ASHBURN, Va. — So much for Robert Griffin III saying after last Sunday’s 45-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs that his benching during the fourth quarter wasn’t an issue.
Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan announced Wednesday that he will sit the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year for the three remaining, meaningless games to protect the health of the franchise quarterback who underwent major knee surgery 11 months ago.
“Anytime you’re hit as many times as he (has) been hit, I thought it was in his best interest, the organization’s, to talk about if we should continue playing Robert,” Shanahan said at the start of a 28-minute press conference on just one topic Wednesday.
“We felt that the best thing to do for Robert was to not play him — give Kirk (Cousins) an opportunity to play — so (Griffin) could go into an offseason healthy. Anytime you miss an offseason in the National Football League, it does set you back quite a bit, and we thought going into this offseason (after) missing last year, that this was the best way to do it.”
The “we” referred to Redskins owner Dan Snyder and general manager Bruce Allen. Shanahan worked hard to show that he and Snyder were in sync on such a momentous decision, just three days after ESPN.com reported that the coach considered quitting before last season was finished because of the owner’s tight relationship with the quarterback.
“What I’m trying to do is be as honest as I can, and I don’t normally do that,” Shanahan said with masterful Washington spin.
The onus is now on Snyder and Allen, who rarely speak to the media, especially on the record. If they don’t deny Shanahan’s version of the decision-making process about Griffin, then the embattled coach no longer appears insubordinate and can claim the $7 million he is due in 2014 if he is fired, as expected.
“If I’m going to try to get fired, I’m not going to call up Dan Snyder and ask his opinion on the player,” said Shanahan, who is 24-38 during his four seasons with the Redskins. “If he says no, I’m not going to go in that direction.”
Griffin, who was sacked 38 times this season, more than all but four NFL quarterbacks, wasn’t pleased with that direction.
“I expressed my desire (to Shanahan) to play), (but) at this point, I just have to leave it up to Coach, like it always is,” Griffin said. “It’s a tough time, (but) if I allowed it to break my spirit, then I wouldn’t be the person that I think my parents raised me to be.”
Last week, Griffin said that he “loved” working with Shanahan and the coach’s son/offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan. Asked Wednesday if that still were true, Griffin wasn’t nearly as effusive, saying, “(There’s a) general misconception that players in our locker room want people gone.”
Shanahan also said that he regrets not going with his gut and sitting Griffin once it was obvious the quarterback was hurting against the Seattle Seahawks in last season’s playoffs. The coach even said that keeping Griffin in that game cost the Redskins a victory after they held an early 14-0 lead.
A win that day would have advanced Washington to a divisional-round game against the Falcons in Atlanta, the same site where Cousins will start Sunday. Veteran Rex Grossman, the third-stringer the past two years, will serve as Washington’s backup.
“I do believe that Robert is the franchise quarterback here in Washington,” Cousins said. “He was drafted No. 2 overall. A lot of picks were traded to get him. Common sense would say that this is his team, and I’ve never wanted to take that away from him or do anything to undermine his role. Even as I start this week, I believe that … this is Robert’s team going forward into next season.”
Wide receiver Santana Moss, a witness to plenty of drama during his team-high nine seasons in Washington, feels for Griffin.
“No player wants to be in Robert’s situation right now,” Moss said. “I know he’s probably going to be ticked. I’d be ticked. …
“For his sake, when it comes to what he’s already gone through, I feel like all you can do is accept it. At the end of the day, if it’s going to help him and give him a little more time to put this season behind him and get ready for next year. Robert knows he’s going to be here. He knows he has time to correct everything he did this year he doesn’t feel he was at his best with.”
Receiver Pierre Garcon, far and away favorite Griffin’s target this season, took a different tack on the quarterback switch. The Redskins are riding a five-game losing streak that dropped their record to 3-10, a year after they won their final seven games to finish 10-6 and capture their first NFC East title since 1999.
“It definitely gives us new energy,” Garcon said of inserting Cousins into the lineup. “It can’t hurt us.”
Co-captain London Fletcher, who is finishing his 16th NFL season and his seventh in Washington, said that Griffin did a good job running the scout team offense Wednesday. However, the 38-year-old four-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker is pained that the drama is back at Redskins Park.
“When you’re doing bad, there’s going to be more noise you have to deal with,” Fletcher said. “In our situation, there’s a lot of chatter, a lot of things we’re dealing with, but you have to try to control what you control doing your job and let everything else handle itself. You thought you were away from that last year, and a lot of that stuff had died down, but now it’s back. We have to focus on not allowing that stuff to affect us.”