A Tale of Two Washington Teams: Redskins vs. Nationals

Kevin ShayContributor IIIJanuary 7, 2013

Mike Shanahan should not be criticzed for playing RGIII too long in a key playoff game, but for not revamping the game plan once Griffin started limping.
Mike Shanahan should not be criticzed for playing RGIII too long in a key playoff game, but for not revamping the game plan once Griffin started limping.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

On one hand, the Washington Nationals management was criticized for coddling star pitcher Stephen Strasburg last season and not letting him pitch in the playoffs, when the team really needed him.

Some said that was a key factor in the Nationals losing their first and only playoff series in October against the St. Louis Cardinals.

On the other hand, some of those same critics are castigating Washington Redskins management for not coddling star quarterback Robert Griffin III enough this season. They say Griffin should have been pulled from Sunday's playoff game much earlier and should not have played the week after suffering a concussion earlier in the season.

I agree with the concussion argument. Anytime an athlete suffers a concussion, a one-game rest should be automatic. That's a no-brainer, which is what the athlete could have if you keep playing him with a concussion.

But I don't agree that the Redskins played Griffin too long Sunday. This is the playoffs, and the Redskins had a legitimate shot to get to the Super Bowl in a season that did not see a dominant team in the NFC. When a team has such a shot, they have to go with the players who brought them there as long as they are able.

Redskins management understands the concept of going for broke when there is a title shot that may not ever come again. Nationals management does not. That's why the media and fans should not criticize the Redskins' decision to have kept calling RG3's number.

However, the play-calling is to be questioned. I attended the Redskins-Seahawks game and it was clear that Griffin was limping late in the first quarter after a goal line play. He stayed in and threw a touchdown pass to make the score, 13-0.

At that point, Mike Shanahan and his staff needed to change the game plan to rely more on runningback Alfred Morris, who had gained 49 yards on eight carries in the first quarter alone. But Morris was only called on three times in both the second and third quarters.

With Washington still up, 14-13, late in the third quarter and the defense needing some rest, Morris' number was not even called on one three-and-out. Morris had only eight carries over the final three quarters after the Skins held a two-touchdown lead. He should have been pounding the ball on almost every play.

Like the Nationals did in Game 5 of the ALDS, the Redskins jumped out to a big lead. But strategy decisions more than anything spelled doom for both teams and allowed St. Louis and Seattle to get back in the games. The Washington teams lacked a killer instinct, which is necessary to hold a big lead in a playoff atmosphere.

You would think teams with veteran coaches who have won titles before would know how to close out playoff games. But Shanahan---like Davey Johnson---were not ready when it counted this season.

It's weird that the playoffs ended in a similar fashion for the Redskins and Nationals after both teams overachieved in the regular season. The difference is that each team made it in different fashions, with one team coddling its star and the other team letting their star play until his leg literally snapped.

While that leaves some fans feeling like the last loss was fine since they did not expect to be there in the first place, it leaves others feeling like their teams really missed a huge opportunity. And the future for both teams remains as queasy as ever.