TundraVision: The Most Important Game in History (?)

Mike Shanahan and Robert Griffin III valued short-term rewards over the long-term risks and paid a heavy price for it. Have Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers not learned from history?

Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers by Andrew Weber—USA TODAY Sports.

Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers by Andrew Weber—USA TODAY Sports.

January 7, 2013 is a date that will live in the mind of a star quarterback and a head coach named Mike for the rest of their lives. It was the day both men had their career paths changed forever because of a short-sighted decision.

Luckily, that quarterback isn't Aaron Rodgers, and the head coach named Mike isn't McCarthy. But both men would be wise to pay attention and learn a little bit from history because after last week's game against the Saints, I'm pretty sure neither man learned very much from others' mistakes.

On January 7, 2013, Washington head coach Mike Shanahan was slated to play Seattle in their first game of the playoffs. His quarterback, Robert Griffin III, had a monster rookie season and, like many mobile quarterbacks, had transformed his offense into a hydra that was difficult for defenses to play. Unlike most mobile quarterbacks, however, Griffin also possessed an NFL arm that made him just as dangerous in the pocket as he was moving in space.

That is, until the Baltimore game on December 9th, when Griffin sprained his LCL and missed the following week. The leadup to the Seattle playoff game was pockmarked with much of the usual fanatical rhetoric that you hear from the passionate fanbase. "He HAS to play," they cried on Twitter. "He needs to suck it up and get out there!"

I mean, that's the job of the fans: We look for a win at all costs, especially in the playoffs. Because it is the Most Important Game in History. No one has ever seen a playoff game before January 7, 2013, and if we don't win it, we'll never see a playoff game. Ever. Again.

But Mike Shanahan's job isn't to just win the next game on the schedule. Mike's job is to ensure the long-term survival of his franchise and to put his players in the best position to win both today and tomorrow. And he had a young quarterback with the potential to transform the game for years to come. 

But for whatever reason, Shanahan made the decision that changed his entire career, agreeing with the Washington faithful fanbase and choosing to play a not-quite-recovered Griffin in that playoff game, risking further injury (perhaps even career-threatening) for the sake of winning one game. Yes, it was a playoff game. 

But was it really The Most Important Game in History? If you listened to the fans and local media leading up to the game, you might have thought so. There were few voices, mine included, that postulated that, perhaps, the short-term rewards weren't worth the long-term risks. I, in fact, engaged in several debates on Twitter over that period of time with fans who totally bought into the "You're paid millions of dollars, you play hurt in big games" theory. Shanahan wasn't backing down. Neither were the fans.

And then, Griffin himself threw his hat into the ring. Not only did he publicly declare his intentions to play in the Seattle game, he petitioned aloud to his doctors to remove the knee brace so he could play in his normal, break-neck running style. That sealed it. I mean, Shanahan wanted him to play. The fans wanted him to play. Now Griffin himself wanted to play. What could possibly go wrong?

You know, other than everything.

Four plays into the game, Griffin scrambled and made a sharp cut, pulling up and limping to the sideline. Most coaches would look at that kind of situation and realize they were playing Russian Roulette with the future of their own career, but not Mike Shanahan. Griffin stayed in there. After all, he gave the team the best chance to win.

On the next drive, he planted hard on that knee and fell to the ground, writhing in pain. He limped to the huddle, clearly in distress. Shanahan kept him in the game. Griffin threw another touchdown. As long as he was throwing touchdowns, it didn't matter. He gave the team the best chance to win. Griffin himself came to the sideline and asked for his knee to be retaped, so he could get back in the game.

Another empty chamber in the gun.

After the fact, even his teammates advocated for player rights, that the player's opinion should not only supercede that of the coach, but of the doctors.

"He has to listen to the player in this situation,” veteran linebacker London Fletcher said. “You’re talking about the franchise quarterback, a guy who has made so many plays to even get you to this point. If he tells you that he can go, you have to let him go. This is the playoffs. This is a do-or-die situation."

The Most Important Game in History. Do-or-die.

We know how this story ends. As the game went on, and Washington fell behind, and Griffin was clearly not playing anywhere near 70%, the media and fan base that had so passionately celebrated Griffin's bravery and guts started quietly murmuring, then loudly questioning why he was still in the game.

"Why isn't he putting in Cousins??"  

"Pull him out before he gets permanent damage!"

"What is Shanahan thinking???" was suddenly the shift in Twitter trends. But Griffin, not aware of the change of heart, still passionately begged to stay in the game. He had to prove he was Brave and Dedicated and Willing to Sacrifice.

Because, you know, a rookie NFL quarterback knows everything about everything, and veteran, professional coaches and doctors must submit to the will of a kid who just barely hit the legal drinking age.

The blow that knocked Griffin out of the game wasn't a massive linebacker hit, or some superhuman attempt to stretch for the goal line. Halfway through the fourth quarter, Griffin reached for a low shotgun snap. That was it. That was all it took to get The Bravest Man in the NFL out of the game. A low snap. He bravely walked to the sideline and saluted the crowd, knowing he had given all for King and Country.

Wait, not King and Country. The Most Important Game in History. That's a little more accurate.

Griffin has never fully recovered from that injury, has never been the same player. Shanahan, who had agreed with his fanbase and his quarterback in allowing an injured franchise player to play until he literally could no longer stand, was villified. He micromanaged a still-recovering Griffin the entire following season, finally benching him when he simply wasn't producing enough to win games anymore. Washington responded by accurately surmising that this never would have happened had Shanahan not insisted on playing him while injured, and fired Shanahan.

Looking back on it, no one views that Seattle wildcard game on January 7, 2013 as the Most Important Game in History anymore. No one cares anymore. Even if they had won, it was just a game in the annals of a long-time successful franchise. There had been Super Bowl ring earned before. There will be playoff games again in the future.

But there is only one Robert Griffin III. And there is only one Aaron Rodgers.

Last week, when Rodgers pulled up on a scramble out of bounds and grabbed the back of his thigh, you knew it was a hamstring. The Packers were losing and going into a bye week. There's a lot of season left. I immediately thought of Griffin and tweeted, "Time to get him out of there."

I wasn't surprised when the mass response on Twitter was, "Are you kidding? It's just a hamstring. Keep him in there until he can't play anymore." I mean, that is the expected response of a fanatical fanbase for whom this game is the most important game in the world.

But I was surprised when Mike McCarthy kept him in the game, and Rodgers seemed to angrily insist on staying in the game, too. It was pretty clear, however, that Rodgers' play had suffered, unable to run, unable to put the right weight on his leg. His passes started floating (which, if you've been a long-time watcher of Rodgers, you'd know that when he normally misses, he misses low). 

No, it wasn't the career-threatening injury that Griffin faced. But a hamstring is a season-threatener. Just ask Clay Matthews. Hamstrings are the lingering injury that simply needs to be fully....FULLY....healed before risking it. How many times have we seen a player rushed back from a hamstring injury, just to re-aggrivate it and miss another several weeks? And when they do come back, they play cautiously. Remember Matthews trying to run back that interception earlier in the season?

WIth a game already somewhat out of hand, a bye week on the horizon, and your franchise player (whom we learned last season that we really can't win a game without) nursing an injury that is easily re-aggrivated, you learn from Shanahan and Griffin and sit him down.

But they didn't. And everything played out exactly like Washington's situation. The clamor and celebration for the Ironman who plays through pain slowly turned to concern and criticism. By the next day, after Rodgers was finally benched in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach, most were questioning why Rodgers was left in the game to begin with. Whose fault was it? 

Because, you know, it wasn't like it was The Most Important Game in History or anything.

While the situations aren't exactly the same, one thing is consistent: The team cannot win without their star quarterback. You don't play games and overvalue the short-term rewards over the long-term success of your team.

It's not "playing afraid" or "playing it safe."

It's realizing that the eighth game of the regular season is not the playoffs; it's not the rest of Rodgers' contract years; it's one game, and one game only in a long and storied history of the franchise that has won Super Bowl rings and is aiming not only for the playoffs this season, but the playoffs every season while No. 12 is under center.

You don't play Russian Roulette with Aaron Rodgers, even if you're Aaron Rodgers.

Just ask Mike Shanahan.

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C.D. Angeli is a longtime Packer fan and feature author at Cheesehead TV. You can listen to him weekly on the Cheesehead Radio podcast and is the good cop over at PackersTalk.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TundraVision.

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Comments (22)

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DraftHobbyist's picture

November 02, 2014 at 10:10 am

Is this article about Green Bay or Washington? smh

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tundravision's picture

November 02, 2014 at 10:46 am

Well, it's a bye week. Good time for a little introspection. Feel free to read all the way to the end. If you'd like Cliff's Notes, just let me know. :)

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tundravision's picture

November 02, 2014 at 10:46 am

The former.

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Tanner's picture

November 02, 2014 at 11:02 am

You used a lot of words to create a pretty weak analogy.

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tundravision's picture

November 02, 2014 at 11:25 am

Had Rodgers further injured his hamstring last Sunday night, you'd be thinking it was a perfect analogy. Just because they dodged bullets doesn't mean the analogy is flawed.

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

November 03, 2014 at 02:07 pm

The whole article is logically flawed, as is your assessment. Both are Fallacies of Relevance, in particular they are Appeals to Consequences.

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Tanner's picture

November 02, 2014 at 11:38 am

I never once thought McCarthy should make a switch at QB.

Griffin went into that game with a bad knee. He was basically playing QB with one leg. Rodgers tweaked a hammy, an injury that was so minor he skipped town after the game for fun and sun in Cali. On a scale of 1 to 10, the strength of this particular analogy is about a 2 or 3.

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tundravision's picture

November 02, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Hamstring injuries are the most common injury in sports1 and have been shown to occur 176 times per NFL season or 5-6 per team each season.2 The most common mechanism of hamstring injury in the NFL was non-contact sprinting which caused 68.2 percent of hamstring strains. Hamstring re-injury is fairly common and has been shown to occur in approximately 16 percent of hamstring injuries.2,3

Re-injuries can occur due to a multitude of reasons, but they obviously indicate the hamstring had not healed enough to allow the athlete to return to full play.

http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/sportsdoc/Hamstring-injuries-frequenc...

The hamstring injury should not be underestimated, for its potential for devastating an athlete’s season, much less career, if re-injury occurs. I fear that many players are convinced, or manipulated, both by their egos and those of a coaching staff, to return to the field too quickly.

What player wants to miss his season, and what coach wants his best player on the bench? However, this same ego that has shined on the football can also lead to the player’s demise, and his career can be over faster than it ever arrived if they misjudge their injury.

http://www.nola.com/running/index.ssf/2013/08/optimum_performance_hamstr...

In other words, while running, the hamstring muscles go through repeated cycles of forceful stretching and shortening. If an athlete overuses them—or uses them without properly warming up—injuries can result.

After a strain sets in, further complications may also loom.

For one, it's very difficult to fully rest the hamstring. Using an injured hamstring also places it at higher risk of worse injury.

Furthermore, a prior hamstring strain is one of the biggest risk factors for another injury further down the line.

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1815657-hamstring-injuries-continue-t...

Shall I continue? I can do this all day. Your strongly held opinions are very impressive, but my medical facts seem to be a bit of a trump card.

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TarynsEyes's picture

November 02, 2014 at 11:49 am

The sky is beginning to fall...the sky is falling.....the sky might have fell....the sky may still fall.....the sky has fallen.....the sky is still aloft...the sky is even higher...the sky is really something.......Pick one?

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Bearmeat's picture

November 02, 2014 at 05:11 pm

Hello Mr. Pot. I'd like to introduce you to Ms. Kettle.

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mrtundra's picture

November 02, 2014 at 02:44 pm

Why would we want to even think of taking a chance on losing Rodgers? I thought he should have been pulled earlier in the game, as well. We saw how the Pack played without him for 8 games last season. I don't want a repeat of that. Flynn needs to be able to step up and lead the offense, if Rodgers goes down. I'm praying that that does not happen. I'll bet Rodgers is, too, and will have his hamstring in his mind every time he runs with the ball from here on out.

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Zola Davis's picture

November 02, 2014 at 03:06 pm

I said at the time to take him out. While he could be able to stage a comeback, it just didn't seem like his day.

Hey CHTV! You really annoy readers with ad that auto-start. I don't mind Olive Garden, but I'll play the ad if I want to; not when you want me to.

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Tundraboy's picture

November 02, 2014 at 03:51 pm

The pockets we create don't last long. Rodgers will get hurt even worse if even cant run when he needs to. Hamstring injuries always happen when you make a sudden move. I was shocked they did not take him given our history with that type of lingering injury.

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Packer_Pete's picture

November 02, 2014 at 06:42 pm

at the same time, winning or losing 1 game can make the difference on whether they make the playoffs or not. You are basically advocating giving up on games since there may be a possibility of the player getting injured more badly? then why would you even let #53 play with his injury history?

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Tundraboy's picture

November 02, 2014 at 03:53 pm

" if he cant" sorry

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Chad Toporski's picture

November 02, 2014 at 05:20 pm

This just goes to show that you can never please the fans.

Take the quarterback out of the game, and he's a weak pansy.

Keep him in the game, and it's a risky liability.

We can't have it both ways. You either get Cutler in the NFC Championship game or RGIII in the Wild Card Round.

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4thand1's picture

November 02, 2014 at 06:24 pm

Oh skippy, looks like Denver has some more holes to fill. Brady is shredding them. any given Sunday.

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4thand1's picture

November 03, 2014 at 03:08 pm

You are such a MF loser its pathetic. SF is 4-4. I see 8-8!!!! Maybe you were thinking about SF going 8-8 LMFAO! sorry skippy you're all wet again.

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4thand1's picture

November 03, 2014 at 03:09 pm

you suck so much, can't seem to get the word out of my mind. Shouldn't have edited it. you and suck go together so well. wtg skippy.

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Packer_Pete's picture

November 02, 2014 at 06:37 pm

The analogy is weak. The Washington game was win or go home playoff football. The Packers game was a regular season game in the middle of the season, where the Packers are in a decent position even after a loss. But nobody can tell me advocating to take a player out of a game since you're afraid that he may not be able to play the next game or even next season is a good reason. this is a win now league. Who knows what will happen tomorrow, next week, or even next season? One team may assemble the best roster of any NFL team, and then have 3 or 4 key injuries and see the season slowly fade away. Another team may have a bad start, but starts picking up steam and gets on fire in January and win it all - see Packers and Giants in recent years...
My point is, one can never play scared. As long as there is no clear medical indication that the player cannot continue in the game that is going on, and the game is not out of hand yet, there is no reason to take any player out...

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Tundraboy's picture

November 02, 2014 at 10:33 pm

Lose Rodgers. Season over. What I said was I was shocked they didn't, because with the bye coming up and the conservative play it safe mentality that the team has shown with hamstrings.......

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HankScorpio's picture

November 03, 2014 at 08:21 am

If anything, I find the Packers to be too cautious with injury, not too reckless.

Obviously Rodgers played very poorly after the injury. Given that, I don't see how anybody can make a strong argument he should have continued to play. Except on one basis...pulling him would have been seen by everyone on the team as a "surrender", which is a horrible message to send.

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