washington rookie phenom Robert Griffin III played. After aggravating a knee injury he suffered weeks ago during the first quarter, Griffin stayed in the game. While game, Griffin was clearly hurt and the Redskins were defeated 24-14. With the loss, a promising Redskins season was ended and their Super Bowl hopes dashed.
Post-game diagnoses by team doctors and the omnipresent Dr. James Andrews showed the RGIII had suffered partial tears to both his ACL and LCL. These would be catastrophic injuries for any athlete, but especially for a quarterback who relies heavily on his mobility, and fans and the media were left to wonder whether the situation could have been handled differently.
Criticism was directed at two places; the organization, and coach Mike Shanahan.
For some, the key concern was RGIII’s health. Why would an organization that had given up so much (essentially three first round draft picks) to draft RGIII, a quarterback whose ceiling appears, at present, to be limitless, unnecessarily risk his long-term health for the sake of analysts lauded his toughness, it was clear that RGIII lacked the mobility to quarterback effectively.
Despite RGIII’s severe physical limitations, Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan chose to keep Griffin in the game. Though it was clear Griffin could barely play, he stayed in the game until a fourth-quarter slip buckled his knee and left him on the ground in agony. With this injury, it was clear he could no longer play, though it had come too late for back-up Kirk Cousins to salvage the winning a single game? These complaints were only amplified in light of the recent increase in awareness over player safety. A second set of concerns centered on the game itself.
Why did Griffin continue to play when it was clear his gallant, but sub-par performance was hurting the team, especially when Cousins had proven himself to be a more than capable backup earlier in the season?
In either case, the majority of the post-game criticism was directed towards Shanahan’s handling of the situation. In hindsight, it becomes relatively clear that Shanahan should have pulled Griffin after his initial injury, regardless of how vocal he was about his ability to play. And yet, for all those criticizing Shanahan’s decision-making, I would caution you to direct your blame, not towards him, but to the “win-now” environment in league in which he coaches.
In the NFL, the only thing that matters is winning; it is a “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” environment. Celebrated as he is, Mike Shanahan was under the same bright light that every other coach deals with. At the end of every season, several coaches lose their jobs. Just recently, Jacksonville’s Mike Mularkey was fired after only one season while Philadelphia’s Andy Reid was shown the door after years of winning football in that city.
The message is clear: no coach is safe if they can’t win. The Redskins, owned by Dan Snyder, one of the most impulsive men in all of pro sports, would shed no tears by cutting ties with Shanahan if they were so inclined. Even for teams that make the playoffs one year, there is no guarantee they will do so the next. Thus, each team must do whatever it can to seize every opportunity it gets, regardless of future consequences.
In short, Griffin stayed in the game, not because Shanahan was stupid or uncaring of his own players, but because when the quarterback who had taken him to playoffs adamantly told him he could play, he let him play. Shanahan gambled, and he lost in the worst way possible; he later admitted after that game that he had erred in his decision-making. But for all you Shana-haters, consider the pressure to win that he faced. To use another cliché, when the chips were down, Shanahan danced with the girl who brought him.