Playoff Hopes Die Against Seahawks
On the eve of the Redskins-Seahawks game, Lewis Buchanan stood around at an intimate gathering of friends in Upper Marlboro, Md., discussing the meteoric rise of the 'Skins during the 2012-2013 season, marveled at the team's seven-game win streak, the first NFC Championship in 13 years and prospects for the playoff game the next day.
Any success the team enjoyed in the playoff game, he theorized, would only be realized if Robert Griffin III could overcome a knee injury sustained in the Baltimore game.
"My only asterisk was that we wouldn't win if Griffin wasn't 100 percent," said Buchanan, the day after the team's 24-14 defeat. "That was the problem yesterday. I feel that if Griffin was 100 percent, we'd have pulled out the game."
"I wasn't really surprised by the team's success because we had a veteran team with just a few gaps missing," said Buchanan, president and CEO of LewLew Enterprises, a local energy company in Northwest. "We needed stability at the quarterback position. I figured that with a half-decent quarterback we could make a run. We had a banged up defense and quarterbacks that weren't good."
The difference, Buchanan said, most definitely was Griffin.
In the first quarter of Sunday's game, before an ecstatic crowd of 80,000, Washington raced to a 14-point lead in the first quarter. However, the team was unable to muster anymore offense in a game that saw the Seattle Seahawks reel off 24 unanswered points over the next three quarters. Then, in the late stages of the game, Griffin reinjured his knee when he attempted to catch the ball while the offense was in the shotgun. The stunned crowd watched in horror as Griffin, 22, writhed and grimaced in pain and he received sustained applause when he finally was able to walk off the field under his own steam.
He had an MRI on Monday and traveled to Pensacola, Fla., to see eminent orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews. Published reports indicate that Griffin might have tears of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and the lateral collateral ligament (LCL).
Until the playoff loss, the Redskins Nation had been riding a wave of euphoria as their beloved team embarked on a magical carpet ride. After a paltry 3-6 record, the team ripped off seven straight wins, beat division rivals the New York Giants, hated rivals the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles along the way and sat perched atop the NFC table as NFC East champs, a feat last repeated in 1999.
Griffin's arrival at the beginning of the season heralded thoughts of the Super Bowl for devoted Redskins fans. He didn't disappoint. He amassed 3,200 yards passing in this his rookie season, threw 20 touchdowns and five interceptions, ran for 815 yards and ended the regular season with a 102.4 quarterback rating. He was ably complemented by another rookie, running back Alfred Morris, who set a single-season franchise rushing record.
But in the aftermath of the game, the Washington fans were philosophical, upset and mired in anguish, depression and sadness.
Sean Hoggard, a 22-year-old Penn Branch resident and a lifelong Redskins fan praised the team's performance.
"Overall, it was a miraculous season. Even though it ended with the loss to Seattle, the team should still feel proud with what they accomplished," said Hoggard, a journalism student at the University of the District of Columbia. "Everyone counted them out after they started 3-6 and after the tough loss to Carolina. Instead of bowing out, they did what they had to do to make the playoffs. They turned the season around and won the NFC East championship. They were no longer the laughing stock."
Going into the game Hoggard said he thought the Redskins had a really good shot at beating Seattle.
"I figured that it would be a tough battle because Seattle was on the same hot streak that the Redskins were and they play good defense," he said. "Heading into the playoffs, the Redskins' season was a miraculous story. The fact that a rookie quarterback led the team in crunch time late in the season and took them to the playoffs, could have been the highlight of 2013 if the team would have won it all."
Coach Mike Shanahan rued the loss.
"It was a fun run," he said. "[But] I'm very disappointed. You always want to play your best football during the playoffs. We probably had our best first quarter. After that first quarter, we just didn't seem to get things done."
The spectacular season will likely take a lot of pressure off the two-time Super Bowl coach who endured a great deal of criticism for a string of sub-par seasons.
Bill Reed, a local journalist and longtime District resident, said the loss left him numb.
"I'm not feeling too good," said Reed during an interview Sunday night. "I was anticipatory. I have bought into the RG3 hype. After the game I feel real let down. He should have been gone real early and [Second-String Quarterback Kirk] Cousins given a chance. He performed real well. Fifty percent of RG3 was not enough. I hope he's not hurt too bad. He was much more mobile in past games."
Nana Efua Badu Osundara was one of those Redskins fans who juggled sorrow with hope for the future.
"My heart is broken. But I still don't feel so bad," said Osundara, who became a Redskins fan after watching games on television with her mother. "I didn't expect to get this far. I knew Seattle was tough. I was nervous when I heard we were going to play them. I thought the buck might stop there. It may have been a closer game and we may have won if RG3 was healthy. Next season, next season. They'll be back strong. I'm happy we beat the Giants, shut Dallas down and clipped the Eagles' wings so it's all good. None of them are going. They're sitting home too," said Osundara who lives in Lanham, Md.
Accompanying the predictable emotions of loss and questions of what might have been, were two other salient questions that only time will answer: Will Griffin make a full recovery and did Coach Mike Shanahan and the team sacrifice Griffin's future health and well-being by allowing him to continue to play?
Sidney Smith, a 47-year-old Northeast resident, criticized Shanahan's decision.
"You were just waiting for the coaching staff to tag Kirk Cousins and bring him in early enough in the game so that he could be a factor," he said. "He came in when it was too late and the conditions were too dire. If he was able to come in earlier in the second half where they had the luxury of trying to establish the run, then they would have been able to run bootlegs and the play-action more effectively."
"I thought, and I hate to say this, but the Redskins were putting Robert Griffin III's health and longevity at risk. As a coaching staff, knowing that you have a guy who was capable waiting in the wings, and your franchise quarterback clearly not himself and at risk of being injured, they did what was expedient and in their best interest, and those chickens came home to roost in this particular game today."
Griffin told reporters that the extent of damage to his knee was up in the air.
After the game however, both player and coach defended the decision to leave Griffin in the game.
"I wanted to be in there, I deserved to be there," said Griffin, who completed 10 of 19 passes for 84 yards and who also threw 2 touchdowns and an interception. "I don't feel like me being out there hurt the team in any way. I'm the best option for this team, and that's why I'm the starter ... I sat at the dinner table and experienced success. We'll be back next year..."