LANDOVER, MD - Through his first four games as a pro, it was clear that Robert Griffin III had been living dangerously.
Indeed, the Washington Redskins' prized rookie quarterback often tip-toed the line between timely aggression and over-zealousness, as he made breathtaking plays while also absorbing the type of punishment that's made Redskins fans hold their breath every time he carries the football.
It's a double edged sword that's been a byproduct of his playmaking ability, and one that has seen the rookie passer make far more positive plays than ones that cost his team. For each jarring hit that Griffin -- listed at 6-2 and 217 pounds -- has received through the first four weeks of his pro career, however, most pundits took turns expressing their concerns: He won't last all 16 games. He's too small to take the pounding. He's not built like Cam Newton or Ben Roethlisberger.
Despite taking the punishment, Griffin toughness was on display each week. When he'd take those big shots, he'd usually shake it off, get up, and live to fight another down.
But that run of good fortune came to an end in Week 5.
With the game tied in the third quarter against the Atlanta Falcons, Griffin once again showed guile trying to keep a play alive, running along the right sideline to pick up a few extra yards. But instead, he was met by Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who leveled Griffin with an elbow as the quarterback tried to slide, knocking him to the ground.
This time, he stayed down. This time, Redskins trainers had to run onto the field, surrounding the staggered Griffin. And this time, he'd finally suffer a blow that would knock him out of an NFL game.
"[After he was hit] he wasn't sure what quarter it was in the third quarter," head coach Mike Shanahan said. "When he wasn't really sure what the score was or what quarter it was, we knew he had a mild concussion."
It was the type of hit many feared Griffin would take, and according to teammates, is one that could be a learning experience for a rookie signal caller who is eager to make the big play.
"[I was] very concerned," said defensive captain London Fletcher. "You'd like to have him throw the football away when he's outside the pocket and not have to take a hit like that. But he's a competitor, he's trying to make plays, and you can't fault him for that."
"Health comes first before everything," added Lorenzo Alexander."Hopefully he's able to come back and not continue to take anymore shots like that."
The Redskins' gameplan for Griffin has always presented a bit of a conundrum; by running the zone-read option, quarterback draws, or other designed runs, Washington can best utilize Griffin's strengths. It's one of the reasons why the team traded up to select him second overall in April's draft, and it's why the Redskins' offense has been one of the league's best early on this season.
"Robert is definitely an asset to the offense," tight end Fred Davis said. "We can do so many different things with him in there."
But while racking up the yardage totals and putting up points has certainly been a sight for sore eyes for this Redskins team, Sunday's game may have all but confirmed what most thought - that in order for the Redskins offense to grow, Griffin has to find a way to stay on the field.
"Each game is going to be a learning experience," said Shanahan. "From the Cincinnati [game] to Tampa, we talked about protecting yourself. We talked about handing the ball off and option plays. Every game he goes in, he's going to learn and that's why it takes you two or three years to really feel comfortable with defenses that you play in the NFL, to slow the game down a little bit."
So far in his rookie campaign, Griffin's been lauded for both his toughness and smarts. But after Sunday, it may be time for the former to give way to the latter, because as one of his teammates said in the post-game locker room, "we can't have a guy like that out."