If you watched the Seahawks/Redskins wildcard contest yesterday then you saw RG3 struggling to play with only one working leg on grass that looked more like a dog park than a place where a 9 billion dollar professional sport is played. Both of those factors made yesterday’s game very painful to watch and also brought up some even more painful questions about how the Redskins handle business as well as whether the NFL has changed as much as we think.
The events of yesterday’s game had a storyline to remember — a black rookie QB who had taken the nation’s capital by storm was appearing in a playoff game–torn LCL–and all against another black rookie QB (only the 2nd time two rookie QBs have met in the playoffs with the first time being last year). Both teams had exceeded all expectations with each one looking to break a playoff drought – the Redskins at home, the Seahawks on the road.
As the game went on with both QBs running more than they should have as their actual monster running backs played second fiddle, cleats getting stuck in disastrous turf, defensive lines getting pressure on most plays RG3 wore down with every snap until that fearful moment when his knee completely gave out. But before that, millions of viewers watched the dust kick up in between RG3′s visits to the secret room he’d dip into to speak with his doctor, James Andrews, a surgical magician who has built a reputation of mythological proportions and never cleared his QB patient to play in the last game much less this one. If RG3 is never the same Quarterback again, these are the images that will haunt the success-starved Redskins fan base.
If all of this sounds old school to you, you’re not alone. The NFL has made a point of emphasizing player safety whether it’s cracking down on head to head contact or taking backdoor measures to attempt to reduce the number of kickoffs. Such changes have caused many of the sport’s couch-ridden yet audaciously bloodthirsty fans to decry the sport as “getting soft.” I’ve always found those claims to be utter crap even as players often repeat the same refrain. The truth is, although the NFL may be making efforts to become less cumulatively dangerous a soft sport this is not. In fact, despite efforts to progress, the league’s proverbial cleats are stuck in shoddy sod somewhere between 1960 and 2013.
If the NFL were soft, new comers to the league wouldn’t have the same attitudes as guys who played in the 70s. RG3 was born in 90s but to hear him talk about why he played yesterday you’d think he was Ray Lewis’ peer and not young enough to be his offspring from a teenage love affair. And Mike Shanahan’s approach to decision making–including RG3′s previous concussion in which he was dazed out of his mind and still played a week later–proves that new school thinking isn’t in his written playbook or his fancy league-issued ipad.
The Redskins, unlike a lot of teams, had zero expectations put upon them coming into the playoffs, a more than capable back up QB, and every reason in the world to protect an investment that cost them dollars and draft picks to acquire. Nothing the Redskins did this year should have been more important than preserving their QB who manages to be both intelligent and charismatic, a runner and a gunner in an environment that tries to force black QBs to choose 2 and 3 and avoid 1 and 4 at all costs.
But true to the thinking of old, RG3 played in a game agains the Cowboys that Kirk Cousins, his backup, probably could have won easily with Cowboys QB Tony Romo’s mistakes picking up whatever slack existed. With the way the Seahawks started yesterday’s game – confused, miscommunicating and unable to consistently connect, putting Cousins in when the score was 14-0 might could have saved the Skins season. But even if not, RG3 wasn’t just hurting, he was hurting the team. Only good old fashioned willful blindness would cause anyone to say different.
Admittedly, doctors and players and even coaches are often put in ridiculous predicaments when big games call for bigger decisions. There’s not one doctor, player or staff member on any team that can be accused of always making the safest or best choice when it comes to players’ fitness or health. This isn’t a league where that is possible due to the legitimate grey areas that exist in a sport where every player is dealing with some kind of injury or condition.But when leadership can’t be relied upon to make the most obvious choice, someone should be called onto the carpet to answer for it.