4. Leaving Robert Griffin III in the game
Up ‘til now, I have focused on behind-the-scenes management decisions. This one was an on-the-field call that still haunts the franchise. In 2010, Snyder had again convinced a storied veteran coach to take the reins in Washington. This time it was Mike Shanahan, who brought his son Kyle and a host of promising young football minds to his staff.
They decided to roll the dice on Robert Griffin III, the dynamic quarterback from Baylor. They paid a steep price to be able to draft him. In 2012, RGIII had one of the greatest rookie seasons an NFL quarterback had ever produced. In a year that saw extraordinary performances from Adrian Peterson and Peyton Manning, Griffin was a legitimate contender for MVP. He settled for Rookie of the Year.
Late in the season, RGIII would suffer a knee injury against the eventual Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens. He had to leave the game and also missed the following week. Fellow rookie Kirk Cousins performed well in relief.
Griffin returned to action in Week 16, and then led Washington into its first-round playoff game against Seattle. That game, on Jan. 6, 2013, would prove to be a turning point in Washington football history.
With a mostly healthy Griffin on the field, Washington dominated the first quarter. They got out to a 14-0 lead. Then Griffin suffered another hit on his knee and was noticeably diminished. But Shanahan left him in the game. It was obvious to anyone watching that Griffin could no longer function. But Shanahan left him in the game. The offense sputtered and Seattle rookie QB Russell Wilson gradually pulled his team even and then ahead. And still SHANAHN LEFT HIM IN THE GAME.
Until the fourth quarter, when a badly hobbled Griffin took one bad step and his knee exploded. He would never be the same player.
The entire Snyder/Shanahan/Griffin debacle would play out another year. It was a petty power struggle, and no one, including the quarterback, was free of blame. I generally place the most blame for the entire situation on Snyder, whose desire to be friendly with his star players created a hierarchy which undermined his coach. But in this one specific instance, it falls on Shanahan. During the game, he was the grown-up in the room whose job it was to tell RGIII he could not stay on the field. He failed to do that, and it cost the franchise dearly.
I don’t know if Kirk Cousins could have preserved that lead against Seattle. If he did, I don’t know if RGIII would have been healthy enough to return the following week. We’ll never know. We are left with what did happen… and it was a disaster.