Sunday, when Robert Griffin III crumpled to the turf after trying to gather a bad snap, I had a very visceral reaction. I called Mike Shanahan grossly negligent for leaving a clearly injured and ineffective RGIII in the game. It was an emotional response but not a snap judgment; I had been calling for Griffin to be out for two quarters. For me, it was the early third and short, just after he had re-injured the knee prior to the second touchdown. He had a wide open opportunity to scramble for the first down and slide, and he didn’t, instead awkwardly trying to plant and bouncing a pass to Logan Paulsen. His next pass was the interception, and on that one too, he was not himself. He could not plant.
A young star quarterback had put together a season the likes of which we have rarely seen (until the last couple, we are at risk of getting spoiled and assuming this is status quo). He was not that quarterback after the first quarter on Sunday. It seemed obvious. The red warning flags of compensating on a bad knee and risking injury, having an unstable knee, a bad field, and a defense ready to tee off on a quarterback who could not move were there.
While we have not seen many rookie quarterbacks like Griffin, we have seen young star quarterbacks in this game flash the promise of youth. Joe Namath is now perceived as a weak Hall of Fame choice by many; he was one of the best young quarterback in the game. He was mobile with a lightning quick release and strong arm. He had a serious knee injury in college, and repeated knee injuries in the pros that gradually sapped him. He couldn’t stay on the field as he entered his late twenties. Greg Cook had one of the most dynamic rookie years for Paul Brown’s Bengals, but injured his rotator cuff that season and played with it undiagnosed. He never was the same.
Second overall pick Bert Jones had one of the best seasons ever in 1976, averaging 9.0 yards per attempt and sweeping the MVP awards at age 25. Bill Belichick called him the best “pure passer” he had seen. Shoulder injuries robbed him, and he never appeared in a pro bowl or on an all pro team again. We’ve seen Daunte Culpepper and Randall Cunningham both go down with knee injuries. Culpepper never came back. Cunningham had one last brilliant passing season at age 35 with Randy Moss.
Those were in the past, though. We now have the brilliant modern science that can bring Adrian Peterson to a 2,000 yard season less than a year after a torn ACL and MCL.That, though, is a best case scenario. The recovery time, if Griffin is to play on opening day in 2013, falls between that which was accomplished by Wes Welker and Adrian Peterson. Not everyone gets back to where they were after an injury today. We’ll have to wait and see how Robert Griffin III turns out, but I’d rather he be remembered by everyone, not the great coach thirty years from now telling all the young whippersnappers about how good Griffin was “if you only saw him before the injuries.”
This is the second time that Robert Griffin will have knee surgery for an ACL tear in his right knee in three and half years, going back to September of 2009. He tried to play on it after tearing his ACL in that game, so I think we can go ahead and talk about his competitiveness, and how he is not the best judge of when he should be playing. He has had two concussions in a year–the one earlier this season against Atlanta, and against Texas Tech last year.
The frustrating part about this is that you don’t always see that hit coming. In this case, though, Griffin was already injured by playing on a sprained knee. He then re-injured it, and the effects were noticeable in the game against the Seahawks. It didn’t have to happen in the fourth quarter of a game where he should not have been out there, already injured and not himself. He’s going to have to change, and Washington is going to have to change their approach, or we will be telling our kids that Robert Griffin III was really good. They may not believe us when they look back. You just had to be there.
[photo via USA Today Sports Images]