LANDOVER, Md. -- When Robert Griffin III crumpled to the turf with 6:25 left to play in Sunday afternoon's NFC playoff game against the Seahawks, fumbling at his own 5-yard line, the outcome no longer mattered to the Redskins or the sellout crowd of 84,325 at FedEx Field. That Seattle would tack on a field goal and all but secure victory after defensive tackle Clinton McDonald recovered the ball was a fait accompli. In that instant, the future of Washington's franchise quarterback appeared to be in serious doubt.
Facing 2nd-and-22 in the shadow of his own goal line, his team trailing by a touchdown, Griffin III lined up in shotgun formation but couldn't handle center Will Montgomery's snap, which was low and to the left. As RGIII grasped for the ball, his right knee bent in such an unnatural way that several teammates and his counterpart, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, prayed for him.
Just how heart-pounding was the moment for fans who still have flashbacks of Joe Theismann's broken leg? Perhaps the most explosive player in the league, the rookie Pro Bowl quarterback never actually touched the ball, even as it rested at his feet for several seconds before McDonald pounced on it.
Four plays later, Steven Hauschka drilled his third field goal, a 22-yarder that accounted for the final score in the fifth-seeded Seahawks' 24-14 victory over the fourth-seeded Redskins. Seattle marches on to play the top-seeded Falcons in next weekend's divisional round; RGIII will hobble toward an MRI machine.
Griffin III, who had been battling a right knee injury since Week 14, wore a large brace on Sunday. But it didn't slow him much early on. The Redskins jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter on a pair of four-yard touchdown passes, the first to running back Evan Royster and the second to tight end Logan Paulsen.
But two plays prior to finding Paulsen in the end zone, Griffin III tweaked his right knee as he planted to throw a pass to Pierre Garcon, which fell incomplete.
"My knee kind of buckled on me," RGIII said. "I went to the sideline and got a tape job done on the knee. I was fine after that, until the very end of the game."
After falling down late in the fourth quarter, RGIII remained prone for several minutes and then gingerly walked off the field without assistance. But he didn't return. Rookie backup quarterback Kirk Cousins stepped in for the final two drives, but never came close to mounting a comeback. Afterward, coach Mike Shanahan said he considered replacing Griffin III with Cousins earlier in the game.
RGIII finished with a pedestrian line, completing 10 of 19 passes for 84 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He ran just five times for 21 yards. His longest rush, for nine yards around the left end early in the fourth quarter, helped convince Shanahan to stick with the former Heisman Trophy winner and second overall pick in last April's draft.
But Robert Griffin III wasn't playing like RGIII. His aggravated knee, as running back Alfred Morris put it, made Washington's dynamic read-option scheme "hard to run." According to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, it made him seem "more like a normal quarterback."
The same could not be said of the Seahawks' rookie quarterback. Russell Wilson completed 15 of 26 passes for 187 yards and a touchdown; he also ran eight times for 67 yards. His longest run was a 28-yard rumble down the middle of the field in the third quarter, but his most daring play helped give the Seahawks their first lead, 21-14, with just over seven minutes left to play.
After handing off to Marshawn Lynch, who finished with 132 yards on 20 carries, Wilson sprinted down the right sideline and threw a lead block that sprung the back nicknamed Beast Mode for a 27-yard score. Even after seeing Griffin III get hurt, Carroll still valued the reward over the risk of having such a mobile quarterback.
"I love when he does that," Carroll said. "I trust him."
Every time Shanahan asked Griffin III about his health on Sunday, he also trusted his quarterback, who kept saying some variation of, "There's a difference between being injured and hurt. I can guarantee I'm hurt right now, but give me a chance to win this football game because I guarantee I'm not injured."
On their first two drives, the Redskins amassed 134 yards. On their next
"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," he said. "The only time when I couldn't play is when I went down, and that's when I took myself out of the game.
"As far as the impact of the injury, I'm not sure what it is," he continued. "We'll figure that out in the next few days. But whatever it is I'll make sure I come back healthy from it. I did put myself at more risk by being out there. But every time you step on that football field you're putting your life, your career, every single ligament in your body in jeopardy. My teammates needed me out there."