It Wasn’t Supposed to End Like This
LANDOVER, Md. — Robert Griffin III found his new wife, Rebecca, just after midnight in an area underneath FedEx Field where water-cooler refill jugs are stacked from the floor to the ceiling.
Their two-door silver sports car was parked there with its headlights on, waiting for Griffin to emerge from the locker room. As the Washington quarterback loaded his backpack into the trunk, a team staffer offered a one-armed hug to Rebecca, who gladly obliged. For the next few minutes Griffin largely gestured with his arms as he talked to his wife. He’d spent the last half-hour doing a postmortem on the bizarre officiating mix-up at the end of his team’s 24-17 loss to the Giants, so Griffin may have been going over the sequence with her.
More in need of a postmortem, though, is Washington’s 2013 season.
There are still games to be played, of course, but last night’s loss was the final stroke to knock the team out of playoff contention—one year after Griffin, before his right knee bent like Gumby’s in the playoffs, led it to an NFC East crown.
There was some unfortunate dissymmetry to yesterday’s game, in that Washington faced the Giants here in primetime almost exactly one year ago, earning a 17-16 win that threatened to change the NFC East power balance both short- and long-term. Griffin had a 46-yard run that night, which showcased his speed and the read-option craze. Both, we have been reminded with each of the five primetime Washington losses this season, have been greatly tempered in 2013.
Instead of reaching 10 wins like last season, Washington’s trying not to get to 10 losses. Insists Griffin, “I just think we’re too good to be a 10-loss football team. Other people will look at it and say, ‘That’s what we are,’ and think guys are going to quit. But like I told them after the game, I’ll go to war with any of them.”
A plea to hold the ship together, even if the ship isn’t going anywhere this season? You could see why. Signs of frustration bubbled to the surface last night: Pierre Garçon kicking the football after an incomplete third-down pass to the end zone, followed by an animated sideline discussion with Griffin. Or, left tackle Trent Williams shouting out “F---!” to no one in particular as he walked toward the locker room at the end of the game. “Just mad,” he said a few minutes later.
Washington could have beaten the Giants; it jumped out to a 14-0 lead, it also held a three-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter, and got the ball back with 2:32 left in the game and needing a touchdown to tie. That’s when the odd officiating error happened, the crew incorrectly moving the chains after a second-down completion inside the two-minute warning. The down-and-distance was officially 3rd-and-1, but Washington called and ran a play assuming first-and-10 (a deep middle shot to tight end Fred Davis), because coach Mike Shanahan said that’s what the officials told him.
On the next down, with the clock continuing to run, Washington adjusted from a second-and-10 to a fourth-and-1 call with about 18 seconds left on the play clock. The plays would have worked—except Davis dropped the pass thrown his way, and on the fourth-and-1 quick hitch, Garçon let Will Hill rip the ball away from him for the game-ending turnover. At times it’s felt like this team has forgotten how to win, and defensive tackle Barry Cofield admits, “Sometimes you take it for granted.”
During training camp in Richmond, Va., one staffer noted how adoring fans swelled the complex daily to watch practice—and catch a glimpse of the most appealing football players to come to the Beltway in years. Last night the stands were dotted with empty seats at kickoff of a game against a division rival.
The Griffin of 2012, with a 65.6 completion percentage and Olympic hurdler’s speed, seemed destined to change the game. The Griffin of 2013 has been a case study in unrealistic (or unrealized) hopes, with everything from the viability of his knee, to his relationship with coaches and teammates, to his ability as a pocket passer, to his father’s appearance in the post-game locker room last week, considered factors in Washington’s letdown.
“It’s been a tough year not just for him, but for everybody, with the high expectations coming into the season. We haven’t lived up to those,” says linebacker London Fletcher.
Those expectations were officially unfulfilled last night, after which Griffin got inside his car and sat there with Rebecca for about 10 minutes. Finally, Rebecca, in the driver’s seat, made two left turns to exit the stadium. At the top of the tunnel there was a surprising reception: A small group of fans waiting in the cold, some wearing No. 10 jerseys. When the Griffins drove past, the fans let out a cheer—perhaps for the past, or the future, but at least a reprieve from the present.