In their first playoff game in five years, the Washington Redskins lost to the Seattle Seahawks, 24-14. But there's little talk about the game itself because of the team's decision to keep Robert Griffin III on the field even though he'd aggravated his knee injury in the first quarter. The results of that decision -- the lack of offensive production and the grotesquely buckled knee on Griffin's final play -- will be debated throughout the offseason.
In obvious pain and with a serious limp that robbed him of his usual speed and acceleration, Griffin did his best to lead Washington's offense. Those efforts failed: Washington didn't score after that second drive -- the one where Griffin tweaked his knee.
In the game's aftermath, the debate seems to have settled along these lines:
Griffin should have been pulled -- He was in pain, ineffective and Kirk Cousins had proven himself a competent backup.
Honestly, there's good arguments to be made on either side. Yes, Griffin was ineffective, but how many times have we seen an offense struggle for several possessions in a row and then abruptly move the ball down the field for a score? Yes, even with an injured QB.
Expecting head coach Mike Shanahan to pull Griffin from a game in which the team had the lead is too big a leap. Heck, probably for any coach. The football culture prizes toughness over nearly anything else. Griffin said he could play, and while he wasn't playing to his usual standards, how does the coach decide it's because of injury and not because the opposing defense is really frigging good?
One of the problems with all the criticism Shanahan and Griffin is that much of it is based on the outcome. If the Redskins had won, Griffin's toughness and courage would become the stuff of legend. He hurts his knee and the team loses, and the coach is irresponsible and the player selfish.
This sort of outcome-based evaluation is what leads decision-makers to wrong conclusions. It's akin to praising Jordan Crawford for making a thirty foot jumper with 18 seconds still on the shot clock. The fact that it went in doesn't make it a good shot.
Similarly, the fact that Washington lost and that Griffin hurt his knee doesn't necessarily mean that playing him was the wrong decision. A good way to think about this is to honestly ask ourselves whether our thinking would change if the outcome was different. I suspect that much of the criticism would disappear had the Redskins won.
All that said, the Redskins would be wise to spend some time evaluating the process they used to make the decision to leave Griffin in the game. What information did the coaches have? Did the coaches need additional information? Did medical personnel have an opportunity to provide real input and advice? Where should the team's priorities be in terms of short-term goals vs. long-term outlook? And, who should get final say in a playing time decision -- coach? player? general manager? doctor?
Another important issue that arose Sunday is getting less attention, unfortunately -- the condition of the field. During the game, Washington's left guard Kory Lichtensteiger aggravated an ankle sprain, Seattle's Chris Clemons likely tore an ACL, and Griffin tweaked his knee in the first quarter and had the knee buckle on him in the fourth quarter.
On replay, each of those injuries seemed to be accompanied with poor footing on an atrocious playing surface. Clemons' toe snagged in a FedEx Field divot. Griffin's foot seemed to catch on that first quarter "tweak," and slipped on that player where his knee buckled.
The playing field is an embarrassment to one of the league's richest, most profitable franchises. I've half wondered all day whether a guy like Clemons could sue the Redskins and Dan Synder for unsafe working conditions. The awful surface made me think of Philly's Veterans Stadium and its visible seams and ridges in the field of play.
So now Skins fans wait. For news about Griffin's injury. For an offseason where they'll have to figure out how to improve the team despite an $18 million cap penalty. For some explanations about how the field could be in such shoddy condition.
My expectation is that Griffin will make a full recovery and will have a long and successful career leading the Washington Redskins. But that's for the future. For now, I'm going to savor Washington's improbable run to the playoffs. It was great while it lasted.