Rams coach Jeff Fisher chose six unlikely captains -- Michael Brockers, Stedman Bailey, Zac Stacy, Janoris Jenkins, Greg Robinson and Alec Ogletree -- to greet their Washington counterparts before the coin toss of a meeting between the NFL’s most pathetic franchise and one of its most mediocre.
While the coin flipped through the air, Robert Griffin III stood on the sidelines before a sparse crowd of shivering supporters as the backup quarterback. Each of the six captains was acquired because of Griffin, joining the Rams in the fateful 2012 trade that sent three first-round picks and a second-round pick (some of which were traded again to acquire more players) to bring Griffin, the anointed savior, to Washington.
Fisher, a Buddy Ryan acolyte with juju fueled by derision and personal fouls, had rubbed the nose of his opposition into the crusty 50-yard line before kickoff. "They have more issues than the coin toss," Fisher said Monday, a day after Washington lost 24-0 at home to St. Louis, implying that organizations are built on depth, not star power; that football teams win because of cohesion, not individuals. And Griffin, the organizational darling foisted onto a skeptical head coach and benched in favor of a journeyman, stood hooded on the sidelines, the winner of zero games in 2014.
Hope is fickle in Washington. It evades the team’s devotees like pessimism greets a fan on 3rd-and-long. And Griffin, the formerly unassailable symbol of promise in a city blunted by political standstill and socioeconomic divisions, is the latest failure among a string of disappointing signal-callers that started with Heath Shuler, who retired two years ago … from the U.S. Congress.
Griffin was often too visible (all the Subway and Adidas ads) and too confident (the ghastly interceptions), and the image of him languishing on the sidelines before a meaningless December game proved a reality D.C. fans have known for two decades. Washington failed Griffin because it’s an organization that doesn’t protect or prepare its star players. Daniel Snyder breaks all of his toys on Christmas morning, and he’s finishing his 16th season as owner.
The byproduct of institutional mismanagement, irrational hope and tender knee ligaments, Griffin isn’t a capable NFL starter in 2014. Head coach Jay Gruden has publically grumbled about his inferior quarterback mechanics and (reportedly) privately fumed about his arrogance and lack of accountability. Griffin’s surgically reconstructed knees don’t allow him to spin out of sacks and jet past linebackers, and the ability to hoist a deep ball isn’t enough to hold down a starting spot. Just ask JaMarcus Russell.
The eagerness that once emanated from his toothy grin has become a malaise. And his most appealing characteristics, the bravura and confidence that elevated him to beat Andrew Luck for the Heisman Trophy and take Washington to the playoffs as a rookie on one healthy leg, have eroded. The messiah who once bolted down the Fed-Ex Field sideline, ducked defenders and delivered howitzers looks punch-drunk. Fans once wondered what he’d do next to amaze them. Now, they gawk at his downfall.
He turns 25 in February.
A franchise defined by its missteps, tone-deafness and spoiled owner, Washington demanded a quick fix instead of a long-term strategy. In turn, it ruined the team’s best prospect in decades. Instead of protecting the franchise quarterback from career-altering leg and knee injuries two seasons ago, the team sent him to drag his partially torn knee ligaments around before tearing them for good in the playoffs. Instead of improving a porous secondary through free agency in 2013, Washington opted to draft rookies who produced a historically awful pass defense that forced Griffin to constantly play from behind. That problem still isn’t solved, but defensive coordinator Jim Haslett may outlast Griffin in D.C.
And, worst, instead of spending to improve an offensive line to protect the brittle Griffin from NFL pass-rushers, Snyder spent the 2014 free agency period buying him a toy in the big-play receiver (DeSean Jackson), whom he seldom had time to throw the ball to. The sack that knocked starting quarterback Colt McCoy out of Sunday’s game against the Rams was the 28th Washington had allowed in the last five games. When Griffin came in for mop-up duty, he took No. 29. Griffin could start on Sunday if McCoy's injury proves serious, but Gruden said third-string QB Kirk Cousins will be considered as well.
Washington makes failure not depressing, but majestic, a burgundy and gold reminder that hope is always wasted in D.C.
Griffin should have filmed fewer commercials and spent more time improving his footwork, but a reasonable franchise would have steered him away from the cameras. Washington wanted a poster child. And while fans can be forgiven for thinking that one player can save a team, professional outfits should know better. Washington doesn’t.
Late in the loss to the Rams, an ornery fan finally had it. He went to put a paper bag over his head -- the universal sign of a fan’s surrender and disgust.
And then the bag ripped.