It’s 4th-and-four with 3:19 seconds left in what Mike Shanahan has already told his team is a must-win game. The Skins are down by 15 points — technically two scores. If they don’t convert this play, the game is over. The season is over.
RGIII drops back to pass. There’s nothing there. He tucks the ball and runs up the middle for the first down marker. He’s close to it as the defense closes in on him. Instead of sliding and risking coming up short, he jumps head-first for the line to gain. He’s hit hard, spins in the air and lands two yards beyond the marker.
He’s given his team a chance to win the game. To save its season.
Of course, that was all for naught. And as rationally minded people (editor’s note: most of us), we know the Skins season was probably already over before this game, and well before that play (which you can see at the 2:45-mark here). But in RGIII’s mind — and in the mind of his teammates — it was not. It was a potentially dangerous play, but to him, the risk was worth taking.
To many on the outside, however, it was not. Immediately following the play — which was now being shown nationally on FOX after other 1 p.m. games had wrapped up — Twitter was full of people condemning Griffin for not getting down. For not — I assume — sliding, which could have left him short of the first down.
Grantland’s Bill Barnwell, who I respect immensely, was one such voice on Twitter:
RG3 just did the Elway Flip to pick up a first down in a 21-6 game. Remember when he “learned his lesson” on the sidelines?
What followed was a silly back-and-forth between him and I that basically accomplished nothing. But my point then remains the same this morning: Do we want RGIII playing it safe in that situation, or do we want him risking harm to make what, at that moment, was an incredibly important play? I know what my answer is, but here was RGIII’s when asked about his mindset during that play:
Get the first down. That’s the bottom line. Guys see that. They see their quarterback out there putting it on the line every single play. It makes them wanna put it on the line every single play. It’s more about inspiring guys.
Obviously, no one wants RGIII taking unnecessary hits. We all want him to slide or run out of bounds as much as possible. But on fourth down, with the game still within reach, I’m happy to have the quarterback who is focused on the bottom line.
UPDATE: Barnwell wrote at length about RGIII’s 4th down, head-first dive in his Grantland column today. I certainly understand his argument, but I still disagree with it.