The crossroad has come early for Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III.
It's all about getting better or worse in the NFL. There's no inertia, no plodding along. Griffin needs to improve or he's out of the league in a few years as yet another Washington quarterback that didn't fulfill expectations.
And it all begins now.And it all begins now.
Griffin is having a fair second season for someone coming off knee surgery, and he probably should have missed a few games. But his 11 interceptions are troubling after he had five last year. The 81.9 passer rating is 20 points lower than last season's.
Griffin's eyes reveal confusion and frustration, while his persona has been second-guessed more than a politician's. Griffin can deny rumors all he wants, but something's going on.
Staying healthy and getting better for Griffin are critical during the final weeks, as the Redskins (3-8) have practically zero chance of repeating as NFC East champions. Talk of playing backup Kirk Cousins is nonsense, because losing seasons are about building for the future, and Griffin is the Redskins' future -- while Cousins is 2015 trade bait for a future draft pick.
The final five weeks are systematic -- same rut, different opponent. There's not much time for learning on the go so much as reflecting on it later.
Four things need to happen for Griffin to once more be RG3, who was so beloved during the preseason, after being the 2012 NFL Rookie of the Year.
First, Griffin needs to lose any ego and rebuild his mental game no matter who the coach is. For all the whisperings and second-guessing about his relationship with coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan that have been denied, my 35 years covering sports tell me there's a problem. Otherwise, whispers quickly quiet down.
Griffin needs to learn that the Shanahans or their successors can truly improve him. Those heady college days and pro rookie success are over. Defenses have figured out zone read option passers. Now it's up to Griffin to counter with his own improvement.
It's a chess match between Griffin and defensive coordinators, and he's losing this year. That doesn't mean Griffin can't return on top. But first, put any reluctance aside and start over with coaches. Listen to what they're really saying and use it to improve.
If the Redskins change coaches, you'll read Griffin saying during minicamp how much he loves this new coaching staff and is learning lots from them. It's all for the cameras, folks. Forget lip service and read into the coaches' knowledge.
Second, fire the PR handlers. No more commercials or documentaries. You don't need the money or fame. You're paid millions of dollars to play football. Dedicate yourself to that all year round.
Third, spend time on the field recognizing coverages. Griffin's rehab kept him from doing so last year. Watching film is fine, but it all comes together on the practice field. Griffin hasn't gotten past his first read often enough this season, and if he's going to be a pocket passer, recognizing defenses is everything. It all comes together on the practice field.
Fourth, really become the leader. The Redskins rallied around Griffin when he was a rookie last year, knowing his talent could make them winners, which it did. But rookies aren't really leaders, and losing the offseason and then losing during the regular season have kept teammates from following him.
Oh, you hear teammates say things, but it's really just talk. Receiver Santana Moss' indirect criticism of Griffin's use of "I" and "we" during press conferences was revealing, even if Moss backtracked the next day, once team officials presumably talked to him in the back room.
Griffin needs to learn the classic line of it's not about getting knocked down, but about getting back up. If he can rebound with a new mindset, he'll resume his track as a promising star. If not, Griffin will be just another guy in a league filled with them.