The Washington Redskins were victorious Sunday against San Diego, which some will say is all that matters. They're hanging around in the wide-open NFC East. They went on to win the division after a 3-5 start in 2012, and they're in the exact same spot right now.
But you'll recall that Washington's 2012 Super Bowl chances were ultimately poisoned because franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III was finally victimized by the constant beatings he was receiving.
As a rookie, Griffin took too many hits. Nobody will dispute that. It caught up to him when he injured his right knee twice. The first injury—suffered against Baltimore in December—cost him his mobility, and the second cost the Redskins a playoff game against Seattle before sending RGIII to Dr. James Andrews' operating room.
That torn ACL and PCL also cost Griffin the entire 2013 offseason. But did he learn anything from that career-threatening experience? Apparently not. Because if Griffin was thinking even slightly beyond the moment on a play-to-play basis, collisions like these wouldn't still exist:
It was even worse last week, when Griffin was pummeled time and again by the Broncos' defensive front in Denver. In fact, he suffered a mild injury to his left knee on a fourth-quarter hit from Terrance Knighton.
This isn't just a criticism of Griffin. His pass protection was terrible in Denver and wasn't a lot better against the Chargers, his receivers have quite simply not been getting open enough and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan must make more of an effort to consistently emphasize running backs Alfred Morris and Roy Helu.
The run-pass balance was perfect Sunday, with Morris serving as the workhorse. But Griffin was still roughed up. History doesn't favor quarterbacks who consistently absorb the types of hits RGIII has the last year-and-a-half. He has to know that.
Griffin looks and feels more like Michael Vick every week, and that's not a good thing. It's hard not to admire both mobile NFC East quarterbacks for their courage. When they get pounded, it's usually because they're sacrificing themselves in order to win the battle they're fighting, but those sacrifices have usually cost them the war.
RGIII had a heroic moment Sunday when he went airborne in order to convert a huge 3rd-and-9 late in the third quarter of a tie game. Here's how he defended that decision, per ESPN.com:
You just have to make a decision. A lot of people criticize me for that type of stuff all the time and I could have gone out of bounds and we could have been short of the first down. I saw an opportunity to fly, so I got my wings and tried to fly. I hit the ground pretty hard, so you know people, we really can’t fly. No matter how much we dream about it, but I saw the opportunity and at that point in the game I thought we needed it and that’s why I took it.
We really don't know if that play was the difference between winning and losing. The game was tied, and Washington still had it in San Diego territory. I'm not calling it a bad decision, because hindsight has dressed it up, but it might not have killed the Redskins to punt from the 44-yard line, potentially burying the Chargers deep. That's probably what would have happened had Griffin preserved himself and run out of bounds.
But it goes well beyond that one play anyway. At this rate, it's only a matter of time before RGIII suffers another injury. The 33-year-old Vick has only played a full 16-game season once in his career. While the 'Skins have proven they can tread water with Kirk Cousins pinch-hitting, they absolutely need their franchise leader if they're going to start winning games consistently in January.
More urgently, they'll absolutely need Griffin in order to dig themselves out of the 2-5 hole they started with to earn a chance to swing the bat in January. That division isn't pretty, but Dallas still has a two-game edge on the 'Skins while possessing the tiebreaker, and the Eagles also stand between Washington and the NFC East leader.
RGIII's leaping third-down conversion was a potential game-changer, and it was certainly exciting. But whether the risk is worth the reward is debatable, and this would be less of an issue if he were only taking hits in those very moments.
Instinctive decisions like those are dangerous. Sometimes, quick calculations have to be made in those moments. Griffin has to make adjustments in that regard. Doing so could ultimately be what separates RGIII from Vick and the rest of the incredibly athletic but borderline masochistic quarterbacks we've seen over the years.