Santana Moss has played with his fair share of quarterbacks during his 13-year NFL career, and Robert Griffin III might be the most skilled of them all. But when it comes to leadership, RG3 doesn’t quite measure up.
Griffin led the Redskins to 16 unanswered points against the Eagles on Sunday, showing off his penchant for late-game heroics, but ultimately the comeback fell short as Griffin threw an ugly interception to end the game. Afterward, Griffin avoided accepting responsibility for the loss, though, trying to justify his failure.
“We had a certain concept with running, and nobody got open, so I was backing up, and in the situation where you get a sack there, it ends the game,” Griffin said, per the Washington Post. “I was trying to throw the ball to the back of the end zone. It didn’t get to where I wanted it to go.”
Griffin has had trouble accepting responsibility in the past, showing signs of immaturity that went largely overlooked during the first 18 months of his NFL career because of his spectacular play on the field. Head coach Mike Shanahan has made hints about Griffin’s lack of leadership in recent weeks, but now his teammates are even noting the quarterback’s failings. And it’s time for him to fix them.
Moss, who is the Redskins’ longest-tenured player and a leading voice in their locker room, hasn’t appreciated Griffin’s tendency to shrink in the face of responsibility — like he did after Washington’s loss on Sunday. The veteran receiver chided Griffin for not being more accountable, explaining that it’s the job of a leader to shoulder that burden.
“As a leader, you understand that if you’re involved in the situation, whether you’re the receiver, the quarterback, the guys making the tackle, whoever,” Moss said in an interview with 106.7 The Fan in D.C. on Tuesday. “Regardless of the outcome, good or bad, you have to at some point, stand up and say me or I.
“If we’re going to win games, we need to win games with our guy saying, ‘At the end of the day, I didn’t make a play,’ regardless of if it wasn’t him. And that’s how I feel,” Moss continued. “Because that’s what we’re out there to do. I’m not sitting here to tell you why it didn’t happen, or who didn’t make the play for me to make a play. If I’m the guy, that’s at the end of the day have the ball in my hand, and we’re sitting there and the game is over because of me, I didn’t do enough to make the play. I didn’t do enough to help us win. And that’s what I would do.”
Griffin’s leadership issues have come more to the surface in recent weeks, primarily because his on-field production has waned. He has struggled to get going. The Redskins didn’t score any points in the first half on Sunday, and poor first-half outputs have become a trend this season. Although his production has improved in recent weeks, Griffin continues to have accuracy problems, completing fewer than 60 percent of his passes (66 percent in 2012), and he has been far more careless with the ball, turning it over 14 times through 10 games compared to his mere seven turnovers from all of 2012. So, there’s clearly room for improvement on the field, as well as off it.
Griffin is still just 23 years old and in only his second season with the Redskins, so some growing pains are understandable. But while other young signal-callers like Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and even rookie EJ Manuel seem to welcome to extra heat and responsibility that comes with the position, Griffin continues to deflect it.
Washington’s unexpected rise to the top of the NFC East and march into the playoffs last season made Griffin out to be something of a cult hero, as his miraculous runs and precision passing left many fans and players alike in awe. Because of all the early success, though, there were few chances to show true resiliency and leadership, which are characteristics that have clearly been overlooked when assessing Griffin in the past. That’s not to say RG3 doesn’t possess those qualities or can’t develop them, but, at this time, he seems to lack the leadership and locker room presence necessary to win at the highest level.
Barring a miracle, Washington won’t be dancing its way into the playoffs this season. That doesn’t mean strides can’t be made, though. Griffin currently sits in a very similar position to the one Cam Newton did around this same point last year.
Newton faced constant criticism for his lack of accountability and leadership as the Panthers continued to fail on the field. He used the final six weeks of the 2012 season as his canvas, though, trying to recreate himself and become not only a better player but also a more adept leader. Newton adjusted his attitude and his playing style to better suit the team, and the Panthers were able to rip off five wins in their final six games to finish at a respectable 7-9 after a 2-8 start — similar to the Redskins, who currently sit at 3-7.
Newton’s commitment fed over into this season, where Carolina is currently the hottest team in the NFL and a prime Super Bowl contender. He has led the Panthers to six consecutive wins this season, including landmark victories against the 49ers and Patriots in recent weeks, and a 12-4 record over their last 16 games. There’s no reason the Redskins, who finished 2012 with a 10-6 record, couldn’t do the same.
Washington’s defense may not turn into a powerhouse as quickly as Carolina’s has over the last 12 months, but that doesn’t mean the Redskins can’t excel in other areas. Griffin is the key to Washington’s future success, much like Newton in Carolina. He has all the tools necessary to be one of the top quarterbacks in football on the field, but his role as a leader will dictate how successful the Redskins can really be with him at the helm.
Newton laid the path to success already. Now it’s Griffin’s turn to choose to follow it and succeed or continue to toil in mediocrity.