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Home Sports Columnists Originally published January 09, 2013

Did Shanahan Leave RGIII on the Field Too Long?

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by Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley
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    Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan watches during fourth quarter of their NFL playoff football game against the Seahawks, Sunday, Jan. 6, 2012, in Landover, Md. Seattle defeated Washington 24-14. (AP Photo/Richard Lipski)

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The second half of the Washington Redskins 24-14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the wildcard round of the National Football League’s 2012-13 playoffs saw a tug of war in 'Skins Nation. One side wanted to stick with gimpy starter Robert Griffin III while the other was ready to see a healthy Kirk Cousins step in and repeat his earlier success. The end result was a somber loss, a battered RGIII and a critical question that will seep into the summer months: Did Redskins coach Mike Shanahan bungle the job by leaving an injured Griffin on the field far too long? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley debate.

Riley: Before Griffin crumbled to the ground late in the fourth quarter with another knee injury, I was already calling for Cousins to start warming up. Griffin is obviously the bigger playmaker but take his legs away from him and he’s no better than Cousins as a pocket passer.

Even in the preseason Cousins showed the ability to direct an offense. I'm not wishing harm on anyone but I'm willing to bet that Griffin will be hurt sometime next season, that's just the way he plays. And Mike Shanahan will be faced with the same decision again.

Green: Not only did Shanahan screw the pooch on the playoffs but he might have jinxed the future of the team with his decision to leave Griffin in. Clearly, RGIII was hobbled in the first half and probably should've been pulled at halftime. If Shanahan can't make a decision to pull a disabled player off the field then maybe he shouldn't be the coach. In fact, it’s hard to even tell who the coach of the team is. Is it Shanahan, or is it Griffin who’s running the team? After the game, Griffin addressed the media as if he was the one calling the shots. The 22-year-old quarterback said it was his decision to stay on the field, even after the entire football world could tell he re-aggravated his injured knee during the first quarter. Shanahan even told us that it was Griffin’s decision to stay in. But when does a rookie quarterback get the power to make decisions only a coach should make? Griffin is a great, young player with tons of potential. But he’s still young-minded and obviously he needed someone else to make better judgment decisions for the team and his long-term health.

Riley: I can't fault Shanahan for wanting to stick with his starter but risking the franchise over one game definitely wasn't worth it. Let's say Washington beats Seattle then what? RGIII wouldn't have been able to go next week and Cousins would definitely have started. Perhaps that was what Shanahan had in mind. Let my young star do what he does until he can’t go any more, then put in the reserve to finish the job. I can agree with Shanahan somewhat on Griffin earning the right to make the call on his own to play hurt. Griffin has been the primary reason this team went from losers to winner in only a season. You don’t just sit someone like that, especially when he’s begging you to play. He was facing a lose-lose situation because if he benched Griffin and Griffin went and told reporters after the game that he felt he could played, Shanahan would have been criticized for that, too.

Green: That’s criticism that I would have been able to live with. However, I wouldn’t be able to live with knowing that I allowed my star player to ruin his knee because he had too much pride to tell me that he was really too hurt to play. A few years ago, when former all-pro running back LaDainian Tomlinson was the star player of the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers had reached the playoffs, but they lost a game because Tomlinson was standing on the sideline watching instead of playing because he was too injured to play. Everyone criticized the coach for not playing him. Some even criticized Tomlinson for not demanding to be played in such a big game. The Chargers may have lost, but they made the right decision that day. Tough or not, you don’t play if you’re seriously injured. It’s not fair to your teammates, your fans or even your family who has to watch you from home, crying bitter tears every time they see you grimace in pain. Obviously Griffin was blinded to that when he wanted to play on, and I expect that from a young guy like him. I don’t expect Shanahan, a 60-year-old coach with more than 20 years of coaching experience, to make a judgment like this. I do, however, expect Shanahan to be held accountable for this foul-up. The guy should have been fired a season ago, if you ask me. Now this is definitely the tipping point. Griffin is obviously the heart of this team. Now it’s time to get some real brains in there to manage this team and make sure nothing like this ever happens again.