LANDOVER, Md. -- Redskins tight end Logan Paulsen was one of the first on the scene.
Paulsen saw the football bouncing around near the Redskins' goal line and his primary concern was to recover the fumble. "That's a dagger," he said of a turnover so deep in his team's territory.
But as he made his way to the ball, something else caught his eye. It was his quarterback, Robert Griffin III, lying on the ground and not even attempting to go after the fumble. Paulsen knows Griffin well enough to understand that when Griffin stops trying, things are really bad.
"That was when I realized he was really hurting," Paulsen said. "Obviously, I was feeling for him and I felt like 'this is it, this is our game right here if he's really significantly hurt.' And he was."
Center Will Montgomery had shot back an errant snap that bounced off Griffin's left leg and took a quirky bounce underneath him as he tried to lunge for it. That caused Griffin's knee to buckle and sent the quarterback to the turf. After the game, Montgomery had to be told by reporters in the Redskins' locker room what happened on the play.
"I guess it was just a lack of focus," he said of the wide snap. "I don't know what to say about it besides that. I didn't see exactly where it went."
As for being the catalyst for such an injury, Montgomery shook his head. "It's unfortunate," he said.
While Griffin was on his back, he was clutching Paulsen's hands. Paulsen, it seemed, was trying to keep Griffin on the ground for his own good.
"He's a tough guy," Paulsen said of Griffin, who eventually walked off the field and saluted the fans at FedEx Field. "I feel like he would have gotten up no matter what. He would have walked off under his own power if he was physically able to do it. To me, that wasn't a surprise. I almost expected him to get up. In some ways, I was hoping they wouldn't let him walk off the field, but they did. That's just the kind of guy he is."
There have been examples of players bowing out early in playoff games to the ire of fans and analysts in recent years, from a parka-covered LaDainian Tomlinson for the Chargers against the Patriots in 2008 to Jay Cutler being ripped by fellow players on Twitter for not finishing the 2010 NFC Championship Game against the Packers.
Even a series before Griffin's game-ending injury, though, sentiment seemed to be leaning toward taking him out, especially after he grimaced and limped during a 9-yard run.
"At this level, it's really difficult," Paulsen said of the decision to stay in or come out. "We're all competitors, we all want to play, we all know what's at stake. For him, I feel like it's kind of another level, having seen what he went through in the Baltimore game and the pain that he was in. It takes a lot for him to take himself out, and I think that's where the coaches have to make a smart decision for him."