ASHBURN, Va. -- Mike Shanahan said it during his press conference, but for a different reason. In a couple years Robert Griffin III will look back on Shanahan's decision to bench him for the remainder of the season and view it differently than he does now, as something he's glad happened.
Maybe he’s right. Maybe Griffin will see it that way, especially if he accomplishes what he wants to in the offseason. I was in favor of Griffin playing the final three games because of the need for him to get as many reps as possible.
I also know, from watching and rewatching the games, that Griffin left a lot of plays on the field and if Shanahan’s desire was to see someone else -- not as a guy for the future, but for now -- then you could justify a move. You’d see Griffin make strides like he did against the New York Giants, then you’d see a game like Kansas City in which he once again stared down receivers, showed inconsistent mechanics and was inaccurate. Three of the past four games weren’t good ones. He’s also not the only young quarterback enduring these growing pains -- Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck endured a four-game stretch in which he tossed two touchdowns to five interceptions.
(Note: No, it was not all Griffin’s fault because the line failed to pick up blitzes, whether from missed assignments or blown calls. And the receivers don’t always get open. But for Griffin to improve he’ll have to recognize his part. I think he does.)
Nonetheless, the way Griffin handles this situation will also help him in the long run, if he does it right. If anyone thinks he’s entitled, then here’s his chance to show up each day, work hard and be supportive during a difficult time. An entitled player will behave a certain way, pouting or bad-mouthing a decision. If anyone thinks he’s not a leader, then here’s Griffin's chance to show that he's about the team and not the “RGIII Show.” Don’t be divisive. My strong guess is that Griffin understands this; he’s about projecting images and he’ll have to know teammates are watching to see what he does next.
His news conference was an excellent start (as the Washington Post’s Jason Reid also wrote). Griffin was deflated, dispirited and a whole lot of other words. But he said all the right things. Actions speak louder than words, of course, but this was a good way to start. During practice, while performing individual work, he didn’t look any different than usual.
There has to be a big part of him that also thinks, “Three more games.” The state of his relationship with Shanahan (and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan), has been oft-stated. Griffin’s smart; he knows what will likely happen after the season. If it does, then Griffin will be freed to move forward without certain headaches (not blaming one side, but it’s the state of the relationship). Of course if it doesn’t happen, which would be surprising at this point (but it’s Washington, anything can happen), then a lot must be repaired. Last year everyone wondered how Griffin would recover from his injury. Now it'll be about recovering from this season.
Say what you want about Griffin and paint him however you’d like, but even when Griffin doesn’t like what he’s being asked to do, he still does it. This situation is the same way. That’s why he won’t be doing a Bruce Smith and running to the owner to complain. Griffin said he hasn’t talked to Dan Snyder.
“No, I haven’t and that’s a whole other deal but I haven’t talked to him -- never talk to him about that kind of stuff. It’s Mike’s decision. He’s the head coach,” Griffin said.
But, again, actions are more important. If Griffin is smart, he’ll keep a low profile about this situation and just work. We don’t need any leaks from his “camp” which needs to maintain the same low profile. Everyone’s watching; take the high road. For teammates it starts in the meeting rooms and practice.
“I think that’s just a state of mind and that’s why I’ll do everything I can after practice to continue to get reps, continue to work on technique, work on everything that goes into being a quarterback,” Griffin said. “Part of being a quarterback is helping your team and that’s what I have to do in this instance. Anyway that I can I have to try to help this team win and I will.”
He’ll just have to do it in street clothes during a game. Ultimately he’ll be judged by his on-field performance and that’s where Griffin must focus in the offseason, which he will. But opinions can be formed, or cemented, during a time like this. It’s a chance for him to establish what he’s really about. Those little sayings are fine when you’re on top, do you adhere to them when you’re not?
Teammates will be watching. He says he feels their support.
“Just talking to the guys I do believe I have that sentiment from the guys and that’s big for me,” Griffin said. “As a player, as a quarterback you want to make sure that the guys in that locker room have your back and I think they do.”
Regardless of who’s coaching, all eyes will again be on Griffin to see how he recovers from this season, this experience. His first step was a good one.