LOS ANGELES, January 15, 2013 — Every playoff football game brings a winner and a loser, and every loser brings out armchair quarterbacks. A pair of good coaches are under fire for making decisions that were on polar opposite sides of the risk spectrum. Washington Redskins Head Coach Mike Shanahan became too aggressive, while John Fox went ultra-conservative.
Shanahan has two Super Bowl rings, while Fox has led a team to one Super Bowl.
The Fox situation is one of play-calling. With 36 seconds left in a tie game and two timeouts, Fox chose to have Peyton Manning take a knee from his twenty yard line and go to overtime rather than go for the win in regulation. The Broncos lost in overtime, leading to criticism.
Armchair Quarterbacking Got It Wrong
The criticism is baseless. Critics note accurately that Peyton Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. They also note that Matt “Matty Ice” Ryan mounted a winning drive for the Falcons with only 31 seconds and two timeouts. The situations are not analogous. Ryan had to go for the win because the Falcons were trailing by one point. Ryan is not French, so taking a knee in a loss is unnecessary. Ryan was also inside the Georgia Dome.
Manning was playing in single digit weather, and not that well. He has struggled in cold weather games before, and this was one of the coldest. His throws were imperfect, and he had already been intercepted once. A late game interception could have ended things, which is exactly what happened in overtime. The Baltimore defense was exhausted, and Fox had every reason to believe his team could grind out a win. Overtime was the right call.
The Shanahan situation is far more serious because it goes beyond mere events on the football field. Starting quarterback Robert Griffin III was playing on a bad knee. In the second half he was nowhere near 100% healthy. After a bad snap in the fourth quarter, RGIII crumpled to the ground without being touched. He reinjured his knee and was done for the night. Shanahan was lambasted for risking the long-term health of his franchise quarterback. Again, the critics are wrong.
This was not an issue of a concussion, which as we now know can lead to permanent brain damage and tragic societal implications. A player’s body is different from his brain. Every single play is a risk to the body, and players risk their bodies for one and only one reason. The goal is to win Super Bowls. Jack Youngblood played in the Super Bowl for the 1979 Rams on a broken leg. So did Tory James and Charles Woodson for the Oakland Raiders in 2002. San Francisco 49ers legend Ronnie Lott was told he would lose a finger if he played in a 1985 playoff game. He played the game, lost the finger, and won two more Super Bowls without it.
The Critiquing of RGIII and Shanahan
RGIII said he was able to play. His coach trusted him. Both men understood that sitting him down in a heated playoff game would have also risked his long-term leadership abilities in a different way. In the 2010 NFC Title Game, Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler took himself out of the game with a bad knee. Fairly or unfairly, many fans and players blamed him for not “toughing it out” with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Losing a body part is bad, but not as fatal as losing the locker room.
RGIII has only seen his status as a hero elevated. He is a “warrior,” and his teammates in the coming years will go through a brick wall to win for him. He can look them all in the eye and they will fight and bleed for him. He is a leader by example.
Had RGIII led a stirring comeback win as he has done several times in his rookie season, both he and Shanahan would have been praised as heroes. RGIII has the entire offseason to recover, and improvements in sports medicine have players such as Adrian Peterson and Ray Lewis coming back from serious injuries to play like the gridiron greats they are.
Fans have every right to question coaches. In the cases of John Fox and Mike Shanahan, however, the critics are simply wrong.
Brooklyn born, Long Island raised, and now living in Los Angeles, Eric Golub is a columnist, blogger, author, public speaker, satirist and comedian who is obsessed with the National Football League. There is no offseason. Every February he pretends to care about other sports while sobbing uncontrollably each Sunday until September. Eric is the author of the book trilogy “Ideological Bigotry, “Ideological Violence,” and “Ideological Idiocy.”
This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.