John Keim | ESPN.com
ASHBURN, Va. — For a player who carried a college to national prominence, won the Heisman Trophy and earned adulation as a rookie, there’s only one word to describe a second-year experience of Robert Griffin III that’s included a 2-5 record and a roller-coaster return from knee surgery — one week he’s back and the next he’s not.
Griffin isn’t used to failure. Naturally, this season doesn’t sit well with him.
“It sucks,” Griffin said.
I make sure no one becomes a cancer on the team. Your job as a quarterback is to know how to manage people. I feel I’ve done a good job of that my whole career. … It’s a tough job, but that’s what I signed up for and I’m willing to do it.
” — Robert Griffin III
Indeed it does. The Redskins have issues all over, one season after winning the NFC East with a 10-6 record. Their defense struggled early, their special teams struggled often and the passing game has been inconsistent.
Add it up and 2-5 isn’t that difficult to see. But Griffin is used to being part of the solution, not the problem. He’s far from alone in the passing game woes as the Redskins can’t find another consistent receiver opposite Pierre Garcon, among other issues.
But Griffin isn’t having the same impact he did last season, a by-product in part of missing all the offseason work because of his Jan. 9 knee surgery. He did not play in the preseason. As a result, his legs haven’t been a consistent part of the offense like a year ago. That has changed, with Griffin making big plays three weeks ago at Dallas and two weeks ago against Chicago. Last week at Denver, with the Broncos taking away his legs, Griffin struggled through a 15-for-30, 132-yard passing day.
Griffin’s passing numbers are down all over from last season: completion percentage (65.6 to 59.0), yards per attempt (8.1 to 7.0) and passer rating (102.4 to 79.2). He’s on pace for about the same amount of touchdowns as he had last year (20), but after throwing five interceptions in 2012, he’s on pace for 18 this year. Turns out that offseason mattered quite a bit.
“You want your quarterback in his second year to get as many reps as possible,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “He didn’t get any reps in the second year, but he’s still doing a lot of good things. Collectively as an offense, we’re going to go against some different defenses than we did a year ago just by the nature of where we’re at and we’ve got to work through it.”
It’s not just one player.
“There are a lot of things that go into that and it’s not for me to discuss that up here,” said Griffin, who also said his left knee, which he hurt Sunday, is fine and that he’ll play Sunday against the San Diego Chargers.
“It’s not for me to discuss that up here. We have to fix that on the practice field and on the game field. Nothing that we say will change that. Talk doesn’t help; you have to go out and act.”
But it’s led to a challenging season for an upbeat person. As a rookie Griffin brought an infectious attitude that, paired with his talent, made him the most popular athlete in Washington. He wrote slogans on pieces of tape, adorning them to his locker. He loves being a leader.
This year it’s different.
“It’s very trying,” he said. “It’s a test. And you’re going to be put through tests in your life and you have to decide how you’re going to react to them. You can react in a negative way or a positive way. I choose to be positive. I don’t scream at guys. My way of leading is you have to be positive. Guys drop a pass; he knows he dropped a pass, he’ll make the next catch for you. If I miss a throw, I know I missed a throw, I’ll make that throw for them the next time. That’s the approach.”
Nor will he change his approach.
“As soon as you change as a leader, guys can see that as well,” Griffin said. “When you change it feels like the ship’s sinking. I’m not going to change who I am as a person and I’m not going to demand any less out of them and they won’t demand any less out of me.”
Part of his job now, with a poor record, is to help manage the locker room. There’s frustration overall because of the losing and in some players because of their roles.
“I make sure no one becomes a cancer on the team,” he said. “Your job as a quarterback is to know how to manage people. I feel I’ve done a good job of that my whole career. … It’s a tough job, but that’s what I signed up for and I’m willing to do it.
“When you’re 2-5 and not where you want to be and have high aspirations — and still do for your season and your team — when things go wrong it can test your character. You have to make sure your character stays strong and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
- Covered the Redskins for the Washington Examiner and other media outlets since 1994
- Authored or co-authored three books on the Redskins and one on the Cleveland Browns